When Should You Ignore a Proselytizing Teacher? August 14, 2012

When Should You Ignore a Proselytizing Teacher?

The excellent education writer Dana Goldstein wrote a review of a new book about a journalist who spent time at John H. Reagan High School in Austin, Texas — a “failing” school.

The book is called Saving the School: The True Story of a Principal, a Teacher, a Coach, a Bunch of Kids and a Year in the Crosshairs of Education Reform by Michael Brick:

One of the people featured in the book is Candice, a Chemistry teacher who is one of the “stars” at the school. But this is where Goldstein’s review had me raising an eyebrow:

Reagan’s star chemistry teacher, a young, born-again Christian named Candice, doesn’t hesitate to proselytize to her public-school students. This would be more disturbing if Candice weren’t so obviously a force of tremendous good in her students’ lives, taking them out for coffee and leading them in a Bible study group that is really more like a therapy session for kids growing up tough — often with absentee fathers, drug-addicted family members, and way too little money. Candice’s life changed when she visited Africa on a volunteer mission, so she raises money for a few of her students, most of whom have never left Texas, to take the same kind of trip over their summer break.

My first thought: What?! She can’t do that! We must stop her!

Then: But she’s a really good force in these kids’ lives!

Then: That’s irrelevant! She’s still abusing her power!

Then: But these kids need more strong adults in their lives! Stop missing the big picture!

This goes on for a while. I can’t figure out if I’m thankful she cares about these children as much as she does or if I’m blinded by my atheism that I would be willing to push aside all the good she’s doing because she’s clearly breaking the law.

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  • Rdkitchens

    I’m sure the local churches would also like to push aside the law do they can “do good.” The line has to be drawn. She is breaking the law and must stop.

  • I think it’s possible to be thankful for someone’s good deeds, but be critical of the actions they do. It’s not like if she stops proselytizing she will stop caring about these kids. It needs to be clear to her that what she is doing is not respecting these kid’s autonomy when she preaches to them. She can hold a bible study, and she can teach kids about the bible there, but being in her class, where students have no choice being in, she is crossing a line. 

    To me this is no different than your argument about Christians who oppose gay marriage. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/08/02/if-you-oppose-marriage-equality-what-else-am-i-supposed-to-call-you/ It doesn’t matter how nice you are. It doesn’t matter how much good you do. You are still wrong if you preach in class.

    EDIT: added clarifying language in the last sentence.

  • MagusLehrer

    She’s breaking the law. There’s no point where one should ignore a teacher that uses their position as a teacher to push a religious agenda.

  • kagekiri

    Exactly, stopping her from proseletyzing  shouldn’t make her a crappy teacher all of a sudden.

     If she’s doing the preaching in class, that’s just wrong, even if her net effect or intent is good. The fact that good teachers exist who DON’T preach to kids in class is proof that she can do even better, and doesn’t need to break the law to be a good teacher.

  • Wouldn’t it be possible to be a positive influence in those children’s lives without the bible study?

  • Julietdefarge

    What if she weren’t pushing religion?  What if, instead, she were leading all her female students in “modeling classes”, telling them they needed to to wear heavy eyeliner, high heels, short skirts,  and start saving up for implants in order to get ahead in life?  That’s just as accepted by society as Christian lifestyles, and equally likely to have a positive outcome for the student and for our society. 
    Anyway, this is fraternization and favoritism, as well as illegal.

  • What about non-Christian students? She might be doing good for some kids, but she isn’t doing good for all of the kids. And some of the students are non-Christians who might otherwise have benefited from her, but because she’s proselytizing to her students, these non-Christian kids are being systematically alienated.

  • Why would you think you are blinded by your atheism? This has nothing to do with atheism at all. Do you think that a Muslim or Hindu wouldn’t be disturbed by the methods of this teacher? This is a simple question of legality, and what this teacher is doing is illegal. If you believe that the ends justify the means, you can support her actions. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter how much good she might be doing to some of the students (and of course, not discussed is the possible harm she is doing to others).

    And really, does anybody seriously think it’s the proselytizing that’s making the difference, as opposed to the simple fact that she cares about her students and spends time with them? Will a Bible study session really make them better than, say, a study group?

  • What would the outcry be if she were pushing atheism, encouraging kids to leave the church? That’s my bellwether, usually.

  • Gus Snarp

    It seems to me that a competent administrator ought to be able to explain to Candice exactly why her proselytizing is unacceptable and find a way for her to channel that energy into making her an even better teacher, even more capable of reaching even more students.

    But life is complex, maybe she’d have quit if she couldn’t mix her religion with her teaching, maybe the religious angle was actually important to being able to reach kids who may already have been taught that religion is the only source of goodness.

    Nevertheless, what she was doing was against the law, and the question becomes is the impact of one teacher more important than allowing a flagrant violation of the law. Hopefully she would stick around and still have a positive impact after being told to stop proselytizing, and hopefully she’s not the only great teacher reaching at risk kids.

  • 3lemenope

    And if the principal wants to preserve the therapeudic or coommunity good that she does while also giving her space to help students explore their religious beliefs, perhaps that principal could suggest she be the faculty advisor for a Christian or Bible Study Club after school hours. Explaining to a person that the way they do things now crosses a line and must stop doesn’t have to be confrontational if there is another way to achieve the same ends in a legitimate way.

    I think the conflicted feelings Mr. Mehta talks about in his post should indicate when this sort of approach is likely to be more appropriate than the “coming-down-on-it-like-a-ton-of-bricks” approach, which also has its place when the circumstances call for it.

    EDIT: Whoops on inadvertently assuming the gender of the principal.

  • Lol Mahmood

    How long would she get away with it if she was a Wiccan, or a Muslim, or a Satanist?
    Proselytization is potentially harmful, because sometimes it works.

  • Martin

    If she cannot do it without the religious involvement, than she really isn’t doing it for the students at all, but for her own religion.

  • Baby_Raptor

    She’s breaking the law. You don’t ignore that. It’s not harmless. 

