Illinois Reinstates Mandatory Waste of Time in the Classroom January 15, 2011

Illinois Reinstates Mandatory Waste of Time in the Classroom

Apparently, mandatory Silent Reflection and Student Prayer time is coming back to Illinois.

Which puts me in an somewhat-awkward position as a high school teacher in Illinois who prefers using class time to teach my students.

First, a quick recap of the story:

The Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act was approved by Illinois lawmakers in 2007. But a U.S. District judge overturned the law in 2009 after an outspoken atheist and his daughter from Chicago challenged it.

A federal appeals court has ruled the law is constitutional because it doesn’t specify prayer.

Illinois education officials on Friday alerted schools that the federal injunction banning a mandatory moment of silence had been lifted, opening the door for schoolchildren to again begin the class day with a period of silent prayer or reflection.

“This action means the (Silent Reflection and Student Prayer) Act is now in effect,” read part of a message that the Illinois State Board of Education sent to school principals and district superintendents.

Rob Sherman is the Chicago atheist who filed the initial lawsuit and he says he’s trying to appeal the judge’s ruling.

In the meantime, beginning Tuesday when school is back in session, I may have to lead my class in a moment of silence. (Because what our education system needs more than anything is a new way to waste kids’ time.)

This law is pointless. It’s a not-even-thinly veiled attempt to push prayer in the classroom.

There’s no definition for how long a “moment” is.

There’s no penalty if you break this law.

There’s no one checking in to see that it’s being upheld.

There’s nothing a student can do in the 15-second silent period that they can’t do right before class or before they leave the house.

So, kids, if your teachers know what’s best for you, they’ll encourage you to do whatever the hell you want during the “moment.”

Cause a ruckus.

Sing in unison.

Tell them a joke.

Better yet, use the time to ask your teacher a question about last night’s homework. What are they going to do? Stop you from learning?

There’s a Civics lesson for the kids: The Illinois state government apparently has nothing better to do with their time than force kids to shut up for a few seconds.

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  • Honestly. Can’t the students just do this before they come to school?

  • Claudia

    Why do they always say an “outspoken atheist” whenever we object to anything? I never hear about “outspoken Christians” objecting, they only say “Christians objected…”. Is it somehow that we’re some sort of oddity. You know “outspoken” atheists, unlike normal atheists that know to keep their heads down and shut the f$%k up.

  • Hamilton Jacobi

    Hey Mr Mehta, Bobby asked me to pull his finger during Silent Reflection time. Can you make him stop?

  • allison

    It could be worse. We’re in the South and we start with the pledge, a patriotic song (usually God Bless America because God’s not prominent enough in the anthem) and THEN the moment of silence. Argh.

  • “The Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act”

    A “Prayer Act” alone gives it away. It’s a law respecting an establishment of religion. The federal constitution effectively bans that at all levels of legislation. That act is word for word illegal.

    Whenever a Christian says they have better morals, we should remind them that they don’t even obey their own laws, and here is a glaring example.

  • Carlie

    If you do have to be silent, is that enough time for one round of charades?

  • Stephen P

    ‘Good morning class. As you may know, the “Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act” stipulates that we must hold a brief period of silence as “an opportunity for silent prayer …”

    ‘A federal appeals court has ruled the law is constitutional because it doesn’t specify prayer. We will now have a brief period of silence in which you may reflect on the literacy or otherwise of the members of the federal appeals court.’

  • Beijingrrl

    If you have to do it, use it to your advantage. Suggest to your students that a good way to use the time would be to briefly acknowledge any thoughts not related to class which may be on their minds so that when it is over they can focus on the task at hand.

  • The last thing I wanted to do when I was in school was waste time. There is so much wasted time in the average day of a public student that it’s ridiculous to start the day off on this note. What about public universities? Must they start each class with a moment of silence too? Where does it end?

  • Special ed

    As a teacher it’s challenging enough to get kids to shut up long enough to learn the parts of an atom. Good luck trying to get the to observe silence! Hahahaha!

  • if there’s no penalty for breaking this law, why not skip it all together, Hemant? Just begin class the way you always do. Are they going to fire you for not engaging your students in prayer?

  • Bill

    My father worked for a company that wasted 15 minutes at the start of every meeting chatting about golf. An irascible non-golfer, dad would walk out and come back later. They then agreed that 15 mins chat about golf was a waste of time, stopped, and then started each meeting with a prayer. An irascible atheist, dad wouldn’t attend. When he left the company one of his ex-colleagues was heard to say “he didn’t like golf and he didn’t believe in god! Awful man!”. It pleased my dad no end.

  • Danielle

    Yea, just skip the entire thing all together. There seems to be no punishment for not doing it.

  • Guest Pest

    “Good morning. students. It’s time to get out your cell phones and do some silent text messaging.”

  • Luther

    First, wait for someone to officially tell you need to do anything differently. Just because you read the ruling somewhere does not mean you have been officially made aware of it.

  • Justin

    Am I missing something? How does “schools may” mean “schools must”? I’m not a fan of the law, but I don’t see anything here that makes it mandatory at all.

  • Eh.

    Much as it is a transparent effort to put prayer into schools, I can’t help but think that 15 seconds of silence would help focus rowdy kids before the day begins.

  • valdemar

    Under English law, state-funded schools must have daily act of Christian worship. Except most of them ignore it, and nobody can do anything to enforce it. Needless to say most of us were totally uninfluenced by any religion we got at school. They might as well have preached Mithraism or something else that has no part in mainstream British society. In the US, of course, things are different, and I pity the poor kids subjected to some half-arsed theocracy when the teacher is a bigot.

  • Kimpatsu

    There’s no definition for how long a “moment” is.

