#238 In which our hero visits a school and has a very illuminating conversation with said school’s principal.
The Scientist and I took the girls to an open house last week. Since Lily is four (and a genius) we need to start thinking about where we’re going to send her to Kindergarten. We’re not real keen on sending her to public school, mostly because we’ve heard that the public schools around us aren’t the greatest. The high school is actually pretty good, but the lower grades appear to be basically day cares where the teachers spend most of their time wrangling children and not so much time actually teaching them anything.
Lily’s birthday is in November, which means we have to deal with that weird thing where she just misses the deadline to enroll. However, being that she really is a pretty smart kid, we thought that she might be able to test into a program and start school this fall. However, we’ve since learned that most schools are putting rules into place that actually prohibit them from taking kids who aren’t five years old by the deadline, no exceptions.
This, as it turns out, is a good thing. Because the open house did not go well.
Here’s the thing: considering the non-stellar reputation of public schools in our area, we want to send the girls to a private school. There are two private schools quite near us that are fan-fucking-tastic, but well out of our price range. So we’ve been looking at other schools, notably private religious schools. Now, it’s not that we really need our kids to have a healthy helping of God with their studies, we just want them to have the best education we can afford. And most private religious schools we’ve looked at have small class sizes (ie., great teacher/student ratios), good resources (ie., lots of computers in every classroom) and are actually affordable for us (ie., we don’t have to choose between education or electricity). And we’re not opposed to a religious atmosphere, so in theory we don’t have a problem with a Christian school.
Except for one thing.
Being that The Scientist is, well, a scientist, and I share her beliefs in a largely rational world, we’re both concerned about how science is taught in school. Evolution is the hot button of course.
A little rant here.
I think evolution takes an unfair amount of heat in the science vs. religious war. It is, I’ll admit, the one issue in which both sides seem to have a pretty decent (if rudimentary) understanding of the difference in view points--science (“The universe was created in the wake of the Big Bang, and Earth in particular formed over billions of years”) and religion (“The universe and Earth and everything therein were created by God over the course of seven days”).
I get the vibe that people think that if we could just agree to disagree on this one point, then we would get along just fine. But, to me, it’s more than that. It’s not just that I believe that the universe is billions of years old, it’s not that I believe that all life has common ancestors in our far, far history… it’s that I look at the world in a certain way. I believe that the world can be figured out, if you look carefully enough. I don’t believe anything “is because it is.” There are answers out there, you just have to know enough to ask the right questions. And while I believe that you can rely heavily on books to find your answers, you don’t have to be limited to one book in particular.
Anyway, back to school.
We went to this particular Christian Academy because it was recommended to us by our day care provider. She had heard good things about it, so we figured we’d give it a test drive.
It was a cold and icy night, so we were one of only half a dozen families who showed up. The teachers are generally there for these kind of things, but the administration had sent them home because of the weather. We were greeted at the door by the principal.
It quickly became apparent that the principal considered himself a funny guy. But, sadly, we was not.
While I appreciate a sense of humor, I’m not looking for a stand-up comedian to education my kids. And I only wanted to get a feel for the school; not necessarily be entertained while I was touring the facilities. But, immediately upon entering the place, he introduced himself and told us, “We sent the teachers home because of the weather, so you’re stuck with the administration!” Okay by me. “Let me show you around. Usually you only get the nickel tour, but since I’m the principal, I’ll give you the twenty-five cent tour!” Oh, I get it, you’re being funny. Ha-ha.
But whatever, I don’t need this guy to be my new best friend, I just need a competent school to fill my kid’s heads with some quality learnin’. And the school is nice. Small, but nice. They have a nice gym, and a computer in every classroom, and a computer lab with 20 or so Macs. The facility is clean and colorful, and the kids’ artwork is proudly hung in the hallways.
We end up in the Kindergarten room and while the teacher isn’t there, for whatever reason the teacher’s aid is. We chat with her and learn a little about how the school runs (they teach reading with the phonics system, they have a religious ceremony every Friday morning, the students get two warnings before they are sent to the principals office, etc., etc.) It all sounds reasonable. Then, we finally get around to the Hot Topic.
