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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Prayer and Punishment in Public School - Re-Posted

Religious hatred, driven by the fanatic Christian Right and fueled by the Neo-Conservative Zionist movement, is currently gnawing away at American Democracy like a flesh eating virus. This type of religious fervor is not new as outlined in 'Prayer and Punishment in Public School', a piece that I wrote and originally posted on April 28th, 2005, and have re-posted below.

The described events happened to me when I was in 4th grade 50 years ago. The accompanying art work is a collage that I did to visually illustrate the cruel intolerance that I experienced because I was (and still am) a non-believer.

As a deeply spiritual person, I am appalled at the rise of hate filled, control based, patriarchal monotheism in a country whose founders were wise enough to bridle would-be religious tyrants by including the Separation of Church and State in its Constitution.

.................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 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 louder, 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 ONLY TRUE religions is being pushed.

Don't Preach - Teach Tolerance - It leads to Peace!
................... Kitchen Window Woman................

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Blogger barry said...

I agree that he misused his class room, and his beliefs had no place in the class room. Nor do I believe any non believers opinion should affect a students education either. It's a two way street and I myself have seen children, little ones singled out and treated badly for believing in Jesus. A child is a child, and cruelty is cruelty. There is hate in your message, as there was in his. Tolerance means if people wanna pray , let them, if they don't , then fine. Do you really think love and tolerance sum up your personality? They may I don't know you, however based on this I never saw you once make the point that, maybe this man needed help. If some one is so terribly wrong, perhaps there is a cause. I am sorry for your past experience with schools and religion, however that is a personal experience that is unfortunate , but not really the end of the world. Teachers bully students every day about a lot of things. Many things need to be separated out of our schools other than just people who pray. Both believers and non believers who have an ax to grind need to step back, and be quiet. Education needs to be about non bias facts , not opinions, so lets give Kids the provable facts about things and let them make their own decisions, but until then, lets not close their minds to anything. Many great findings in education and since came through believers and nonbelievers alike. It takes all kinds to produce the variables necessary for creativity. So get off the soap box and lets let people be people. That's tolerance. Thanks Barry Smith Springfield MO

9:26 PM  

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