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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Prayer and Punishment in Public School

DON'T LAY YOUR TRIP ON ANYONE ELSE. That saying is from The Sixties but expresses my view of the theocrats who are attempting to replace American Democracy with their personal brand of Christianity.

How one decides to live one's life is a matter of individual choice. Theocrats would prefer to dictate to every citizen how they should think and what they should do with their lives - all under the threat of punishment. Such tyranny forms the base of organized religion and such tyranny was legislated against by America's founding fathers in the Constitution, Article VI: Senators and Representatives... shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

"Thomas Jefferson stated it thus, "History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government" and "In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection of his own."

I wrote the post below in April of '05. In it I described what happened to me at a public grade school in Michigan in 1959. No child should have to suffer such cruel public humiliation. I did the collage pictured below to depict my childhood experience as an assignment for a class on Intercultural Communication.

Link to Blog Against Theocracy here.

~~~~~~~~~~~Prayer and Punishment in Public School~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I stood in the alcove outside the door of my fourth grade classroom with my nose touching the cold, tile wall. My classmates could see the back of my head through the small window at the top of the closed door: I could feel their disapproving eyes. Not only was I humiliated, I was angry as well. Such punishment was usually reserved for loud-mouth boys who disrupted the classroom - not for an obedient student like me.

It was 1959, I was nine years old, and attended a public elementary school in St. Clair Shores, Michigan. I would spend two hours every school day morning, in the hall outside of Mr. D's classroom, for many weeks to come. Each morning, the Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde educator, would greet his students in a soft, friendly voice only to turn into an angry, red-faced, bellowing monster as soon as the attendance was taken. Every morning, following attendance, I left my seat and went out the door to begin my punishment in the hall.

What kind of terrible crime had I, a nine year-old little girl committed, to warrant long-term banishment? I had violated Mr. D's classroom church when I refused to bow my head and pray to his God.

One morning, near the beginning of the school year, Dr. Jekyll began a lesson on phonetics. He was talking about long and short vowels in syllables when quite suddenly, he shut the book, and moved to stand behind his desk. He began to pray, quietly at first. Then, while growing increasingly agitated, Mr. Hyde began to form before our terrified eyes. His face flushed crimson. His eyes glazed over and began to spiral like those of a crazed cartoon character. Pacing wildly between the portraits of of Washington and Lincoln, words thundered out of his mouth and exploded damnation over our heads like battlefield artillery. Mr. D. was fighting some kind of war and had taken we children prisoner!

He continued his biblical vociferations for a fouth grade eternity. He didn't even need a bible as he had memorized most of the tome. When he finally returned to his desk, he hunched over it like a rabid animal about to fall-upon its victim, and fist-pounded a demand that we bow our heads and pray to the Almighty!

Well, I did what I usually did when confronted with Christain prayer. I didn't. I was sitting there looking at the board when he noticed that my head was not down, my hands were not folded, and I was not repeating his passionate entreaty with the other kids. Mr. D came outta his tree! He was one wrathful, fire-breathing, brimstoney, furious evangelical! I was scared to death when he stood in front of my desk and berated me for disobeying not only himself, but God!

I had NEVER disobeyed a teacher. I told him politely, that I would not pray because I did not believe in God or Jesus, and went on to explain that I would be lying if I prayed, and it would also be disrespectful to those who did believe. The raging madman pulled me from my seat by my shoulders, marched me out the door and shoved me against the wall in the alcove. Then he leaned in close to my face to make sure that my nose was touching the tile. I was to be punished every day until I decided to pray, he hissed, and then he condemmed my family and I to the burning fires of Hell for eternity.

My mother's calls to the school had no effect on my situation. However; life did improve somewhat, during my punishment, because of intervention by several concerned teachers. One spoke up so that I got to move out of the alcove by the door and was allowed to lean against the wall in the hallway with my nose facing out! Another, moved mountains, so that after several weeks of standing for two hours each day, I was allowed to sit cross-legged on the floor AND read or do school work. Yet another, arranged for a desk that I could sit at, while doing penance. Looking back, I may have been the more fortunate one: I was outside of that room where every morning Mr. D. preyed on my captive classmates.

Eventually, Mr. D., the evangelical terrorist, was made to abandon his religious lesson plans. I strongly suspect that it was because of teacher complaints. He was LOUD and could be heard in the hall and the adjacent classrooms. In my opinion, at the time, he should have been the one standing in the hall for classroom disruption!

The fall of 1960 found most of us in the fifth grade. Our new teacher was astounded to find that all of us who had been in Mr. D's room the previous year were seriously behind in reading and English. What's more, we didn't know our multiplication tables either!

Today, I am a dedicated advocate for The Separation Of Church And State and a passionate foe of Prayer in Public School. No child should suffer what I did at the hands of a religious zealot regardless of which one of the three Only God religions is being pushed .