    Look at it this way: If she was sleeping with the kids but otherwise doing all this good, would you be considering ignoring it? How about if she was handing out drugs? This is just as bad as those two situations. She’s blatantly abusing power and ignoring laws. She needs to be fired.

  • Baby_Raptor

    I don’t know about everyone else here, but I’d be pissed. That’s probably not as illegal as the preaching, but it’s just as dangerous, only in different ways. And just as wrong. 

  • Guest

    Or, we could just say that’s her thing and thank goodness we live in a free country where our best teachers can do such things.  A couple years ago, my oldest son had an 8th grade Social Studies teacher who was crystal clear on where she stood on a host of secular and liberal ideals, and she was more than willing to attempt to get kids to see the light.  You name it, there wasn’t a topic on social, moral, or religious views she didn’t draw a line in the sand about, and encourage others to see it her way – all on the school’s time.  At first, I thought hey!  What’s all this religion sucks and is wrong stuff?  To the lawyers!  And then I paused.  I noticed something.  First, she actually cared about the students.  When there was a fire drill, she emailed me to tell me that my son stopped to make sure a special needs student who had become mixed up got to where he needed to go.  A caring teacher notices those things.  A really caring teacher bothers to email about them.  Plus, another important feature: she didn’t punish students for disagreeing.  She had a typical “America as land of white racists genocidal murderers’, but when my son took her to task and disagreed with her appraisals, she gave him an A because he made his case.  The big thing is, in the end, it was a great educational experience.  It showed my son that there are other viewpoints in the world, and believe it or not, even if they sound harsh to your ears, they can still be held by people of good cheer and hearts.  So in hindsight, I would say more of them. 

  • Instead of raising money to send them to Africa, why not raise money to make their lives better here.

  • rhodent

    This is a no-brainer: teachers are not allowed to proselytize, and that’s that.  Demanding that she follow the law is not “push[ing] aside all the good she’s doing because she’s clearly breaking the law.”  If you were demanding she be fired even if she agreed to stop, that might count as pushing it all aside, but simply saying that she is not above the law does not.

  • It’s not clear from the quoted passage whether this is happening after hours or during school time. Taking them out for coffee and bible study group sounds like that’s happening outside of school hours. If it’s after school  with voluntary attendance  then I don’t see a problem. Agreed if it’s during class time then that’s not ok. 

  • Gus Snarp

    To me your case is not comparable. A social studies teacher is discussing politics and history and making a case on political and historical issues is reasonable, as long as she isn’t penalizing students for disagreeing if they can support their views, then she’s doing nothing wrong (well, if she really said religion sucks and is wrong, then she IS exceeding her purview and violating separation of church and state and ought to be at least reminded of the bounds she needs to stay within).

    This case involves a *chemistry* teacher, and religion has no place in the chemistry classroom at all. Beyond which, she is providing extra attention to students who choose to participate in religious activities with her, effectively discriminating against students who aren’t comfortable with that, whether they be Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, atheist, or other.

    Really, while your story sounds lovely, and is meant to show us how we atheists are chomping at the bit to attack religious teachers while you’re willing to let liberal, secular teachers go as long as they teach well, what it really shows is that you don’t fully understand exactly what is and isn’t permissible in public schools. Religious proselytizing, whether for a particular god or against gods, is not permissible. Having an opinion on politics and history and expressing it in a social studies class is permissible.

  • Nobody is saying she can’t be a Christian. We’re simply saying that using her position of authority to advance non-secular viewpoints is wrong. You can be a good person and not push people to religion, even if you are religious. NONE of those things you listed require religion in any way, shape of form.

    Or perhaps you would be perfectly fine if she was telling kids to get out of the Church because it’s abusive and patriarchal, all while doing the same other caring things she’s doing? You would be fine with that, right?

  • HowardV

    She sounds like an amazing teacher with (or preferably without) the religious indoctrination. 

  • Guest

    Um, that’s pretty much what my son’s teacher said – and she said it often.  That was my point.

  • Octoberfurst

     I try to put myself in the students place. What if I had a wonderful caring teacher who really went out of his/her way to help me but yet was a devout Muslim and kept pushing Islam on me. How would I feel?  I would feel conflicted. On the one hand I would appreciate the care and help but on the other I would wish the teacher would stop trying to convert me.  So the teacher should be told in no uncertain terms to knock off the preaching and at the same time be congratulated for being such a helpful teacher.

  • Guest

    No, she made it clear that what she believed was the way it should be: that religion was just a bunch of made up stories that was a singular force of evil in the world: opinions and beliefs she held, and nothing more.  But it didn’t sound like she penalized her students any more than this teacher does. So that’s fine with me.  Call me open-minded, tolerant, and a champion of diversity, but that’s how I saw it. And using the ‘promoting religion is wrong but bashing it is A-OK’ take on the Separation clause is at best a gross misreading of the First Amendment.

    Oh, and the last part of your response that couldn’t leave it at the level of substance sounds like the typical ‘hey, you’re not trying to suggest that atheists – atheists! – do bad things now are you?’  Please.

  • Blacksheep

    I think in her case it’s her faith that leads her to care for the kids in the way that she does, so it’s hard to separate the two. 

  • Blacksheep

    I had many teachers throughout my life who openly proselytized an anti theist position, and like your story, took every opportunity to get convince us that their views were the correct ones. They were all using their positions of authority to advance their own atheist viewpoints, however I just chalked it up to difference of opinion.  

  • Parse

    What David Kopp is trying to say (and that I agree with) is that both teachers are in the wrong here.  

  • Blacksheep

    How do I get my kids into her class? She sounds terrific.

  • vexorian

    If she is stopped from forcing kids to go to bible school, she can still do the other good stuff.

  • Celeste

    She is absolutely abusing her power. Why lead them in a bible study group when she could lead them in a book club group, using books that teach moral lessons? She could use everything from classics like To Kill a Mockingbird to more modern fare such as Harry Potter. Why proselytize about God in the classroom when it’s a simple thing to preach about morals, values, and ethics without ever once mentioning religion?

