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Outed In High School Classroom


Ro-bear
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Well, it's happened again, and more dramatically than last time.

 

I was lecturing about the differences between the writing of the New England Puritan settlers and that of the Virginia planters. One difference is, of course, the greater emphasis on religion by the Puritans. At this moment, a hand shot up. Pleased that someone was interested enough this early in the class to pose a question, I recognized the student, a male, who bluntly said, "I heard you were an atheist."

 

You could have heard a pin drop. I teach in a VERY conservative community. Bible-believin' Bush-votin' Baptists, the whole lot of them.

 

I asked where the student got this information, but he just shrugged and asked, "Is it true?"

 

I took a deep breath and said, "Yes."

 

I added that my worldview was in no way related to my role as their teacher and I preferred not to discuss it, especially since I didn't think their parents would approve. I tried to resume my presentation.

 

"How do you live? What is there to hope for?" a young woman asked.

 

I faked a confused expression that segued into mock shock at the implications of my worldview.

 

"Oh my goodness! You're right...I might as well kill myself now!"

 

The class roared. The tension was broken. One young man volunteered that he was an atheist, too. Then a young woman. I told them that their beliefs didn't matter to me, that I cared about all my students and supported their right to believe or not as they wished. I reiterated that I wished it hadn't come up because I didn't want trouble, I was a private person.

 

One fellow just said, "Be who you are, Mr. Ryan." The class murmured its approval, and the lesson moved on. Apparently they are more broad-minded than I gave them credit for.

 

This has happened before, but only once in front of a whole class. That class was a small, low-level class, and I doubt any of them remembered it the next day. I also doubt any of those poor kids ever discuss school with their parents, even if they see them at all. The kids in the Scholars' Bowl team I co-sponsor know, as does the teacher I co-sponsor with. No problem there; all the smart kids are outcasts in one way or another, so they think it's acceptable if not cool.

 

Will there be fallout from this revelation? I rather hope not, but I will let you know if there is.

 

I could have just refused to answer, but none of my Christian colleagues would have dodged the question. Why should I? I am not ashamed.

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Oh SHIT!!!

 

That is something I had concern over being a teacher. That is probably one of the worst feelings I would have experienced if this would have ever happened to me.

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Ya know Ro-bear in several classes taught for Firefighters, somehow subject of "God" always reaches floor.

In Instructor Trainers class, always have the "preacher", often using his 5-min lecture time to evangelize some canned presentation.

 

Also get the *miracles* folks, as in "Oh gosh, XYZ happened, it MUST HAVE BEEN A MIRACLE FROM GOD!" and resulting sideline discussions spinning off as class disolves along denominational lines talking "miracles".

 

Then there is always the Unintelligent Happenings sort, using "goddidiit" to describe the physics of water and why it works as it does.

Nevermind observable things are well proven, the "little green gremlins of daLarde" make things happen when a fire pump is fired up and made to work..

 

While Instructing, gets hard not to slap the theists arond head and shoulders without causing the inevitable "PMG, U R UN ATHEEEEISTTT!!!".

 

It is another form of Political Correctness run amok, a sense of well being of the herd to "be religious".

Anyone not so is considered suspect..

Even if he or she has earned the right to be in front of the class and instruct and impart "wisdom" and knowledge".

 

I think a WWTD? T-shirt would be appropriate now. ;)

 

Good fortune friend, hope this outing doesn't hose you over.

 

kL

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One fellow just said, "Be who you are, Mr. Ryan." The class murmured its approval, and the lesson moved on. Apparently they are more broad-minded than I gave them credit for.

 

This has happened before, but only once in front of a whole class. That class was a small, low-level class, and I doubt any of them remembered it the next day. I also doubt any of those poor kids ever discuss school with their parents, even if they see them at all. The kids in the Scholars' Bowl team I co-sponsor know, as does the teacher I co-sponsor with. No problem there; all the smart kids are outcasts in one way or another, so they think it's acceptable if not cool.

 

Will there be fallout from this revelation? I rather hope not, but I will let you know if there is.

 

I could have just refused to answer, but none of my Christian colleagues would have dodged the question. Why should I? I am not ashamed.

 

They will remember Ro-bear - you gave them permission to "be who [they] are". Kids need that.

 

And you're right ... none of your Christian colleagues would have dodged the question. Kids remember WHO their teachers were a long time after the curriculum lessons have been forgotten. Kids need to know there are choices in these matters. Your presence in their lives - gives them choice. :)

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I think you gave the kids a role model. You said it's a conservative Christian community. Now, at least they know an athiest, and you don't worship satan or sacrifice babies, like they have probably been taught that athiests do (but then they don't know what you do after schools out, JK).

