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School and your beliefs that differ from the "mainstream" (x-post in Learning at School and...

post #1 of 21
Thread Starter 
I'm looking for some broad perspective here.

For those of you who have beliefs (I don't know what else might fit here but religious/spiritual, but anything really) that differ from the "mainstream" for your community
And you send your kids to a "mainstream" school where you are....

How do you handle it? What do you let your kids learn/do about the other beliefs/culture etc. (I guess for example SANTA would be a "cultural" not a religious/spirtual thing)

I have DS on the list and he is probably "in" at a very small charter school with loads of parental involvement. The one thing that's got me going "hmmm...." is the "tour mom's" reaction to me asking about whether the school puts an emphasis on specifically HOLIDAYS, since we are Muslim and we do not do Christmas, for example.
I took the reaction as a little defensive "well, they *have to* learn about it"

I told her I agreed with that, on a level of learning what it is that they are seeing in their world and having respect for others' beliefs and their right to have those beliefs and celebrate them as they wish. The example I gave though was, at one public school I worked at, they sang religious church hymn Christmas songs at their holiday sing-along. I would not want my child singing songs like that about beliefs we don't hold. They can learn that there are people in the world who sing and enjoy those songs and believe in what is in them, and learn to respect the right of people to do that, without actively joining in their celebration. Period.
Just like I would never propose a field trip to our Eid prayer with mandatory participation as a way to learn about what Muslims believe. They can learn about our family's beliefs and why my children miss a morning of school a couple times a year without actively participating in something that is not a part of their religion.

How do other people handle this kind of stuff? How will I know if maybe this school, even though it might be a PERFECT academic fit, might be a bad "cultural" fit? (In other words, my kids might feel singled out and bad because of not being allowed to participate in a lot of things.)

(If it helps, we're pretty liberal---for example, they had a tree in the art room and the kids in every grade were making decorations for it--I would let my kid participate in making the red/green chain, tooling aluminum like the 5th graders were in a ball-shaped ornament, for example. He could then bring his ball-shaped item home and hang it up as part of our Ramadan house decorating.
But I would NOT want my child making pictures of ghosts at Halloween, singing Christmas songs, etc. And his party this afternoon--I won't run screaming out of the gym if I don't get advance warning of when Santa is coming, as I heard he is AFTER I told my kid we'd be going--but if I can, I'll make an exit before that with some excuse as to why we can't stay. And what we see today will determine whether or not we go next year. It's *supposed* to be "winter-themed activities.")

I *do* want to make this work, as I feel I'd run into this conflict at ANY public school in my town and yet at least at this one, I would know pretty much exactly what they are doing and have more info to determine whether or not I'm going to allow my kids to do it. (Every parent is required to do hours in the classroom every week--half a day per kid your fiirst year, then a minimum of two hours per kid every year after that--PTA and other out-of-classroom stuff can count in later years.)
I'm wondering too though since this school is so small (about 150 kids) if mine are going to be the ONLY ones that don't do some of the stuff and how that will affect them??

(if anyone's wondering though they will NOT be the only "minority" kiddos, I've checked that out )

(FWIW too the school I think is probably the most diverse elementary in town is the one I would NOT open-enroll my children to, I used to work there and I do not agree with how it's run or the approach to discipline. And they STILL had things I wouldn't have let my kids do, difference being that I probably would not know it's going on.)

There are really no other options where I live--it's this school or a regular public school, and I feel it would be MUCH HARDER to get a good academic fit for him especially this year in a "regular" kindergarten. I feel that experience is very important too, as it will impact his whole attitude toward school. The only private schools here are Catholic and other Christian--NOT going to work for us, obviously. I feel like here, he'd have a far better chance of having a good experience with school in general, and I would have more knowledge of exactly what he's doing and be able to help teach him ways to be involved that don't go against our beliefs, and when we need to opt out entirely.
post #2 of 21
I would like to come back to this post and give it a thoughtful reply. Thanks for posting!
post #3 of 21

Cloth Diapers/AP in Lebanon

post #4 of 21
Hi peaceful mama,

It sounds like you have a great attitude and, from what you describe, it sounds like this school would be the best fit . .. . If only because you would have so much presence and involvement in it.