    I don’t think she should be fired, but she does need to be reigned in. There’s nothing stopping a person from being a force for good in this world in a purely secular manner, and she might reach even more kids that way.

  • Blacksheep

    You view sleeping with the kids and handing out drugs is as bad as sharing her faith with them?

    I would be far more upset if a teacher was having sex with kids or handing out drugs than proseletyzing, even if it were atheist proselytizing. “sticks and stones” and all that.

  • WoodyTanaka

    She can be a good force in these kids lives and be a strong adult figure without violating the Constitution.  If she’s not willing to do so, she has no business around children.

  • LesterBallard

    Fucking A. I know Christians who make a big deal about going to Kenya and spending time in the Kibera slum. I asked them once, don’t you think the money it costs for you to travel to and from Kenya would be better spent by sending it to those who are already there? So it could go for clean water, food, healthcare, education? It was like I took a shit in their living room. 

  • LesterBallard

    If she was anything but a evangelical Christian it wouldn’t be tolerated. Just like the numbnuts in Louisiana who found out that the voucher money for religious schools meant all religions, including Islam.

  • She’s probably proselytizing to GET to the non-Christian kids… helping them by guiding them to Christianity.

  • Personally, I view all three as dangerous in different ways.  Regardless how they are viewed, they are all against the law for a teacher to do.  That is the bottom line.

  • Blacksheep

    Actually, that’s 100% accurate: atheists (The ones here, anyway) are most certainly chomping at the bit to attack religious teachers, while most Christians actually are fine letting liberal, secular teachers go as long as they teach well.

    I grew up with atheist proselytizing in public schools by several very outspoken teachers. And Christians didn’t run to their lawyers to sue the school. There was diversity, freedom, and more all around tolerance.

    I can remember telling my parents that Mr __________ said “I do not believe in God because he does not exist” in class, to which my father replied, “Well, God believes in him.”
    That was that –  no marches, no lawyers.

  • Exactly.  How is raising money to send these kids to Africa to see how children REALLY suffer helping them here?  It’s emotional blackmail, quite frankly.  Get the children involved in service projects locally, even though a church if that’s her thing, so they can help people, and thus, help themselves.  Using religion to manipulate students is reprehensible.

  • But is she doing that with nonreligious students or students of other faiths?  Teachers should take care not to show favoritism, in OR out of class, with any student or group of students for any reason.

  • Or, we could just say that’s her thing and thank goodness we live in a free country where our best teachers can do such things.

    But we don’t live in a country where public teachers can do such things. What she is doing is patently illegal, without question. That is not a good message to send to students- that you can commit a crime and get away with it.

  • Chakolate

     Preezackly.  Making her stop proselytizing the students isn’t making her stop all the actions that are actually helping them. 

    If she was doing all the good things and then every time one of her students left she used a knife to nick his arm, you wouldn’t hesitate to stop her.  So stop her doing the damaging thing and encourage all the rest. 

  • Nox

     What good is she doing?

    I don’t see anything here to justify the assumption that Candice is “so obviously a force of tremendous good in her students’ lives”.

    So she takes her students out for coffee while using her position to indoctrinate them into a poisonous belief system. So she raises money to help them proselytize others. The catholic church has built a lot of hospitals. Doesn’t make them a force for good.

    Maybe these kids do need strong adults in their lives. But they don’t need people who will prey on their weakness. Preying on the disadvantaged, does not count as helping the disadvantaged.

  • Stev84

     Awww, you poor persecuted thing

  • And you’re utterly missing David Kopp’s point. Your son’s teacher was out of line, and so is Christian Chemistry Teacher Candice.

  • It is perfectly possible to be a good role model to students without bringing your religion into the picture. She shouldn’t be fired right off the bat, but this teacher is breaking the law. End of story.

  • Where on earth did you grow up? I find it rather hard to believe that you had “many teachers” who were atheists, let alone atheists who attempted to deconvert students from religious families.

  • Guest

    Would you still feel that way if she were trying to get her students to adopt Islam?

  • Houndentenor

    Am I the only one that finds socializing with one’s students outside of school to be inappropriate?  It sounds to me like this teacher needs some age-appropriate friends to spend her time with.

  • Er… whoops. Sorry. I was reading and typing too quickly. The point remains, the classroom is NOT a place for proselytization of any kind. Secular education from a secular government. Pushing any religion (or no religion) on my tax dollar is wrong.

    Now, teachers are more than welcome to answer questions about their religion factually (“Yes I am a Christian” or “Yes, I am an atheist, if you want to know more we can talk after school is out”). But when the book says “Candice, doesn’t hesitate to proselytize to her public-school students”, I have a problem with that no matter what her religion. The difference is in the motivator of information flow, whether it’s pushed or pulled.

  • Houndentenor

    I have only experienced the opposite.  I just finished a graduate program (after a 20 year break from school).  The only teachers who dared discuss inappropriate political or religious topics in the classroom were a born-again Christian and a libertarian (two separate people).  Neither of those topics were at all relevant to the subject matter (music theory and vocal pedagogy respectively).  No one dared say anything and risk their grades.  This was a state school in the midwest.

  • Bryan

     “And using the ‘promoting religion is wrong but bashing it is A-OK’ take
    on the Separation clause is at best a gross misreading of the First

    Yes. It would be. Except that Gus said “well, if she really said religion sucks and is wrong, then she IS
    exceeding her purview and violating separation of church and state and
    ought to be at least reminded of the bounds she needs to stay within”. So you guys are in agreement there, at least.

  • An anecdote is not the same thing as data. And I think you would be hard pressed to find an atheist on these boards that doesn’t think that your teacher was in the wrong, just as this one is.

    Tolerance is fine. Sharing ideas and discussions are fine. Proselytizing of any religious ideals on the public dime is not.

  • Me

    Heh, yep. There really is a fine line sometimes.  Sometimes we, as people (not atheists) have to swallow some things we have a hard time agreeing with, because quite simple, if something is helping people and not hurting people then we should learn to leave well enough alone.  