 

Taph

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Good for you, Ro-bear...and I too hope there is no backlash. It sounds like you gave a measured answer and did not proselytize. Good for you.

 

And I'll bet it took some courage for those atheist kids to say so in the middle of God's Country. Good for them. :goodjob:

 

Maybe the student figured out you're an atheist from this site, if the photo on your sig is actually you.

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Bravo, Senor Ro-bear. I like the way you used humor to break the ice.

 

Hopefully there won't be a PTA meeting of "concerned christian parents" worried that their little darlings are being instructed by an agent of Satan.

 

I know you know this. Tippy-toe, ro-bear. Tippy-toe.

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That class was a small, low-level class, and I doubt any of them remembered it the next day. I also doubt any of those poor kids ever discuss school with their parents, even if they see them at all.

 

All it takes is one casual slip from a nerdy fundy student (... that young woman) to trigger a fundy backlash :ugh:

 

 

Reboot, the class I referred to in your quote graduated (or dropped out) several years ago. The level is called Fundamental, ironically, and it is the level including Special Education students and the lowest-performing regular ed students. There were only six or seven of them. That danger has passed.

 

The class I refer to in the main part of my post is my current American Literature class, 32 students strong, Regular level. I doubt they will forget, and, as juniors, they'll be around a while yet. I'm not that worried, though, since I have a good record, tenure, etc. I have several things in my favor. I think I would have great support. Still, I suppose I must acknowledge the POSSIBILITY of problems.

 

Thank you so much, everyone, for your kind words, cautions, and support. You guys are great!

 

Serence Agnostic Atheist, I am VERY careful to treat religion as objectively as I can. I point out the differences in beliefs and practices of the two groups of colonial American writers, Puritan and Anglican, but I don't take sides.

 

One Virginia writer, William Byrd II, explained the difference this way: The Puritans spent $500 on a church and $50 on building a tavern, and the southern planters reversed those figures. :grin:

 

It's hard to put a spin on the Salem Witcraft trials, though. We read some Cotton Mather and sometimes read Miller's The Crucible. There's a neat Salem Witchcraft Trial Jeopardy site on the internet, too. :wicked:

 

Curtdude, mine is a late summer picture; the kids don't see me like that. It's short hair, glasses, and dress clothes at work.

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Do you happen to know of any well known, non-religious writers from that time frame?

 

No, not among the colonial American writers. Europe is a different story. Some of the colonials were fairly secular, though. Captain John Smith was too busy building his own legend in his writing to leave much room for God. William Byrd's religion was largely ceremonial as reflected in his journals. He asked forgiveness when he "committed uncleanness" , "rogered the maid", or made his slave who wet the bed to "drink a pint of piss". Many excerpts of Byrd's journal are available online, for those who are interested.

 

One of Benjamin Franklin's teachers, a Sarah Kemble Knight, was a ballsy lady didn't seem terribly pious. In her journal, she once prayed for Demon Rum to silence the carousers in the tavern beneath her room.

 

I did note your name change; you're hard to keep up with, though! :grin:

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"How do you live? What is there to hope for?" a young woman asked.
You handled this completely wrong, Ro-bear. :nono:

 

When that girl asked that question, you should have started twitching nervously. Then, you should have tightly clenched your teeth together and started breathing like an enraged animal, all the while letting your saliva follow its own will. After a few seconds of that, you could have started to pull at your hair and clothing as your eyes rolled back into your head while you slowly kneeled down onto the floor. Then, using your deepest vocal range, you should have exclaimed, "How do I live?!?! I live to serve my Lord and Master that is He who dwells in the darkest pit of Hell!!" And then, moving along to the next question - "What is there to hope for?!?! My greatest hope is to finally see the Son of God, your so-called "Christ", being beaten into submission at the foot of my master's throne!!!

 

Then, after taking a few seconds to regain your composure, you go back to teaching your lesson as if nothing out of the ordinary every happened. :mellow:

 

If you had handled it that way, I'm sure that you would have sparked some interesting discussions between the students for days, maybe even weeks to come. :shrug:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

:HaHa:

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If there is some crap slung at you from biblethumpers, it would be an excellent opportunity to show them as they really are. You, an atheist, take the high road and don't slam believers. They, of course, imply you are immoral and possibly evil. Meanwhile, you just continue on doing the same thing you've always done.