    Yes, there is. A moment is 90 seconds. (It’s an Old English measurement of time.)
    Next you’ll be telling me that Peruvian balsam doesn’t come from El Salvador!

  • Lisa Madigan supports this. I likes Lisa. She was easy to talk to when I lived in Bucktown regarding our small local concerns. Later, her position as Illinois Attorney General provided some help while I went after a few guys that manipulated some gullible, naive and unfortunate homeowners that gave up their homes to people looking to scam such people.

    I disagree with her position of being in support of this “moment” of silence. I think it is an error of judgment on her part.

    The adults have had their say in the matter and will continue to fight this issues in the courts. In the meantime, it is up to the students to stand up — to try to force some sensibility regarding this bad decision and to help push for an end of this ridiculousness.

  • Revyloution

    Hemant, put a math problem up on the white board in the morning. Have little prizes, and the first kid who can solve the problem in his head in 15 seconds wins the prize.

  • OliviaNM

    I go to school in Illinois, and when I wasn’t an atheist I really supported this, now I understand what a blatant violation of the law it is and it disgusts me. I don’t plan on being silent on Tuesday or acting like I care for that matter.

  • Bob

    “In this classroom, we worship the purity of math and the elegance of equations underlying the universe.

    “(recite mathematical principles)”

  • Ms. Crazy Pants

    What if my religion calls for me to be as loud as possible in prayer? That would prevent me from praying during silent time. This seems very pro-christian and anti every other religion that requires more than silent prayer.

  • Dan W

    “There’s no penalty if you break this law.”
    Good. I suggest you just ignore this law, and not have a moment of silence/prayer in your class, Hemant. Besides being unconstitutional, it’s a waste of time that you could put to better use actually doing something.

  • Stephen P

    @Dan: that depends on how the school wants to approach this. If the school wants the law observed, Hemant would be unwise to go against it.

    What he can do is find an appropriate way of announcing the moment of silent reflection (“you may, should you wish, pray to the shark god, Ukupanipo”). If some of the children then giggle through it, it’s not his fault, and if some of them go and look it up afterwards then he’ll have enhanced their education (very slightly).

  • Peter Mahoney

    Here is what Jesus H. Christ says:

    “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
    Matthew 6:6

  • When I was in high school the moment of prayer…erm…silence was announced over the intercom after the morning announcements. It wasn’t up to individual teachers to choose whether or not to observe it–the entire school echoed with the “we will now bow our heads for a moment of silence.” Yes, “bow our heads.” We were also encouraged to close our eyes. If that’s not a call to prayer I don’t know what is.

    I used that “moment of silence” to loudly flip through pages of a book or get up to throw things away or otherwise do anything but bow my head and be quiet. Only one teacher ever tried to tell me to sit down and be quiet and I believe my exact words were “You can’t make me.”

    And she couldn’t.

  • elricthemad

    Students, take this moment to reflect on how much further ahead students in Asia and other parts of the developed world are getting. If you have time, reflect on how they will not likely allow you a similar moment when you all work for them in some menial unskilled job.

  • Here is what Jesus H. Christ says:

    “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
    Matthew 6:6

    Wait…pray but DON’T make a huge public spectacle out of it? Well, that sounds positively un-American! How am I supposed to show off my humble devotion?

  • To be fair, as a student at a public school in Illinois, it isn’t often implemented that harshly. We have our moment of silence in the morning announcements in the form of a 5 second pause. Something along the lines of “Hi, these are your morning announcements Talent Show tryouts are this Saturday…”

    Obviously I don’t agree with it, but it isn’t like a 30 minute organized prayer in the morning.

  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    When President Obama took a moment of silence at 11 AM for Gabrielle Giffords, didn’t that make you just fume with rage over the ‘wasted’ government time?

    I know it sure didn’t for me.

    It’s high time for someone to sue the bastards who let Obama do that. Someone’s gotta keep the fake outrage alive.

  • I hope I’m not the only one who thinks Hemant should push against this on the job. Actively ignore this law. If Hemant is asked by his superiors to follow the law, I think he should refuse. I’d be proud of Hemant if he got fired for it and took it to court. I think this could be a big chance for Hemant to make a big difference.

  • JB Tait

    Too bad the word “prayer” is in the title of the act. A fifteen second silence is a great way to start a class, to create a transition to the serious business of learning. It gives a formal interval in which they are required to settle down, become quiet, take their attention from their social posturing, gossip, and general rowdiness, and ready their minds for the education they are being offered.

    It is the silence that has value, not the “moment of reflection” and with it, the redirection of their focus from the group, to their individual responsibility.

    Long ago, we all stood in unison, gave a greeting such as “Good morning, Miss Evans,” and took our seats in an orderly fashion, to show respect for the schooling we were privileged to participate in. Perhaps your 15 seconds can be used to help them appreciate learning as a gift to be accepted graciously, not an inconvenience forced on them.

  • P.

    Biggest waste of time ever. If you MUST pray in school, is there a reason you can’t do it, I don’t know, during passing period? During lunch? Mr. Mehta, if they institute this during first period, I will gladly sing in unison with you. Not even joking.

  • Gib

    Daily game of charades!!!

  • ThilinaB

    Wait… since this isn’t a pray to jebus moment but a do something religious moment can’t you do absolutely anything you want and claim its religious (i cant see anyway of letting a bunch of kids do anything they want for 2 mins a day possibly having any negative effects or consequences).

    extra points to anyone who starts a fire and leads the rest of the class in dancing around it. or for bringing a goat to the class to sacrifice (please don’t actually harm or kill any animals).

  • Yes it is a stupid law, but no it’s unconstitutional.

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