Oppressive religion and schools

I’ve been waiting to write this post for quite a while, but it seemed like I was always too busy. Well, I’m finally home sick and guess what? Now I have time.

I recently completed my Master’s degree and entered the working world. I wanted to teach college courses, but those are some pretty scarce jobs and having an M.S. instead of a PhD makes it even harder to snag a position. The backup plan was high school teaching- not my first desire, but it pays money. Unfortunately I don’t have the credentials to teach in a public school (you need student teaching and some other… uh, stuff. I’m not sure what it is, but I know I don’t have the requisite background in education courses.) So, that left me with private schools… Most of which are Catholic. Oh, the irony. An atheist teacher working at a Catholic school? Well, I didn’t really have any other recourse. I knew I’d have to attend mass, fake prayers, etc., but nothing can truly make you change what you believe. Whatever, I’ll do what needs to be done.

I had this put to the test quickly when the teacher’s had to go on a retreat. Yes, a retreat. One which my principal said was more important than getting my TB test (you know, just student health, nothing too important.) Towards the end of this incredibly boring event, we were asked to sign a pledge that really made me gag; the arrogance it conveyed was unfathomable, and to assume all teacher’s subscribe to your own religion is absurd. Here is the “pledge” in all it’s glory:

Pledge to Ministry at St. ——– High School
We, the administration, faculty, and staff of St. ——– High School,
dedicate ourselves to the mission of St. ———– and to the values of the Gospel.
We pledge to provide a Catholic, Christian education to the young men and women entrusted to our care,
whatever their economic, cultural or educational background may be.
We further pledge to inspire these young men and women to discover their God-given talents,
to empower them to be lifelong learners, and to challenge them to achieve their potential as compassionate men and women of faith.
In this commitment, we trust in the grace of God whom we serve.

Here’s a religious statement for you: Holy shit.

I could not believe that they were trying to force me to sign something that was completely opposite of my own personal beliefs. Sure, I’ll work for a Catholic school. I’ll go through the motions. But to make me sign my name on a piece of paper stating that I’m Catholic and that I agree with all of the above? I just couldn’t do it. After sweating it out trying to figure out how to get out of signing it, I ended up pretending to sign, with my back to everyone, and no one was the wiser.

But let’s unpack this a little bit. Aside from the fact that they are forcing all faculty, admin, and staff to sign a statement of their personal religious faith, (something that wasn’t anywhere in MY contract!) there are some severely disturbing ideas contained in this pledge. First, in no way do I dedicate myself to the values of the Gospel. (And who’s Gospel are we referring to, exactly? Oh, of course, only YOURS could be the TRUE one. What was I thinking.) Plus, let’s look at the values of the Gospel, which could be an entire book in and of itself. Leave everything you have and abandon your family and friends… hmm, that doesn’t seem very nice or kind to me. That’s just one example, but I don’t have time to run through the Atheist’s Annotated Bible, so let’s move on.

We pledge to provide a Catholic, Christian education to [the students], whatever their economic, cultural or educational background may be.” This may have been written with the intention of inclusiveness, but what is this really saying? When I read it, I heard, “We don’t care what YOUR heritage is. We’re going to impose OUR belief system on the kids.” I immediately thought back to the days of the Inquisition, and all of the wars that have been waged in the name of gods. So they wanted me to pledge that I will disrespect any other culture that does not include Christianity, or more importantly Catholicism, in their beliefs? No thank you. I want no part of that.

The pledge also ends with “we trust in the grace of God whom we serve.” Hell, I can’t sign that! I don’t want any piece of paper with my signature on it that says I subscribe to such nonsense. Sure, I was confirmed when I was in high school- I was sheltered from the world and honestly wasn’t ready for that type of deep commitment. So when that happened, yes, I believed it. But to blatantly lie? To sign something that makes my very skin crawl with disgust, that makes me shudder when I know that others truly believe it, is an offense not only to me, but to those who actually believe it, wouldn’t you agree?

And let’s just take a look at a rewritten version, without religion in play:
“We, the administration, faculty, and staff of ———- High School,
dedicate ourselves to educating the poor and under-served communities of our area and to the belief that each human being is valuable and important.
We pledge to provide a thorough, rigorous education to the young men and women entrusted to our care, to prepare them for college or any other life path, whatever their economic, cultural or educational background may be.
We further pledge to inspire these young men and women to discover themselves, their talents, and their true value as individuals; to empower them to be lifelong learners, and to challenge them to achieve their potential as compassionate men and women.
In this commitment, we trust in the belief that all people are created equally with equal rights and that they deserve access to quality education to prepare them for their lives ahead.”

I can scarcely imagine an educator who would disagree with the second pledge. This job has truly opened my eyes to the importance of keeping religion out of schools, as well as the importance of the more general concept of separation of church and state. The school hung up the signed pledge in a frame in the main hall; every time I pass it, I am proud to say my name is not there.

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