    Really, what harm is she causing these kids? Is pulling them away from possible life threatening addictions and at risk behavior and pulling them into religion SUCH a bad thing?  I would rather see these kids believe in god IF it HELPS them in the long run, rather than leading lives of crime, spreading hatred etc.  There ARE situations where religion HAS been a good thing for people. I personally am NOT religious, but that does not mean that ALL religion causes a BAD result in EVERY situation.  

    People need to set aside their prejudices about religion and look at how this is beneficial to kids that may not have anyone else that gives a shit. 

    Perhaps, as someone suggested below, maybe ask her to tone down the “god-talk” and keep up with the rest?  But even if she cant/wont…   would YOU want to be the one to take this away from these kids? No matter how illegal it may be?  

  • I think it is possible to have your cake and eat it too in this instance. she should be praised for the things she does right and condemned for the things she does wrong. If she wishes to run a Bible study and discuss personal stuff during that study, then I think an after class group will be fine for that. In short, she should move her proscelatizing into her personal time; either that or she should find ways to accomplish the good things she does without it. 

  • Margaret Whitestone

    Yeah, it sounds like she’s doing good stuff for the kids but why does she have to break the law in the process?  Can’t she just do good for her students because it’s the right thing to do, rather than pushing her religion on them in the process?  Imagine the outcry if a Muslim teacher spent half her time trying to convert the kids to Islam, or a Satanist teacher took the kids out for Black Masses.  Nobody would be talking about all of the great things she was doing for them, they’d be calling for her job and her head on a platter.   Because it’s Christianity, however, people write a book praising her and even some atheists hem and haw over whether to call out the illicit nature of her actions.

  • Maybe. There’s no legal precedent for that other than inside the classroom. Teachers are people, too, and allowed to have their own beliefs and even speak about them… just look at Hemant here. He’s a teacher by day, atheist activist by night. By your rules, he should shut down this blog because he’s able to reach a group of students and talk about non-curricular things and show “favoritism” toward atheists.

  • 3lemenope

    I’ve always been annoyed by the idea that an entity (a person, an organization, a religion, whatever) can be summed up as “good” or “bad” as though their collected acts could be tallied on a moral balance sheet.

    When the Catholic Church builds a hospital, this is an incredibly good thing. Increasing supply of medical resources reduces their cost, increasing the geographical distribution of medical care improves emergency outcomes and reduces the medical disadvantage to rural living. More hospital beds and more doctors and nurses attending the patients in them means more lives saved, period. Building a hospital makes the entity doing it a force for good in the lives of those affected by the act.

    When the Catholic Church facilitates the molestation and rape of little boys and girls, this is a hideously bad thing. Actively impeding investigations, not taking reports seriously, shuffling rapists around the world to shield them from their bad acts and provide them with new victims, deflecting blame onto victims or scapegoating uninvolved groups, all these acts deepen the moral stain that they participated in. Protecting and facilitating child rape makes the entity responsible a force for evil in the lives of those affected by the act.

    I don’t think there is any coherent way to even compare these two acts. It’s not like building a hospital gives you morality points while covering up child rape takes them away. I am glad whenever a hospital is built, and I am also glad when a rapist is caught and punished and those who cover up their crimes are sued into oblivion. I can feel that way, I think reasonably, even if it happens to be the same entity that did both. I can say that the Catholic Church may claim without irony that it is a leader in providing medical care around the world, and then I can laugh at them and ridicule them and then ultimately ignore them whenever they desire to pontificate on sexual morality or hold themselves up as moral authorities ever again.

    TL;DR:  “The good act does not wash out the bad; nor the bad act the good.”

  • Rich Lane

    If the teacher was a positive role model in every other way but took students to a movie, then to an underground dogfight, would you have any qualms about it?

  • Parse

    For the sake of clarity, can you define ‘atheist viewpoints’?  If you mean teaching things like evolution, an ‘old earth’, heliocentrism, or set theory, well, those aren’t ‘atheist’ viewpoints, they’re secular concepts, and only seen as religious by those groups whose dogma opposes them.

  • Parse

    Is pulling them away from possible life threatening addictions and at risk behavior and pulling them into religion SUCH a bad thing? 

    Do you see the issue with what you wrote in this sentence?  It’s like you’re asking “Aren’t baby kittens and starving children adorable?”  

    There ARE situations where religion HAS been a good thing for people.

    And there ARE situations where religion HASN’T been a good thing for people.  

    And to answer your final question, if she can’t or won’t turn off the god-talk during school, I would take her away from these kids.  Her refusal to change would show that she’s not interested in them as people, but instead only as potential converts.

  • Well, religious leaders and conservative activists  loudly declare all the time, that our schools are hotbeds of liberal activism, environmental brainwashing, and anti-religious values. They say that your experience is quite common, yet I’ve never seen any evidence that it’s even a rare phenomenon.   

    Somehow, I went through 15 years of California public schools & state college in the 80’s and 90’s  without ever hearing a peep, even from teachers who were quite liberal.  In college, I even took a philosophy course from an agnostic buddhist and a logic course fom an openly gay materialist….yet that was all I ever found out about them…there was not one whif of liberal propaganda or religion bashing.  However, even in “liberal” California, I did have a handful of religious teachers over the years who, while they never preached hellfire or treated students badly because of beliefs, could barely reign it in enough to keep their jobs.  I give them a lot of credit for walking that fine line between being proud of who you are while not forcing it on others.  I read creepy articles all the time about religious teachers who are not so good at walking that line.  I also read blogs and first-hand accounts of teachers who have to keep their liberalism and/or non-belief VERY much to themselves if they want to keep working in conservative areas.  Maybe you grew up in a similar society as me, where liberals and atheists aren’t hounded out of jobs for no reason…except here, neither preaching nor atheist activism is very well accepted in schools, and for all the “liberalism” around here, there are certainly christians who would complain about atheist teachers bashing religion.     My point is, I am having a very, very hard time believing your anecdote.  You claimed “atheist proselytizing by several outspoken  teachers”.  I call BS.  Unless American schools and society have changed almost completely in less than 20 years, I have to say I think you’re full of shit.  I could believe it COULD happen, especially in a place that isn’t that churchy…but I’ve never seen any such thing or even close.  However, if you aren’t full of shit, I think your dad was on the right trackand so are you. My family was not religious, but we put up with some mighty pushy religious folks with calm and grace.  Kids should see different points of view…the problem isn’t that, it’s that there has been no shortage of christian teahers willing to shame students, threaten hellfire, treat kids differenly based on beliefs, privilege their christian students, punish the unorthodox, etc…As long as teachers of both sides are fair to students and effective teachers, live and let live.  