I grew up as one of the only Jewish kids in a small town in Appalachia. The majority (vast majority) of the other kids were some brand of Protestantism . . . from quite evangelical to pretty mainstream denominations. I think my mom handled things really well.

We went to the smallest school in town (kind of like a charter school before there were charter schools. This was the 70s and 80s). She was really involved in making sure she came into school and taught about Hanukkah, Pesach, and other Jewish holidays. For the most part, the teachers, school administration, and other parents were really really positive about it. By the same token, she did have to speak up and make sure that the religious content of the "holiday" pageant was toned down (a lot). Not everyone was happy with that, but, as she pointed out, that's why there were Christian schools for kids to attend!

Anyway, the main point that I think you could garner from my experience is that parental involvement is key. If you get in there and positively advocate for including your religious tradition in the mix, I bet the majority of parents and teachers will be *thrilled*. And I doubt that anyone will be upset if you gently explain that you're leaving before Santa arrives due to your beliefs, etc.
post #5 of 21
Its funny you mention this because I was talking to my partner about a similar situation we are in. Although we are both devout Christians, my partner and I do not celebrate Christmas because it goes against our beliefs (and if you want to know more about it, please PM me - I promise you were are not a part of a cult LOL!). This Christmas, they want us (parents and children) to participate in a "holiday gift exchange" and we told them we were not interested in participating because of our beliefs. They totally respected our wishes and took us off the holiday exchange list.

Another time, I found out they there were reading books about Santa Clause, passing out gingerbreads and singing traditional Christmas songs (like Rudolph the Red Nose Raindeer etc.). Needless to say I wasn't too happy about that either and I explained to them our beliefs and offered them suggestions on what to do with DD when they are doing their Christmas celebrations. Thankfully, our school is fully supportive of our beliefs and will ask us if DD is allowed to participate in them from now on.

Thefore, my advice would be to just tell the school your beliefs and offer suggestions on what your child can do (as long as it doesn't break the school's policy).

Right now, we also cannot send DD to a different Montesorri school since she is fairly young and most of the local Montesorri schools will only work with children ages 2 1/2 and up. The local traditional Christian schools are also not a viable option because we are a lesbian couple and many of the Christian schools here are not tolerant of our lifestyle.
post #6 of 21
Thread Starter 
Actually, Santa did not show. They did have a giant robotic singing bear in a Santa suit. I think my 5 yr old knew. I'm pretty sure my 2 yr old didn't think anything different of it than she does of the robot Chuck E mouse at Chuck E Cheese. They both loved it, and I loved watching them dance!

The rest of the party was basically a whole bunch of 'stations' set up around the gym. The first after the coat check was "decorate a bag"--to hold all your stuff, of course!
Other ones we did were--make (and eat!) a marshmallow snowman. Make (and eat!) an ice cream cone turned upside down, frosted with green food coloring and Sixlets for decorations. Decorate a gingerbread man cookie. Take home a 'hot chocolate kit' (pack of mix in a cup with marshmallows and a candy cane) Make a necklace with beads and jingly bells.

Nothing I found a reason to object to. They had a great time! (I actually have more objections to the serious sugar overload than to any overtly Christmas-y junk! In addition to all the treats we made--and we missed the booth with the pretzels dunked in melted chocolate with an MnM in the middle!--there was a table full of mostly homemade cookies, brownies, etc. next to tables meant for you to sit and eat. And a giant cooler of McD's orange drink.)
post #7 of 21
Thread Starter 
I also just had a totally random "er duh" thought

They have the parental classroom involvemnet piece, plus you commit to being in one of the three big school-wide "special days" for lack of a better word, in the year. This "winter snowflake shuffle" is one. The "Fall Festival" is another. The third is a "Choice Day" where it sounds like it is an afternoon (or possibly it is a full day it was a LOT of info! I don't remember exactly.) and parents come and do a booth about something, ANYTHING for kids to learn about. ("Tour Mom" did the history of Valentine's Day one year because it was around V-Day.) The kids choose what booths they want to do.

