Sunday, October 21, 2007

No Tax-Supported Dogma at School Please

Some of the topics I write about in this column are controversial; others are not. When I choose to write my opinion about a controversial subject, I often get responses via e-mail, letters to the editor, in person, and even an occasional phone call informing me that my opinion was absolutely false or that they disagree with me about it.

And that’s fine. I expect it. By definition, the term controversial means that not everyone will share my opinion.

Speaking with my detractors in person allows me a chance to debate the issue, if that’s what they wish to do. But I almost never respond to a letter to the editor that disagrees with me. This column is not meant to be a debate forum. I figure if I use this space to espouse my opinions, others have the same right to respond in kind.

Sometimes, however, I feel an opposing response may be due to a misunderstanding of my original meaning. Maybe I didn’t explain my position clearly enough to begin with, or maybe a more detailed explanation would have taken too many column inches.

This seems to have happened with the column I wrote regarding a magazine, called Discover, that was dropped off in my mailbox at school a couple of weeks ago. I have been chastised more than once by readers for what they regard as an inappropriate reaction to the situation.

Briefly recapping, I found a blatantly religious publication dressed up like a science magazine in my mailbox at school. It was not just one copy for me, but a classroom set that I was supposed to hand out to my science students. Another mailbox contained the same offending material. So I removed the magazines and tossed them in the trash.

But some of my readers, including one letter to the editor, claimed that I was using my own personal form of censorship to deny other people their right to read the magazine or pass it out to the kids in their classrooms. Or maybe some thought I was denying the rights of the students to choose to read the material if they wanted to.

So I must make this perfectly clear. Although I strongly disagree with the publishers of the magazine representing the biblical flood and Noah’s Ark as provable fact, I do not disagree with allowing children to read the story. My kids read it when they were young. I had no problem with that. I still don’t. They eventually grew up and discovered that it was only a story, a fable. Even the majority of Christians do not believe it literally happened.

My main point of concern is that a religious group was using a tax-supported public school to distribute their religious propaganda to students. I also object to it being disguised as science. It only confuses the students and does them an extreme disservice.

The public schools are supported by all taxpayers, not just the fundamentalist Christian ones. Mainstream Christian denominations who strongly believe in the separation of church and state would object to these magazines being distributed at school. In fact, a fellow science teacher, while objecting to the magazine’s distribution at school, said that she sometimes uses them in her Sunday school classes.

Other taxpayers are not Christians at all. Some are Muslim. Others are Buddhists or Hindus or agnostics or atheists. I’m an agnostic and I certainly don’t want a single penny of my tax dollars going to provide class time for teachers to distribute religious propaganda.

If parents want their kids to read this magazine, let them order a subscription. I think they’re free. Or they can use them in Sunday school. Or they can send their kids to one of the many Christian schools where it’s legal to substitute religious dogma for real science. But it is not legal in public school. And I’ll do my best to make sure it doesn’t ever happen.

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