  • 3lemenope

    From the outside perspective it seems pretty obvious how the principles in play ought to apply. But, situations like these aren’t just about the obvious.

    If you are a principal, and you have a teacher that by all reports is good at teaching chemistry (makes the topic accessible and fun and engages the students and the students seem to grasp the concepts and retain them for future classes), that is a rare asset for a school to have. Now let’s say you get reports that that teacher is saying inappropriate things about religion in class. You, me, nearly everyone would agree that it is important for a classroom to be a religiously-neutral forum, especially a science class where religion doesn’t even have tangential or incidental applicability to the subject matter. But the principal, in approaching the situation, also must (if they are doing their jobs) be cognizant of the value of the asset at issue. If the thing blows up, the school might lose a very good chemistry teacher and chances are replace her with an utterly mediocre one. That’s a harm to students (and their college prospects) of a whole other ken.

    All I’m saying is, cases like this may be constitutionally simple, but they are also pragmatically complex. It is not a compromise of principles to acknowledge these complications and take them seriously, even if we eventually come down on the side of (if it comes to it) losing the teacher to preserve the religiously-neutral environment.

  • Kirkland_kathy

    She can still be a positive influence without proselytizing.  You should never ignore a proselytizing teacher. They are breaking the law and intruding on these children. It is inappropriate and unprofessional. Children need teachers with healthy boundaries. 

  • Kodie

    It’s weird to me that she’s taken them on herself, to take them out to coffee… so it keeps them out of trouble, which is good, and these might be kids who fall through the cracks and think nobody cares about them. Isn’t there some kind of policy about that? On the other hand if she voluntarily sets something up and invites her students to join her away from school… yeah, that’s weird. Schools have policies about that, I’m sure. Seems like she is taking this time to get around the rules that she’s not supposed to proselytize in her classroom while she’s on the job, and I don’t read into this that she does that too.

    If a teacher invited his or her students for some off-campus group, and it wasn’t to talk about religion, wouldn’t that be inappropriate even if they were being helped? The problem is that people think Christian=good. The nature of sending young people to poor countries to “help” them often involves lots and lots of converting. Maybe they get fed too, homes, clean water, medicine, inoculations, and probably not a lot of condoms. They are helping but are they helping?

    This woman’s experience has made her into a “do-gooder” and still is weird to me a teacher can just take on a group outside of school as if they all just ran into each other coincidentally. This might be because the US is uptight about lawsuits, whereas the same teacher might voluntarily go to convert prisoners, you just really don’t know what she’s filling their heads with and we regulate these things. We own our children instead of allowing them to be talked to by other people. Just the way Christians home-school their kids and shelter them from so much information that conflicts with their beliefs – and that is wrong. Most of my issue with this is teachers meeting outside of any formal school class or meeting, where ordinarily a student might need a permission slip, they are simply meeting an ostensibly trusted adult. No one can really regulate what they do off school property after school, except maybe policies about it from school, and how she attracted them to her meetings – did she up-front say it was about Christianity up-front? Very likely she knows she can’t do that and didn’t. She wanted to help her students and not just forget them at the door, but she wanted to invite them so she could tell them about Jesus. Is she advocating abstinence? It’s pretty vague what kind of help they are getting.

    Can’t be the right thing.

  • Kirkland_kathy

     Should there be a Christian or Bible Study Club at a public school?

  • Coyotenose

     Sooo you want to teach your kids early that illegal activities are okay so long as the perpetrator is a “nice person”?

  • “And using the ‘promoting religion is wrong but bashing it is A-OK’ take on the Separation clause is at best a gross misreading of the First Amendment.”

    Well, good thing nobody does that except once in a while on blog comments.  Maybe that’s what you hear, but what I mostly hear are people saying that a teacher can be any religion or philosophy they want, and they can do it openly and proudly, but that preaching, exclusion, or conversion attempts from anyone are not okay.   

     For every dozen or so reports I hear of religious teachers crossing the line, repeatedly, egregiously, and not even being disciplined until there are lawsuits and national news coverage, I hear maybe one personal anecdote about a liberal or atheist teacher doing something similar, and it usually takes very little complaining to get the liberal/atheist fired.  And much of the time, the liberal/atheist teacher wasn’t even preaching or trying to de-convert, but simply mentioning concepts or showing students a different perspective.  While it is getting better, there are still teachers in this country who get disciplined for bringing up evolution, environmental issues, politics, or anything that makes conservative christians uncomfortable.  For christians to be seriously discilined or fired, they pretty much have to burn crosses in kids’ arms or preach hellfire to grade school kids.

    It seems like you have an interest in pretending that the two problems are identical in the facts of what happens, how often it happens, or how kids are treated in the two scenarios- but on the whole, they are not equal in rates of occurence or in the actions of the teacher toward students. Nobody is saying atheists don’t do bad things….that’s in your imagination, and frankly only highlghts your own biases.

    I do applaud you for being open minded about your son’s teacher.  If she was not punishing anyone for disagreeing, and as making it a learning experience, then the only issue is possible waste of class time on unreated stuff.  Most of us have no problem with religious teachers of the same habits.  But it will always be a sticky problem that requires adult patience and tolerance.  A liberal or atheist may be passionate about social issues, but they don’t believe they are commanded by god to save kids’ souls.  They don’t believe that their students are following satan when they disagree.  The intellectual nature of belief vs. non-belief, especially in a religious society, puts a much greater force behind religious proselytizing than it does atheism or liberal political activism.  As much as everyone wants all issues to seem equal, they’re just not the same.  Nobody goes to hell or faces irrational tribal exclusion for using styrofoam, driving an SUV, going to church, or having republican parents.               