 

The kids will get a lesson from that - xtians=jerks. :shrug:

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*Sends hugs*

 

I think that whatever happens, at least some of those kids will learn that it is okay to be different from the mainstream. Hopefully it will encourage others to speak out and come out of the non-believer closet.

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Ro-Bear,

 

About the Salem Witch Trials, if you already know this then I'm reiterating, but it might be interesting to bring up to your students concerning the Salem Witch Trials.

 

"Toxicologists now know that eating ergot-contaminated food can lead to a convulsive disorder characterized by violent muscle spasms, vomiting, delusions, hallucinations, crawling sensations on the skin, and a host of other symptoms all of which are present in the records of the Salem witchcraft trials. Ergot thrives in warm, damp, rainy springs and summers. When the diaries of Salem residents were examined, they found that those exact conditions had been present in 1691.

 

Nearly all of the accusers lived in the western section of Salem village, a region of swampy meadows that would have been prime breeding ground for the fungus. At that time, rye was the staple grain of Salem. The rye crop consumed in the winter of 1691-1692 when the first usual symptoms began to be reported and could easily have been contaminated by large quantities of ergot.

The summer of 1692, however, was dry, which could explain the abrupt end of the 'bewitchments.' These and other clues built up into a circumstantial case against ergot that were found impossible to ignore."

 

http://www.luminet.net/~wenonah/history/ergot.htm

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Excellent story Ro!

 

It sounds like you deftly handled a potentially delicate and volatile situation. I can't imagine any bad fallout over anything you said.

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Being from Britain I am surprised that it was an issue at all. Have things in USA got so bad that people are actually nervous about expressing their own beliefs, or lack of? Well done Ro for handling it so well. Do people feel nervous in other walks of life or is it just when it comes to teaching? I,m interested in the current situation in USA, and alarmed too.

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Being from Britain I am surprised that it was an issue at all. Have things in USA got so bad that people are actually nervous about expressing their own beliefs, or lack of? Well done Ro for handling it so well. Do people feel nervous in other walks of life or is it just when it comes to teaching? I,m interested in the current situation in USA, and alarmed too.

Yes, the situation is not favorable particularly to non-believers. So many have stated that they would never vote for a sufficiently-qualified non-believer for any public office. Persecution against non-believers is alive and well here.

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...<snip>...I recognized the student, a male, who bluntly said, "I heard you were an atheist."

 

"Is it true?"

 

I took a deep breath and said, "Yes."

 

I could have just refused to answer, but none of my Christian colleagues would have dodged the question. Why should I? I am not ashamed.

Good for you, Ro-bear! Good for you for having the courage and strength of your convictions to risk answering truthfully.

 

We need never be ashamed that we do not adhere to an archaic belief system, especially one which has shown itself, century upon century, to be wicked to the core.

 

I trust that any negative fallout from your disclosure will be minimal, at worst.

 

Also unashamed,

Reach

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Being from Britain I am surprised that it was an issue at all. Have things in USA got so bad that people are actually nervous about expressing their own beliefs, or lack of? Well done Ro for handling it so well. Do people feel nervous in other walks of life or is it just when it comes to teaching? I,m interested in the current situation in USA, and alarmed too.

 

It depends on where you live, but there is discrimation and it seems to be widespread.

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Well done Ro Bear!

Living in the UK too, it's hard to imagine the type of atmosphere you must be working in.

You have my respect for your skills at handling it and your honesty.

For those in your class who must be feeling pressured too, your stance was so important for them.

Cat

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In a public school setting, I think I would simply say something like "As a representative of the state in official capacity, the Constitution requires that I neither promote nor prohibit any such views. Please don't tell me other teachers been unconstitutionally promoting their views!?"

 

It's both legally safe, and throws the ball back in the court of those who are questioning you. After all, it really is none of their fucking business what you believe.

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That class was a small, low-level class, and I doubt any of them remembered it the next day.

Oh, I think they remembered, especially the atheists.

 

One of the few memories I have from junior high (and it's a bit fuzzy, but it was 1981 or so) was the time my science teacher, Mr Steins, (if you're still out there Mr. Steins -- you did a FANTASTIC job) asked if anyone in the class knew what someone who didn't believe in god was called. I knew the word he was looking for -- "atheist" -- I was one -- but I didn't raise my hand out of fear. After an interiminably awkward number of seconds had passed, one girl (Now, I remember her name even!) volunteered that she knew the word "atheist." Nobody else was willing to admit that they even knew the word - maybe they didn't know it?

 

If kids today are like they were then, I'll bet more than a couple definitely remember this incident.

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