So...you, as a parent, can be in on the "fall/Halloween time" one, the "winter/winter holiday time" one, or one that's totally unaffiliated with any holiday and do any random whatever you want.

This "winter party" was a Saturday afternoon. Notice that. It's outside school hours. I can bring my kid, or not, as I see fit...maybe that right there speaks *volumes* about how the school will be on this kind of stuff... I don't know why I didn't notice or think about that before....
I know the other schools I've worked at have had theirs in the classroom at the end of the day....
post #8 of 21
I am a teacher. Right now, I teach preK/K in a public Montessori school and previously I taught 3-6 year olds at a charter Montessori. At the charter Montessori, we had a fair number of Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims, as well as Christians and people who did not observe any religion. We did a Holidays Around the World week, where parents who celebrated different holidays came in a gave a presentation and brought a traditional snack or craft to do with the kids. Each day was a different holiday(we typically did Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, Eid, and Chinese New Year) and then on the last afternoon we had a huge potluck full of all kinds of traditional foods from all over. It was always a lot of fun and the children and parents enjoyed it.

To me, culture is part of social studies and religion is a big part of culture. We did(and do) talk about religion when it came to the holidays. For instance, before reading a book about Hannukah, I would say "This is what people of the Jewish religion believe". I would always have the kids focus on ways different cultures and religions are alike---we all pray, we all love our families, our celebrations have light, etc. To me, if a child is sheltered from learning about our differences, then he will not know how to be strong in his beliefs when faced with something he has no experience with. My son is a very strong Christian, but he did whole units on other religions in middle school. Just because he was exposed to other ideas doesn't mean he is going to convert; to the contrary, he has learned to be respectful of other cultures and religions, which is very important in the world we live in.

I will share this one situation that happened several years ago. Our class was having a holiday celebration, where we were singing a Christmas song, a Hanukkah song, a Kwanzaa song, and a poem for Eid. We had two Muslim children in our classroom. The song was Rudolph, and NOT a religious song, but the parents said the child should not sing it. They did not want to keep them home, so we just had them sit and do puzzles while we practiced(Of course, they sat there and sang anyway) One of the parents had found a poem for us and it had Arabic in it. I asked her to translate it, as I wanted to know what the kids were saying. The line was "Allah o akbar". She told me it said "God is great". When I asked her if her kids could sing a song that said "God is great", she said, no,no,no, so I had her change that line. Respect has to go both ways.

Last year, we had a Muslim child, and she was not allowed to be there for our "Walk around the sun" birthday song. She was only 4 and would cry everytime we took her out. For some reason, her parents didn't want to tell her why she couldn't stay and she thought she had been bad. I felt really sad for her. Her mom came to get her before our winter celebration and ended up staying with her. Our celebrations are really just sharing food and chatting anyway.

OP, the truth is that going to public school means customs that are mainstream American are going to be present. Halloween is going to be talked about, as are Christmas and Easter. In schools, it is the secular stuff that is everywhere, not religious stuff. Many of the things you mention in schools are happening in stores, malls, restaurants, tv, etc. The best thing you can do is prepare your child for what will be the norm. The schools definitely won't change what they do for one group of children or parents. It is easier for you to prepare your child for the world than to prepare the world for your child.

post #9 of 21
Thread Starter 
I agree--we do not live in isolation. It is simply NOT REALISTIC for me to think that I'll be able to shelter him from *everything.*

However, there is a huge difference between things like learning the story of Saint Nicholas, for example, and sitting in music class singing RELIGIOUS HYMNS at this time of the year. (Yes it happens in public school, seen it. Would not allow it for my kids. THIS is the kind of stuff that needs to NOT be in a public school with a diverse population. some of the small towns where I live, yes, they actually *are* all Christian, so whatever.)