  • 3lemenope

    Why not?

  • At least I’m not the only one getting more than a small whiff of fertilizer from Blacksheep!

    So, when does “several” teachers become “many” teachers, anyway?  When you want it to sound more true?

  • TiltedHorizon

    Agree wholeheartedly. Reminds me of the story of the “Christian Children’s Fund” who made made the horrible mistake of placing more value on charity than proselytizing.

    Back in 2004 a group called “Ministry Watch” took offense at the “Christian” portion of the name, deciding to warn their readership against donating funds to the charity because, in their own words: “they are not an organization that attempts to bring the Gospel message along with the relief they offer to needy children”. GASP!

    By these examples, Christian charity appears predicated on proselytizing. All lesser forms of charity, which truly expect nothing in return, are clearly inferior.

    In case citations are needed: http://www.ministrywatch.com/pdf/mwda_042704_ccf.pdf

  • Kodie

    What I don’t like is using their charity to convert patients, or to allow people to associate being cared for with being Catholic, thus Catholic=good. Being cared for is good, caring people are helpful and you are at their mercy. Being Catholic is still nuts. Same thing for the Salvation Army, same for mission work to poor countries. When they feel like a part of you is sick or poor is your soul and necessarily spend a lot of their charitable efforts trying to fix that, or they believe they are charitable (and get the social points) because of their beliefs, I get critical of it, and that’s all beside their worst.

    If you think how they make their money – by people who are Catholics, aren’t they even exploiting people who want to be helpful in order to make even more people into Catholics? They love for the world to think of them as helpful. Mother Teresa is still used as an example of one of the most helpful people ever, inspiring so many others to not just be helpful, but helpful Catholics; they’re not just witnessing to people, they are feeding them and lifting up the poor people with the power of Jesus. Is it really helpfulness they have in mind?

  • pagansister

     Agree with you, WoodyTanaka.   If her faith tells her she needs to be doing what she is doing, that is fine.  She doesn’t need to push her faith on the kids she is helping.

  • Coyotenose

     Putting aside whether or not this statement is factual, you do understand why it comes across as unlikely in the U.S., right?

    It reminds me a lot of stories by Born Again Christians who massively overstate how horrible they acted before their conversion. It’s very common to find out that the former terrible sinner with an implied litany of monstrous immorality just had some casual sex and smoked pot. If you’ve seen that, you can probably get why I suspect hyperbole.

    Regardless, those teachers were wrong and breaking the law also. Their actions, and your reactions to their actions, do not justify supporting this teacher.

    Hey, I’ve had school teachers and administration collude to steal non-Christian reading material from me, to remove every book I had ever checked out from the school, local, and local college libraries from the shelves, and to TELL TEACHERS AT OTHER SCHOOLS TO HARASS ME ABOUT MY RELIGION. After changing schools, I reported a recently born-again student who was harassing me, and the people in the front office decided to lecture ME about MY “Satanism Problem”. I didn’t find out until 5-6 years later that they’d been called by the old school, and that my records were loaded with libel. My seventh-grade anecdote showing why people in power can’t be allowed to push their religious agenda most assuredly trumps random individual teachers exceeding their authority and being put up with.

    (And before any nitwit chimes in, no, they didn’t turn me off religion or make me “hate God”. I was well aware that it was a sham, and was looking for a philosophy. The leap from “Santa Claus isn’t real” to “Jesus is just like Santa Claus” isn’t a difficult one to make.)

  • 3lemenope

    There are dark sides, if you look thoroughly enough, to even the very best acts, and certainly altruism is a problematic concept if taken literally. I don’t think, however, that because Catholics pursue one of their other missions (to spread their religion) in the context of providing medical care that it diminishes the moral value of the lives saved or improved by that care. It is a distinguishable consequence of the larger act. And I don’t think just because they charge for medical care that it is appropriate to visit their motivations for doing so; medicines and diagnostic machines don’t pay for themselves, much less hospital staff.

  • Kodie

    You’re not the only one but I am still trying to figure this out. I think because we’re a litigious society and hyper-protective generally about whom our children spend time with – rather having them join a Boys & Girls Club or other community after-school; Big Brothers/Big Sisters; take a dance class or be on a soccer team. The people who run these things are adults, and basically hand our children over to them, even putting them in school, expect the school to be looking out for our kids. We expect these systems to care enough about kids to keep them safe, and someone who is already a teacher – seems harmless. The school does not want to be liable for a teacher’s misuse or abuse of time spent with children who also attend the school. Some schools have rules that a teacher can’t be friends with students on facebook. But some teachers are great, maybe the only adult a student can talk to, and someone they would be friends with.

    Teachers obviously (hopefully) enjoy spending some time in the company of children, and my experience in school was just to learn what I was taught and none of the “issues” matter -when those matter the most. Teachers are also in a position to abuse this power to attract. Holy shit, a teacher who doesn’t just tell me what’s in the book but cares how I’m doing. That is a great thing for a student to realize, the teacher as friend or mentor or role model or just some hope in the world that some adults get it. Teachers are awfully limited by time and law from being as great to students as they could be, and we let the abusers take all the joy out of becoming an adult for a child, to associate with positive people who can be responsible with them. Parents don’t like anyone else taking that role, except when they need to sign them up for soccer (aka, babysitter who makes my kid tired enough to sleep early so I can run errands; ok, maybe it helps their self-esteem and makes them more healthy and rounded individuals too). I think they want the soccer coach to stick to soccer; the chemistry teacher to stick to chemistry, and leave all the parenting-type guidance to a fraction of the day. Kids are not just kids, they are people, and adults are people, and I don’t think it’s a great strategy for the relationship to always be one of authority and subordinate.

  • phantomreader42

    He’s just lying for jeebus.  It’s a sacrament of right-wing christianity these days.  

