Middle School Extra Credit: Fasting for Ramadan?!

January 16, 2013 at 5:00 am / by 
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(UPDATE BY AUTHOR:  I thought long and hard about naming names. The teacher no longer teaches at the school and I, for the most part, hold the school in high regard. it was a problem, i dealt with it and i won. But naming the school misses the point I was trying to make: that all teachers come from the same background and have been educated in the same schools, etc. and we kid ourselves if we think we can turn our backs and leave “educating” to the “experts”, no matter if we send our kids to private, parochial, public schools.)

“Don’t need a lunch today,” said my then 8th grader youngest of four. My first reaction, and second for that matter, was celebration: of all the mom chores, facing mayonnaise in the morning is the one I hate most, and for once the little darling remembered to tell me before I had tackled the chore.  Two reasons to be happy and the sun not yet up? Color me grateful.

I didn’t ask him why he didn’t need lunch until he pounced on dinner. “I fasted today for extra credit,” he answered.

Fasting?  Extra credit? To get information out of this child one needs threaten water boarding at a minimum. But eventually we got the story. A religion class each year at our Catholic school is mandatory, and in 8th grade a class in comparative religions is taught.

As part of the class, Sam’s teacher offered extra credit to fast on the first day of Ramadan.

“What else have you been offered extra credit for?” I asked. “Nothing,” he mumbled.

During a telephone call to the teacher, I asked the same question: Has extra credit been offered for any other religious practices?  No, none. And none were planned. I then explained in simple terms that by selecting ONLY an Islamic practice for extra credit, she was elevating its stature above all other religions being studied. She disagreed, and then lectured me on the superiority of Muslims to Christians. Sort of like arguing, “I didn’t kick your dog, but it bit me first.”

I demanded Sam be given extra credit for having been circumcised. She laughed. I didn’t. My chilly silence convinced her I was serious. The disagreement was escalated to the principal. I eventually won the battle (without proof of circumcision being required, much to Sam’s relief) but I have to admit I didn’t change any minds. The principal, who is a good friend (with four kids, I did my share of time in his office) did not and does not understand why I found the offering of extra credit for only an Islamic practice to be offensive.

It has been a financial sacrifice to send our four children to Catholic School K-12; it’s a decision we don’t regret. That having been said, I learned an important lesson. All teachers have gone to the same colleges and universities, done the same graduate work and been trained using the same curriculum. They have been steeped in liberal ideology. They have literally never left school. They have never had to face the long-term effect of the principles they teach. There are concepts that teachers learn and teach that defy real-world reality (boys and girls are the same, it’s only societal constructs that make boys prefer trucks and girls prefer dolls; all religions have terrorists; violence is never the answer, etc. etc.)

Are all teachers liberal? Most are, but it’s not their politics that scare me; it’s their wholesale belief in studies and experts (and they consider themselves to be an expert) and their wholesale rejection of common sense and reality. They are convinced that since they are trained “educators”, they should be given free rein in all education-related issues and that as parents we need to support them in every way.

Obvious problem: what they believe is education related is not the same as what we understand is education related.

As parents we want them to teach. And teaching, by definition, is measurable. While we were busy raising our families, educators changed the definition of teach, right around the same time they changed their title. It’s now their job to “educate” about social awareness, tolerance and environmentalism, which now teaches as fact that our current lifestyle is “unsustainable”. That’s the topic of an AP Environmental class, by the way, that my niece is now earning college credit for as a high school junior.

My son’s teacher told me she worried my youngest was “intolerant” and she felt it was her job to change that. I explained that all my children had been taught since the earliest of ages to tolerate everything–that is, everything that is tolerable. Cliterectomies, for instance, are never to be tolerated. Nor is wife beating or bigamy. Or flying planes into buildings. And anyway, I told her, if he ended up a loser, it would be my garage he would be living in as an adult. Unless she was willing to give him her address and leave a key under the mat, I instructed her to do her job, teach him about the different religions without elevating one over the other, and I would do mine. My job being defined as everything required to ensure that he would not be living in my garage when he is 27.

Teachers and what I call “the educational complex” figured it out before I did: get them early and they are yours for life. Whether by happenstance or design, teachers and the educational complex are usually the first voice our children hear on a subject. It never dawned on my sister to discuss same-sex marriage with her fifth grader until said child came home with some questions on California Proposition 8. And the reason for her questions? The teacher was wearing a “No on 8, No on hate” button in class. How many kids saw that button and never gave their parents the opportunity to give another view? My children, at certain ages, could have been easily convinced I would vote “yes on hate”.

We as parents have influence, but who has time to de-brief every child on every subject at the end of every day?  And how many children come home chatting with news of the day? Mine dropped the practice somewhere around 2nd grade, long before any controversial subjects were discussed.

And why are we sending our kids to spend the better part of every day to listen to adults, adults in authority, who think they know better than we what our children need to be taught to become functioning, responsible adults?