The aide doesn’t know much about how upper level science is taught, but she does know that they cover evolution. Okay, good. She recommends that we speak to a particular teacher, because he teaches 5th grade science. It turns out that the 5th grade science teacher and the principal and one and the same.
So we track him down and ask him some pointed questions. He tells us that yes, he does teach evolution. Good. Then he teaches his students the problems with evolution. Not good.
“The biggest problem,” he tells us, is that evolution doesn’t have a starting point. They claim that lower forms evolve into higher forms, but it’s got to start somewhere. And that somewhere, in my teaching, is God.”
Now, it’s neither the time nor place to get into it with this guy. I hold my tongue; clearly we have radically different views on the topic. The Scientist tries to talk it out with him, explaining how when she went to school she was taught evolution in science class, and creationism in religion class. And how she thought these theories could live side-by-side. The principal tells us how he’s a literal interpretationist and, even though he doesn’t come right out and say it as such, it’s pretty clear that he has no room in his life whatsoever for evolution.
And honestly, I don’t care what the man’s person beliefs are… but I do have an issue with him teaching evolution simply to discredit it. And to his credit, he is honest with us, and says that if we’re looking for a school that teaches the age of the Earth to be millions of years old, that this is probably not the school for us. Fair enough.
We have the vibe that maybe we should just keep looking, and we start heading for the doors. But right about then they announce that there’s going to be an assembly of sorts to further discuss things about the school. Plus, there are cookies and punch. So we decide to stick around.
And I’m soooo glad we did.
The administrator, a nice enough fellow, despite his simpleton grin, welcomes the parents and thanks us for braving the weather to learn more about their school. He reinforces that this is a Christian school, and as such, there are a couple things they require, including that at least one of the parents much be a born-again Christian and that each child must have and know their own Bible by age four.
He explains some of the things that happen in the school, including the Friday morning service. Each grade must memorize a Bible verse and recite it, as a class, during the service every week. This seems innocuous enough, until he tells us what some of the verses are. They memorize one verse for every letter of the alphabet, such as “A is for absolute sin, which tarnishes us all;” “B is for the blood of Christ that washes away our sins;” and so on.
This is a little doom and gloom for me. How about, “A is for Adam, whom God made in His image” or something a little more cheery like that? The administrator wraps up his spiel. Then, the principal gets up to talk to us.
And wow, does he have some stuff to say.
He starts by re-enforcing that this is a Christian school, and that our children are going to learn good values and morals along with their education. And how this is more important than ever in today’s world. “You can’t even turn on the TV any more without seeing an inappropriate, non-biblical relationship any more,” he tells us. “In fact, just last night I was watching one of those home makeover shows--and you’d think those would be safe, right?--and the people they were building a house for were a couple of lesbians. And one of them was pregnant!”
He’s clearly shocked by this, and he spits out “lesbian” with the same distaste that one might say “pedophile.” And they were pregnant, too? God forbid (literally)! And then, amazingly, the very next words out of his mouth are this:
“Not that we judge anyone here.”
And I’m thinking, holy shit, are you joking? That is exactly what you’re doing. You’re judging people, and you are find them lacking on a daily basis. I’m tempted to just get up and leave at this point, but I don’t want to be rude and make a scene. So I sit and bite my tongue.
He goes on for awhile longer, and the stuff he says about religion affect me as much as his dismissal of evolution. His faith sounds a little scary, a little oppressive. I mean, I don’t need my kids to learn that the Bible is all sunflowers and unicorns, but I don’t want them to think that God is an angry, punishing force. And that’s exactly what I walked away with: God is watching you, don’t screw up or you’ll regret it.
The open house wraps up and we beat a hasty retreat out of there. This is clearly not the place for us, or our children. In the car ride home The Scientist and I have to consider if we’ve made a huge mistake in even thinking about sending our kids to a religious school. Are they all like this? Would they just be better off in public school? Can we, in good conscious, send our children to a school that teaches them something so radically different than what we think and believe?
The answer to all of these questions is we don’t know. So we’re back in research mode, looking around for new solutions. We’re resolute that we’ll find someplace that works. How can we even be sure that there is a good school out there that will meet their needs and our needs?
I guess we have faith.