  • phantomreader42

     When someone lies about alleged atheist indoctrination, they never define what they mean, because if they keep it vague they can’t be caught contradicting their last lie. 

  • FTFKDad

    Completely agree … is it the magic words being uttered from an old book that are a force for good, or the fact that she is obviously showing some kindness and love and attention these kids don’t get elsewhere. She could double down on the kindness by perhaps reading out of a great and inspirational scientific work.

  • phantomreader42

    No, no, no.  He wants to teach his kids early that illegal activities are okay so long as the perpetrator is a CHRISTIAN!

  • You seem to be respecting an honest reply from Blacksheep…..based on either my amazing psychic ability, or the fact that I’ve read Blacksheep’s other comments in this thread,  I predict that you will be disappointed!

    I should take this show on the road!

  • I’m not sure I’m willing to give Candice too much credit for the “good” she does. Yes, it’s nice of her to be extra-nice to her students … but really, all she’s doing is “buying” the right to proselytize them. Sorry, but she can’t do that. She has NO right to proselytize them at all … even she does all those “good” things for them. If she were truly feeling generous, she’d give be extra-nice to them … and never once mention her religion to them. At all. Ever.

  • Kodie

     Pyramid scheme.

  • Baby_Raptor

    It’s not just “sharing her faith.” 

    She’s breaking laws and attempting to indoctrinate children. She needs to be talking to those kids about things that will actually help them in life, or problems they actually have. Not teaching them about a hateful sky daddy. 

    If you want to talk about that stuff to other adults, that’s fine. But kids should not be proselytized, especially by a teacher that they trust to give them actual facts. A school teacher has no business discussing matters of faith. 

  • Baby_Raptor

    It doesn’t matter that it’s “her thing.” She’s breaking the law and violating peoples’ rights. 

    But I guess that doesn’t matter to you, because you agree with her views. 

  • It’s great that she cares, and it’s great that she’s doing *something* about it.  But do you really believe for a second that, if she chose, she couldn’t do exactly the same things without the Bible study?  Why can’t she have a discussion group?  Why can’t her discussion group go out for coffee without praying to Jehovah?

    It’s the fact that she’s willing to do these great things in her students’ lives, but ONLY for the students who are willing to profess her religion, that makes this wrong.  She may not see it, but it’s clear to me that it’s the affection, trust, time and attention that she puts in that’s making whatever difference she makes in these kids’ lives.  If she were putting in the same time reading Shakespeare with them, it would have the same effect.  

    (Yes, I am a public school teacher, and when I say it’s great that she cares, I DO mean it.  I’m not dismissing the good she’s doing at all, but a good administrator should be doing some mentoring there.)  

  • Keulan

    All the good she may be doing doesn’t change the fact that she’s breaking the law by proselytizing to her students.

  • skeptic4321

    Kudos for the good stuff.  But I suspect as a “born again Christian” she is likely doing something inappropriate with respect to religion in the classroom.  Doing “good” does not, and should not, in my opinion, give someone a free pass when it comes to the imposition of religious beliefs on impressionable minds.

  • TCC

    Her faith can be her motivation, but it doesn’t need to be something that she pushes on students.

  • That’s not at all what I said.  Even Hemant has said he does not “Friend” his students or approve their “Friend” requests on Facebook.  There is a level of familiarity that is inappropriate with a teacher socializing with students.  If she were an atheist teacher who was taking the students to freethought events, I’d say the same thing.  It’s not the belief issue (thought I don’t approve of that either).  It’s the familiarity she is showing this specific group of students.  What if the other students, those of other beliefs or no belief, would like to have some one-on-one time with the teacher… but she’s too busy with the faithful kids?  There’s an unevenness to it that is not right.

    (Note I didn’t say anything about legality.  I’m not a lawyer and I make no legal judgements at all.  I’m just saying it’s inappropriate.)

  • THIS ^^^ times 20.

  • Oldaughd

    If she’s leading bible groups outside of school hours, I have no problem with it. These kids need a support network that the obviously don’t have. There is still no justification however for her preaching in her classes (if that is what she is doing).

  • Ken

    There a too many gaps in this story — like, is she proselytizing during class or after hours?  Age inappropriate friends aside, I question her motives anyway.  If she is doing all this to buy a ticket to heaven, it is vanity.  If she is just following orders, it is mindlessly reprehensible.  If she is doing this to save the souls of the children, she has delusions of her own power to control others’ actions.  If she just wants to be helpful, how does God help anyone pass a chemistry test — if He/She/It did, wouldn’t a lot more chemistry theorems have been disproved in favor of the supernatural already?

  • Blacksheep

    Yeah – but you still said you would rather she had sex with the kids and gave them porn instead of discussing matters of faith.
    …that’s the crazy part you skipped over.

  • Bo Tait

    I’m trying to put myself in the teacher’s position. I wonder if I would even continue to help kids out if I was restricted from using my religion to help them. Because to the believer, so many problems in life have solutions in scripture and in the church. If I can’t use my number one source for guidance, how much can I do?

    If she is restricted in the future, I think its necessary that she is provided with some training on how to offer secular advice and solutions. It’s up to the employer to make sure the employees are as well equipped as possible to handle the different scenarios in the workplace within the confines of the law.

  • Blacksheep

    No lies, real stories. All from the 70’s.
    I had a sociology teacher who was also a celebrated NYC Irish bartender who bashed Christianity almost daily, a history teacher who made weekly jokes about Carter “talking to God” and two science teachers (One biology, one Earth science) who made fun of students who questioned evolution.

    So it was 4 – maybe qualifies as several, however not “many.”

  • Blacksheep

    You’re uncomfortable with a differing opinion than your own? All of my replies are 100% honest. I’ve been posting on this site for some time, I have no reason not to be straightforward.

  • Blacksheep

    No, of course not. I’m a Christian, therefore I would love for my kids to have a teacher like that. (Note that I said MY kids, since this is my personal opinion).

