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Ana Triculescu

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Should teachers be aware of their students’ religious beliefs, or should that be kept private and out of classroom discussions?

We live in a highly diversified world. With borders opening up more and more each day, we tend to lose track of who’s who and where they come from. Even if we’ve lost or choose to leave behind many of our deepest national/cultural/lingual characteristics, we often have a hard time giving up our values and religious views.

Latin American countries, specifically, tend to be very aware of religious beliefs, and tend to base much of their social life and political decisions on religious views. Often times, in conflicts between political parties, or the government and its people, a representative of the Church comes in and tries to mediate the argument. Sunday mass and religious holidays are sacred, and society has the tendency to label as outcasts those who do not share mainstream religious views. This also affects classroom behavior and the education basis.

I’ve once attended a training session for English teachers (public school teachers in a sector of Panama City, Panama). The entire session (2-hr long) developed around the text of the Old Testament, direct quotations from it, life lessons, and analysis. Not one note was made about English-teaching methodology or academics. On the other hand, tips were given on how to “bring God into the classroom” and how to start each class with a prayer in order to receive holly blessings. But in that case, what happens to the Muslim/Buddhist/protestant kid who sits at the back of the room and is ignored by this whole ritual?

Topics: education

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    Mar 3 2012: So Ana, what happens when a child says "I can't participate in what you are doing"?

    Are there any repercussions to the child?

    Are all the schools in Panama semi-private? Or are there public schools where what you are saying does not happen.

    I know of many in Panama that will not participate in religious indoctrination at a public school.

    I would like to know what you are their teacher will be told to do, and also what do you personally feel is the right thing to do.

    Thank you for your answer.

    [Edited....questions added]
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      Mar 3 2012: Most of the schools in Panama are private; however, the biggest percentage of students go to public schools. May seem like a contradiction, but the wealth distribution (or lack of) really shows in this case. Anyways, that is a totally different subject! Unfortunately, public schools is where most of this happens. That is, teachers are mostly highly religious, and find in religion the answer to everything. In other words, you haven’t passed a test, it’s ok; “Si Dios quiere, lo pasas la proxima vez” (if God wishes, you’ll pass it next time). It is not a way of telling the kid that he needs not study for the next text, but it is giving him the underlying idea that no matter how hard you work for something, if God doesn’t want it for you, you won’t achieve it. To me it’s bothering. I am an orthodox myself, and although I believe in God and certain parts of the Bible, sometimes pray, as well as attend church, I believe children should not be trained to rely on God’s will for their successes or failures. In my opinion (as a teacher myself) a student needs to celebrate his achievements as his own, and take pride in them; and he should also “suffer” (lacking a better word at the moment) for his setbacks.

      The other issue with education, as I see it, is that students cannot question their teacher. So referring now to your first questions, I doubt a student would even think about asking permission to step outside while the rest pray. It would 1. Make him stand up against the instructions of his teacher (which is really not allowed), and 2. Make him the outcast, the kid who walks out when everyone else does something as a group. I believe this could definitely harm him and his integration, as well as his self-esteem. I would see it as a situation where I lose the child from my class. He is asked to do something irrelevant to the subject matter, even though it is not in his belief; he is at risk of pushing the teacher and training away as a sign of rebellion.
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        Mar 4 2012: Ana, here's what I personally think is doable, and functional, and healthy.

        First, religion/faith is not something that school or government needs to teach.

        Second, religion/faith is something that schools could "offer" as a curriculum in the HIGHER grades as a way to expose the beliefs of humanity as a whole.

        If in the classroom there are those of different belief systems, then WONDERFUL, because you can get many points of view on the same subject.

        In my honest opinion, I think that if you go to a private school then it is your parent's choice, and they will pick the one that best supports the value system that they as a parent want to teach you.

        If you go to a public school, well then, you as a parent must educate your child in standing up for their personal convictions. Teenagers can do this..............I'm not so sure about 4 and 5 year olds, as children mature at different ages, and their level of understanding varies greatly from age to age.

        Here in this country, teachers respect a child's right to choose. Even the national anthem, if you choose not to sing it, it is ok. You stand respectfully, and listen as others sing it. RESPECT is the key.
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        Mar 5 2012: How sad. Sounds like here 50 years ago.
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      Mar 3 2012: Basically, my main concern here (and the reason I do not agree with these practices) is that children are not gooey clay pots. They are moldable, yes! But they should be presented facts, given arguments, and allowed to form their own opinions and belief systems. Teach them religion in a religion class. If that could be done more from the value system/literature/history point of view, even better; but do not push down their throats set in stone ideas and beliefs.
    • Mar 13 2012: I disagree with your statement that children are not gooey clay pots, they are. And from an early stage they should be taught and shown exactly what you present and that will mold, hopefully, a well rounded, educated respected young adult. I stood up and listened and sang our National Anthem every morning and it instilled pride in my Country. i also stood up and listened to prayers and it did not do me any harm, it did not force me to think or say that this wass the only religion. The prayers were prayers that the majority of Religions use and now, today it is very different in that we have more religions coming into the mixing pot of our Country but I believe that the majority still is a religion that the prayer(s) would not create any issues. The student who comes from another Country with other religious beliefs can stand silently and say a prayer from his or her religion and it should not cause any interferance with any of the youth in the classroom. Stepping out would only cause a youth to be pointed out, they should stand with the other students and do as I said previously and say there own prayer. It was done like that for alot of people before and it has not hurt anyones beliefs and traditions that the people (as a Country) decided years ago to do in the classroom. It works, it has worked and why fix something that is not broken, remember that new immigrants come to this Country because it is better than the one they left, so they should not try to change something that has been happening in a Country that to them is better so they should stand silently, say a pray from their own religion, and than take the benefits of the new country and absorb them and they can keep their religion in their own home and institute that they pray in.
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        Mar 13 2012: Did you realize we are talking about Panama?
        • Mar 15 2012: Does it matter where? I was just trying to show that no matter where you are or where you go. this question is always there. The only change is the amount of influence the Religion has on State, and it shows up in the classroom, so pressure from Government or the Religion is even felt at this level. Sorry if I went a little heady on you but I was just trying to show that this is not just an issue in Panama but everywhere.
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        Mar 18 2012: "Stepping out would only cause a youth to be pointed out, they should stand with the other students and do as I said previously and say there own prayer."

        And what about those who lack belief entirely? Should they just stand there and pretend to be praying? Putting a youth in the position of "Join the group, or else you'll be pointed out!" is just plain wrong, especially when the grouping concerns individual belief, or lack thereof.

        I really miss the thumbs down icon!
        • Mar 27 2012: Yes but I am just suggesting that, I know it is a difficult decision for the student, either people will respond with what Religion are you and learn something or S/He will be ostercized for stepping out of a thing that the School has been doing since it opened and what makes S/He so special. I do not agree with the person stepping out because of this but I also would give the student the option, not restrict them in any way. Make it there choice not the Church or State. I apologize if you misunderstood me and thought I was in aggreance with stepping out, No I am the opposite in that I would give the student the option and if S/He stepped out and there were any questions than I would give that person the opportunity to explain her reasoning and hope that the other students understand why and leave it at that. But that is my wish and maybe even a dream because there is always one in the crowd that points things out rather harshly and that does not help the issue.
          Thanks for the reply.
          Tom Nugent

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