No one is preventing those who believe in any one of the three "Only Gods" from worshiping their brand of choice. The Constitution guarantees this freedom as well as it guarantees the non-believer the right to not believe, and guarantees individuals the freedom to journey any one of the thousands of different philosophical pathways available to we humans.

It is respect that dogma lacks for it is a jealous and controlling suitor. Respect for the beliefs and non-beliefs of others is basic but the practice of proselytization replaces respect with arrogant disregard. In turn the arrogant disregard for the beliefs of others frequently escalates into organized exploitation, abuse, and murder of those who think differently. What better excuse for criminal actions than the prevailing creed.

Teach Tolerance - Respect Differences - Practice Peace

..... It's Spring! .......... Kitchen Window Woman................

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Blogger Buffalo said...

What a shitty thing to happen to a kid - to anyone.

3:36 PM  
Blogger Kitchen Window Woman said...

Yeah, it was really shitty and spread all around. I wasn't allowed to play at some houses. His values even followed me into my neighborhood after school.

It's all kind of a good example for what is happening now. I don't think children should be treated in such a way by anyone, anywhere - no matter what they believe or not. That is why I wrote about it.

10:13 PM  
Anonymous JollyRoger said...

I remember that post, and there couldn't have been a better one for this. I appreciate your timely refreshment of my porous memory, as well as your broader enlightenment.

10:58 PM  
Blogger Sherry said...


Just wanted to say that you suffered a horrible injustice. Amazingly, I was also born in 1950, and grew up in Michigan. I was in Flint. I recall no such behavior in my school. There were a couple of kids who carried bibles around all day up through high school, but no one commented and no teacher ever suggested anything about God to us. I am sorry you experienced such injustice and intolerance.

I think you have a lovely blog, and and adding your feed. My blog gets weirder by the day, and oddly both men and women come, although I suspect most men don't have much interest in a number of the subjects.

I am pleased to add you and be sure I will be visiting!

8:16 AM  
Blogger Kitchen Window Woman said...

Hi Sherry...
I am glad you like "The Chronicles". I was very impressed with your writing.

I am sorry to reply so late but yesterday and today have been busy and we are on our way to a candlelight vigil as the troops deaths in Iraq just reached 4,000.

I, too, was born in Michigan in 1950 - in Detroit!

I don't think that the experience I had in that classroom occurs often. I wrote about it to indicate that such deviations in the public schools do happen and are highly possible when religiously insane individuals are allowed free rein. I also think that the principal was intimidated by the teacher in question. He would not even look my mother in the eye!

I have also added your blog to my "Kitchen Connections"

4:32 PM  
Blogger moderate said...

...shitty thing, indeed! The sonofabitch should have been fired... immediately! they're still pulling this stuff wherever they can...and they're getting marginally more adept at skirting the law to do it. witness the bullshit at the Naval Academy, and the Air Force Academy... and then there's Nebraska!

Peace and Love, Sis

4:24 AM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

That's really appalling. I'm glad you've written about it. I still remember some of the shit I took from a few teachers, decades ago (nothing to rival what you've described). That son of a bitch definitely should have been fire; or worse.

I've heard a lot of anecdotes like that from Catholic schools, but never from a public school. That's intolerable. Your tax dollars at work.

11:42 AM  
Blogger Carol Gee said...

This is a fine post, and you told your child self's story beautifully, KWW. There is nothing like that coercive and shaming stuff from an authority figure. That was awful!
I think we are in a very intolerant time in our country, politically, too. Candidates are being asked to pass religious tests the founding fathers would have heartily disapproved of. Oh for a Deist or two these days.

12:41 PM  
Blogger Kitchen Window Woman said...

They are pulling this stuff again and that is why I wrote about what happened to me and reposted it. I think that it is important that Americans of all beliefs speak up or we will be bullied into a theocratic dictatorship.

I know about the Air Force Academy but the Naval Academy? And what on Earth happened in Nebraska?

Peace and love to you, too.

Tom Harper...
He wasn't fired at the time but they made him tone down. He was truly possessed which is common to some of the more insane types of zealots. No matter the religion, these people are in need of mental health treatment and medication.

I've heard many horror stories over the years about Catholic schools. The kids that had to go to Catholic school in the neighborhood that I lived in back then were terrified of the nuns!

Carol Gee...
I agree that we are in a very intolerant time in our country on many levels. I think that candidates should keep their religious beliefs to themselves.

How can a candidate who constantly signals his or her particular faith be trusted to uphold the Constitution?

Beliefs are like underwear - chosen by the individual for many different reasons comfort, attraction, warmth, practicality... - they are not one size fits all - need to be kept clean - And one doesn't want to wear someone else's!

3:31 PM  
Blogger Spadoman said...

And that mantra should include no religion if a person chooses not to participate.

"Emancipate yourself from mental slavery. No one but ourselves can set us free"

Bob Marley

It's good to be home. I missed you.

5:36 PM  
Blogger Kitchen Window Woman said...

Yes, I should have included the choice not to participate. In keeping with the underwear theme - some folks choose not to any.

Very glad to hear you are back. I missed you, too. I can't wait to read of your journey. I know you will have much to say.

10:59 AM  

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