  • Blacksheep

    I simply disagree that they should be considered “Illegal” actions. people throughout history have stood up to laws that they disagreed with, and sometimes it resulted in new laws, amendments, etc. That’s how laws evolve to suit the will of the people.

  • Gus Snarp

    Yeah, pretty much exactly this.

  • Gus Snarp

    I’m afraid you’ve entirely missed my point, so I must not have expressed myself clearly. I’ll try to be more succinct and clear:

    I never said anything that could be remotely construed as:

    ‘promoting religion is wrong but bashing it is A-OK’

    All I said was that a teacher bashing religion as you allege this one was would be breaking the law, just as the proselytizing teacher above.

    Both are wrong. Both should be reprimanded by their principals and given a second chance, but if they don’t change their behavior they should be fired.

    But since the majority of your comment seemed to focus on her “host of secular and liberal ideals” and her apparent belief in “America as land of white racists genocidal murderers'” , I separated these issues out. These are reasonable topics of discussion in a social studies class and teachers are not barred from having and expressing opinions on political and historical issues covered in class.

    That was my point, that there are two separate things:
    1. A social studies teacher discussing secularism and liberal ideals in a social studies class, which is perfectly appropriate and acceptable.
    2. Any teacher, including social studies, but especially chemistry, openly telling her students that god sucks, or that god is great in class, which is not appropriate, and is in fact illegal.

  • Student-led, or faculty-led?

  • Quote the exact part where Baby_Raptor “said you would rather she had sex with the kids and gave them porn”. Quote it word-for-word, I want to see it. Otherwise, you’re putting words in his/her mouth. Very dishonest of you.

  • I’ve heard this same argument from people where it ended up that they were being taught evolution or cosmology that went against their religious beliefs. That was “atheistic dogma” to them.

  • 3lemenope

    Most schools require all student groups to have a faculty advisor. In practice, this means that a lot of leadership cues come from the faculty member.

  • I thought they required a sponsor… or at least a teacher that assumes a non-leadership role. If that is the case, then there’s nothing illegal or wrong about that. As it would not be endorsed by the school or faculty, merely allowed to be formed and run by students.

  • lorimakesquilts

    I’m probably repeating what most commenters have said already but the good she is doing is not dependent on her proselytizing .

  • Parse

    I’m sure you’ll forgive me about being skeptical about your claims, but I’m sure you’d agree that there are plenty of Christians who love to play the victim, even when nobody’s actually oppressing them.Let’s look at your examples:
     – An Irish bartender who ‘bashed Christianity’.  Without specific examples, I’d have to lean against this being an atheist viewpoint.  Plenty of sects of Christianity bash others; see among others the whole Irish Catholic/Protestant violence, ‘papists’, and claims of ‘no true Christian’.   Can you provide any support that he was bashing Christianity as a whole, or at least from an atheistic viewpoint?
     – A history teacher who made weekly jokes about Carter “talking to God”.    First off, you’re conflating criticism about a specific person  with criticism of Christianity as a whole.  Secondly, making fun of a specific Christian’s faith is not exclusively an atheistic viewpoint.   Haven’t you ever heard other Christians make fun of, say, Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses?  Or don’t they count as True Christians?  And though Carter is a bit before my time, since then we’ve had an even more religious president, Bush Jr.  Most of the people I know who criticized Bush’s overt religiosity are fellow Christians, who’d prefer that the person with their finger on the button would listen to their advisers, rather than the voice in their head.
     – Two science teachers (biology and Earth science) who made fun of students who questioned evolution.  I’d again ask for specific examples, as I’ve heard from plenty of Christians who conflate being told their YEC views are false with persecution and humiliation.  However, let’s accept for the moment that they were actually making fun; going beyond using humor as a tool for learning to the point of using humor as a tool for mockery, which is wrong.  The majority of Christians do not believe in a young Earth – so again, were they ridiculing them from an atheistic viewpoint?  Or from a majority Christian viewpoint?  Or does the fact that they don’t agree with your specific dogma on a young Earth mean that they aren’t actually True Christians?

  • MV

    First, at what level were these teachers? Sociology is generally not a high school course.  If it is at the college level, then your data points are not relevant to the discussion.  Even if it is was, bashing Christianity is not the same as promoting atheism because there are plenty of other religions.  Second, your science teachers were not promoting atheism.  They were also crappy teachers because they made fun of students (even if it was for a good reason).  So those data points don’t work either.  And your history teacher sounds like someone who had a personal issue with President Carter.  Rather difficult to assume atheism there.

    So where exactly was this atheist indoctrination again? 

    Finally, realize that learning facts that discredit Christianity is not the same as indoctrination.

  • Well, if everything you say is true, then apparently things were much, much cooler in the 70’s! I can tell you that by the 80’s you could praise Jesus or shut the hell up if you wanted to keep your job.
    The better schools and teachers avoided the subject altogether except in historical contexts, and the worst schools and teachers are still banging the gong loud and proud for Jesus Christ, Leader and Supreme Ruler of Christian America.

    Thanks for reminding us all just how far to the religious right this country has shifted in the last thirty years, and why we need to protect kids from immoral christians abusing their influence. 

  • A Reader

    I don’t think it’s okay if she’s preaching to her students during class, but if she does it outside of class on her own free time, I really don’t think I have a problem with it, especially considering all the good things she’s doing for them.

  • Gus Snarp

    OK, so how do they know to come to whatever outside of class on her own free time event she’s having? How does she invite them? Does she have fliers or signs in the classroom? Make an announcement in class? Is she using her access to their personal information to contact them at home to invite them to bible study? Or does she just call it a study session and spring the bible on them halfway through? Maybe she just kind of figures out who the agreeable Christian students are and quietly approaches them. None of this seems to escape discrimination issues.

  • So you would be ok with a teacher indoctrinating your children with Islam. Glad we have that answer.

  • Mdwelch27

    What good does it do o feed the kids if you are feeding them poison.  She is crippling these kids mentally to make hrself & her make believe giod feel better.  These kids need the truth more than they need a strong adult.

  • sandy

     Nice Article! Thanks for sharing with us.
    Hindu Saint

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