Religion Taught In School

One of last month’s comics from Tatsuya Ishida jogged my memory of high school.  I, like I’m sure many of you, attended one of Virginia’s numerous public high schools.  Mine was Harrisonburg High School.  It’s amazing the growth in the school in the eleven years since I was there.  Here are just a few random observations and questions.  They have a new building far removed from the center of the city that is just huge.  When I visited it, I found myself wandering the corridors feeling like a rat in some sort of lab experiment.  I have read that the numbers of non-native English speakers have exploded.  I would guess that such a statistic would prove an additional challenge to teachers and administrators.  Why is it that according to Wikipedia that our only notable alumni are sports athletes?  I’d like to think that our school serves to enrich both the body and the mind?  But, now I’m getting off the topic of religion in school.

If you look at the webcomic I mentioned, you might wonder how that comic has anything to do with my high school.  Well, in sophomore year, I took biology.  Let me say upfront that I really liked my biology teacher.  He was a personable guy and always took steps to make the lessons both informative and entertaining.  However, during the school year (way back in 1995-96), he mentioned to the class that he would soon discuss the topic of human evolution, not merely as theory, but as fact. These were the earliest days of my political activism having come to political awareness in the later half of 1994 and I was uncertain what I should do.  Evolution ran counter to my own religious beliefs, and I worried that my fellow classmates might fall prey to his arguments.  I believed that evolution is a theory in the same way that traditional creationism is a theory.  Both seek to explain the beginning and purpose to human existence.  Both have scientific data that support and run counter to them.  Both cannot fully be proven using empirical evidence.  Therefore, both require faith.  As a result of requiring faith, both creationism and evolution are facets of larger religious movements.  Looking back, I would expect that my facial expression on hearing such news of evolution in the classroom mimicked Seymour’s in the last panel.  I believed then, as I still do now, that theories of creationism and evolution seek to annihilate one another and using the forum of public schools and our children’s minds to achieve such ends is wholly unacceptable.

Now it would be entirely different if the teacher merely stated that he or she believed in evolution (or creationism) and taught from an equal perspective, but teaching one as a fact stifles the debate and gives school children only one side of the argument (possibly a side that differs from the wishes of their parents and their religion).  The position of a teacher can be very powerful in the minds of impressionable students and offers tremendous credibility to his or her ways of thinking.  After I had a bit of time to think, I began to gather information in favor of creationism in order to provide this balance.  Perhaps some will say that it was merely the foolish idealism of youth, the thought that a student could rebuff a teacher and his or her classmates, but I ardently believe that at any age one must stand up for his or her religious or political beliefs lest they be swept away by the popular currents of the day.

I kept waiting for the day when the teacher would bring up the subject of human evolution.  I lugged around scientific and religious texts, as well as a recorded sermon from my pastor on the topic to and from my locker.  Yet, the day never came.  Perhaps, he ran out of time to discuss the issue, or decided against such a controversial issue, or maybe, just maybe, he noticed one of his students dutifully carrying around materials opposing his point of view.  I doubt I’ll ever know.  Yet, I strongly encourage students, in a respectful manner, of course, to question their teachers, fellow students, or anyone else when they offer up teachings that run contrary to their own values.  My advice to high school and college students is simply this:  You can make a difference.  Be strong and don’t be intimidated.  And beware religion taught under the guise of science in school.