(OOPSIE, did I mention this is a religious and political post? Here's your disclaimer and chance to bail as if the fact I warned you I would be proceeding with a rant and/or rave wasn't enough, right?)
Big Sister is in the fourth grade and I found a gem of a fire-starter in the sty of her backpack. It was a worksheet with twenty questions where you have to fill in the blanks to complete the sentence. When I saw it I was so enraged and immediately asked Big Sister what it was. She said "Mom, before you get mad, Ms X told us to make sure when our parents got mad that they were teaching religion at school to tell you that it is against the law for her to teach us about the beliefs of any religion and that this is just about the history of Utah." Clearly the teacher suspected that there would be flak in regards to this little worksheet. She was not wrong. Which begs the question, why proceed when you already know it is questionable material?
In response to this worksheet I drafted the following letter which I sent to the principle via email:
One of my closest friends who herself is the mother of a fourth grader at the same school told me I was the only person she knows with balls big enough to actually send that to the principal. Is it my outrage at the social injustice of the matter or is it merely my argumentative and bitchy nature that fueled my sending the letter? It's probably a little bit of both. Having grown up here "in the land of Zion" amidst all the religious overtones and outright judging where your choice of religion is the number one topic of inquiry when you first meet a person, I'm a little sensitive to protecting that pesky right of religious freedom that was given each American in the Constitution. I believe that extends to the right of my children to be educated by the public school system with zero inference or interference by any religion. Period. Before you get all outraged, I stand by the last paragraph of my letter. If they wanted to introduce a world religion class that gave equal time to studying the basics of every religion of the world, not only would I embrace the prospect of my child learning more about diversity, I would not react to this subject matter since it would then be a valid form of school work. But they weren't teaching that, were they? Nope. This was supposed to be either a History lesson or at the furthest stretch a Social Studies lesson. Either way, giving my kid facts about a single religion's history instead is not acceptable
My fourth-grade daughter brought home school work from what she says was Utah History but which appears to have nothing to do with Utah History. Instead, it is teaching her about Mormon specific church history. Where is the separation of church and state when it comes to curriculum? When I questioned her about what it was, she had already been given a response from the teacher - Ms X who is not her homeroom teacher - who had apparently told the students how to respond when their parents asked why they were learning about religion. Her rationalization was that because she was not instructing them on the belief system of a religion then it was okay to teach since this was about how Utah was founded. While there is no disputing the historical fact that Utah was settled by Mormon pioneers escaping religious persecution, tell me why the following questions (taken directly from the worksheet) were relevant to that discussion:
Mormons was a nickname for people who belonged to a new church.
Joseph Smith was the first leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
The church was started in New York state in 1830.
Mormons sent missionaries to teach about their church.
Wherever the Mormons went, they were always forced to move, because no one liked them.
They moved from New York to Ohio, to Missouri, then to Illinois.
People did not like the Mormons, because Mormons believed their church was God's true church. (Not teaching about beliefs?)
Mormons religious beliefs often upset people who were not Mormons.
There was also problems with their neighbors over politics and land.
Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were shot and killed in Illinois by a mob.
Out of the 20 questions on the worksheet, I believe only the following statements would be considered relevant to UTAH history:
Moving west took much planning.
The pioneers were going to move more than 1,000 miles.
To help the Mormons move, there were only wagons, horses, mules and oxen.
However, I also believe that the not-so questionable statements could be presented even more non-religiously by referring to them as pioneers instead of Mormons. With respect to the settling of Utah, it is completely irrelevant what religion the pioneers who first came here were. Besides, there were Catholic missionaries here long before the Mormon pioneers if we are talking about historical facts...
I expect that if my child is learning the history of the Mormon church that she would also be required to learn the same story about where the Catholic church started, who the first Pope was and when the first congregation was established in the Utah valley. Same with the Protestants, the Baptists, etc. I know I am not alone in my concern with the way this curriculum is being presented and would appreciate your addressing it immediately. If you would like a copy of the worksheet I can provide that as well.
In my opinion it's no different than giving your own spin on history just because you like your version better than the plain old facts. But then again, we do that every Thanksgiving where we celebrate the Pioneers and the Indians and their harmonious feasting, don't we? Instead of sugar coating what really happened in our past we should own it - we came here, declared the native people savages, took the land from them, slaughtered them when they defended themselves and in the end rounded all the survivors up to be banished to the crappiest land around, never to leave it. That is what Thanksgiving really celebrates... but that isn't what we tell our elementary aged children. And this is just one example. Lucky for my kids, they have parents who round out their education at home in both religion and history.
Religion is a deeply personal thing and as such should be taught in the home, not the school. But, I live in Utah where every Junior High and High School has a little annex building just barely off of school property where any kid who wants is allowed to have a free period to walk there and attend Seminary classes - but only of the one religion... Hubby was even ranting the other day about how another religion - I think the Catholics but don't quote me on that for sure - were wanting to purchase land for the same reason near the site of a new high school and were being blocked from doing so. How is that fair?
Bottom line, I wish the separation of church and state was taken far more seriously in our country and especially in my own public school system. Look at where the Middle East got when they decided to rule their country based on their majority religion. We need to take religion out of the political arena, too - who cares what religion any one candidate is? By judging his or her religious beliefs as being better or worse than any other candidate's it fundamentally erodes their Constitutional right to freely practice whatever religion they choose free from discrimination and persecution. If I'm not mistaken that's why the Puritans came to America and *oddly enough* the Utah pioneers came west. But I digress...
I did get a response from the principal that she would be looking into the situation and would get back to me. I can't wait to hear what they have to say about it all!