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Hamilton teacher pulled from class over a religiously-charged assignment

My first thought: I've been saying for years that the emphasis on critical thinking and problem solving was going to lead to this kind of conflict in schools. It's in direct opposition to what many parents understand school to be about, and while it's possible to find a lot of good and neutral topics for critical thinking (e.g. Racism is wrong! The Montgomery Bus Boycott was fabulous!) it's also very easy to get in trouble with them. I was wondering when something like this would happen, and how the board would handle it when it did; I'm not terribly surprised that they seem to have thrown him to the wolves.

My second thought: The first article contained the following paradigmatic quote: “This would be appropriate for a university tutorial, not Grade 6." Here we have it, folks: the disconnect between what is being taught and what parents believe is being taught. Though I'm rather surprised he took on this particular topic, the idea of social justice, media, and critical thinking in the classroom are all firmly embedded in our board and our provincial curriculum. Questions of that depth, on subject matter relating more to social justice issues, are routine. It's not a huge stretch to bring views of God and religion into a classroom that has already discussed issues like poverty, globalization, earthquakes, and tsunamis. But the parent either doesn't realize that these questions are routine, or sees this particular version as fundamentally different. That's a big, big disconnect, and a serious threat to critical thinking in Ontario classrooms.

Third: I looked up the song, and I think he asked the wrong question. There are ways to ask a deep question about that song that do not ask a student to justify their belief in God, but he didn't take those. (Or, of course, he could have chosen a different media piece about social justice rather than agnosticism. I'm not terribly comfortable with that choice, but it certainly would have been safer.) I would like to know the context; what is the big idea of this unit? How did the choice of this assignment fit into it?

Fourth: It looks to me like the teacher asked for exactly what he would with any other writing assignment: when you give an opinion, you have to back it up.
That's standard operating procedure, and the student probably knew this very well. Strictly following the rubric for this kind of writing at that level - the rubric I used in grade five, which is fairly standard - would indeed have resulted in a failing grade if the student didn't give reasons at all, because that's what you do in that kind of writing. What I don't know, because it didn't happen, is whether or not the teacher would have taken religious reasons that came from her faith as valid and given her a decent mark. If he wouldn't, in my opinion that would be a far worse offense than asking the question to begin with. I also don't know if that was clearly explained to her.

The other piece of information that is lacking is the student's history with writing assignments. Is this the kind of kid who normally writes pages about well-developed and -supported opinions? Do words have to be dragged out of her one at a time? Context is important and I don't have enough to say if the teacher overstepped. I do think it's telling that many other students and parents are rallying to him.

I've spent years carefully dancing around religious issues in the classroom. I've had a couple of assignments which, taken out of context, could have led to the same result. I don't know how far out of context this assignment has been taken. I hope he gets his job back, and I hope the union is going to fight tooth and nail for him. But I suspect he's not going to use materials like that after this.
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I was linked in another forum to a roundtable discussion on God and Government. For American viewers, go here. For non-Americans, here it is. You'll need to watch one piece at a time. I watched only the roundtable discussion, so my comments are only for that.
My response )

Compassion

Jul. 17th, 2010 04:54 am
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A couple of friends ([livejournal.com profile] anidada and [livejournal.com profile] kores_rabbit) have already posted this elsewhere. I think it bears boosting. So here it is again.

velvetpage: (chalice)
An extremely cool video promoting the type of spirituality I see in science and have fed in the UU - but I think it's applicable to pretty much everyone regardless of creed.

From [livejournal.com profile] cargoweasel.

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From [livejournal.com profile] vonandmoggy, an article about the old saw "There are no atheists in foxholes."

For those who don't like links, here's the text. )
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This article posits that the religion of the Jews as laid out in Deuteronomy was actually the second, bastardized version of the faith, and that the older one survived in a few isolated pockets and contributed a great deal to the apocalyptic pre-Christian tradition.
velvetpage: (studious)
I think many of you will remember the worldwide uproar over the publication of twelve anti-Islam cartoons in a Danish newspaper a year and a half ago. You may also remember that an Iranian newspaper decided to sponsor a cartoon contest about the Holocaust as a response. This is the winning cartoon. Be sure to read the artist's comments.

If the goal was to upstage the West in general and the apologists for those cartoons in particular, I'd say it has been met.

Link courtesy of [livejournal.com profile] siobhan63.
velvetpage: (studious)
It's f-locked, so I'm going to quote it in its entirety.

You hear a lot about the evils of religion when mixed up with politics. The dangers of theology as applied to government are constantly proclaimed, often with good reason. Many of my friends fear the influence of Christianity upon the U.S. political scene, some going so far as to predict a coming theocracy. Especially feared are those who preach the imminent return of Christ and the End of Times.

Yet, history seems to indicate that the thriving liberal socialist/democratic systems in Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, which are so admired by many people I know who live elsewhere, were built (almost solely built!) by openly theocratic politicians who wanted to regulate public morality. The engineers of the Canadian social system, for example, were Methodist and Baptist ministers. Like American theocrats, they firmly believed that Christ was returning soon, and the end of the world would not be far behind.

Why did the preacher politicos produce Socialist Democracy in the Commonwealth, and conservative capitalism in the United States?

Quite simply, the leaders of the Social Gospel movements believed that Christ would not return until mankind had cured itself of social ills. They were ardent pacifists and reformers, fearful of the evils of capitalism and unchecked corporations. They took the Bible's injunctions to help the less fortunate very seriously, and they desired that every citizen should be obliged to help his or her fellows through taxation and social programs. They didn't do this simply because it was good - they were doing it to, as William Booth put it, "make Heaven on Earth." As he wrote "...in providing for the relief of temporal misery I reckon that I am only making it easy where it is now difficult, and possible where it is now all but impossible, for men and women to find their way to the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."

IN short, they were using Social Gospel to win converts. They were not socially liberal people, but they were compassionate. They did not believe (for example) that a woman had the right to an abortion, or that homosexuality should be accepted. They DID believe, strongly, that it was evil to jail a pregnant teen or a gay man, feeling that these people required help rather than punishment.

Meanwhile, church leaders across the U.S. were preaching a different flavour of Apocalypse. Christ was coming soon to cure all our ills, and if you don't want to get sent to Hell come the Judgement Day, you'd better make yourself right with God. The effort was individual, rather than communal. Social Gospel existed in the U.S. - Roosevelt's New Deal was an example of it. But, as Wikipedia drily states: "After 1940, the movement withered..."
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The next time he trots out the argument that a moral system without God doesn't hold water. Philosophically, I can see the point, but psychologically it doesn't work, and this article explains why.

I have only one complaint with the article: many of his "Godless liberals" are/were Christians with a social conscience, whose reasons for opposing the other guys were also faith-based.

http://lancemannion.typepad.com/lance_mannion/2006/06/godless.html

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