Just like I would not demonstrate and expect the children to participate in a Muslim prayer. There's a huge difference between that and bringing my son's "My First Ramadan" book to school along with a treat for the class.

I'm coming to a realization that at this point in his life, he needs me available to talk about what is going on--why we don't celebrate Christmas, if I choose to pull him out of something, he needs to be told why.
Someday, I am not going to be there. The goal would be that he understand our religion, values, beliefs, and will be able to make the determination for himself if he shoudl be doing XYZ.

That's another great thing about the parental involvement piece--I *will* know pretty much exactly what goes on in his room, and I *will* be able to do that for him, much more than I would in any other school.

and seriously, if all it takes to "convert" my kid is gluing stuff on a green triangle he cut out to make a "christmas tree" (a project he came home with today) well then I've really failed someplace
post #10 of 21
Wow, I have never heard of a public school allowing religious hymns to be sung in the school! Do you mean like Away in a Manger, Silent Night, songs like that? Someone told me once that The Twelve Days of Christmas was a Christian song, but I don't get that. Anyway, any schools that did that would get in a lot of trouble in most states.

My current school will not even let us call our party next week a holiday party, LOL. We have to call it a winter celebration. The party around Halloween was a fall celebration. We didn't do anything Halloween like, but everyone knew we were doing it for that reason.

I don't think anyone should be made to feel bad because they don't celebrate a certain holiday. I think the best way is to do something for children who do not celebrate the main stream holiday. The one child in our class who celebrates Hanukkah was so proud to tell us all about what it is all about(the dreidel, menorah, etc)! We all got to color a dreidel coloring sheet.

post #11 of 21
Thread Starter 
The one that's coming to mind right now that I know they sang was We 3 Kings. All about the Wise Men following the star. This was about 3 years ago now so I don't really remember if there were others, I think Silent Night too though.

I agree with being able to talk about everyone's holiday. And activities that are not religious. I have no problem wtih my kids learning what other people do. I do have a problem with them being forced to participate in religious activities. (Yes, singing a song about the birth of Jesus on Christmas Eve counts.)
post #12 of 21
When I was in choir in high school at a public school, we sang music from all over the world. To exclude all music that could be considered religious would not only be very difficult, it would mean neglecting most of the music that is of historical significance.

At that same public school, I had to read many books of the Christian Bible as an assignment for a British Literature class. I was so upset about this assignment that I got a lawyer from the ACLU involved, but in the end I had to read the Bible because it was presented as literature not truth. Even though I objected to reading the Bible (at the time I was an athiest), I did not have legal standing to get out of the assignment.

So in the public schools, kids can learn about different cultures and religions, sing hymns and songs from around the world, or even read religoius texts as literature. It's your choice as a parent whether to put your kids in that environment.

As an adult, I am now a Christian and I do object to how the "holidays" would be celebrated at the public schools. I have strong convictions about what I want my children to learn, especially while they are young, and so as a result they will go to a private school that shares our faith.
post #13 of 21
Interesting topic.

I live in a country that takes secularism to a whole new level. In public schools and administrations, no one is allowed to wear any overt religious signs. The mention of God is forbidden (at least for young kids in school-- as they get older, God can be mentioned, but only in the context of a historic incident motivated by religious beliefs). Etc, etc, etc.

In reality, this practice is simply to prevent Muslims and Jews from displaying *their* religious signs.

At my son's preschool (he's 3), I was told I couldn't explain Thanksgiving to the children if I mentioned that the Pilgrims were thanking God for surviving their first winter.

However, the school has a giant Christmas tree. The children are making ornaments, are learning Christmas songs (I was asked to teach them "Jingle Bells" and "We wish you a Merry Christmas" in English. None of the songs are the least bit religious, but still!). The kids are opening an Advent calendar, for crying out loud!! But if someone were to suggest teaching them the cultural traditions associated with a different religion, there would be a huge, gigantic backlash.

It's so hypocritical it's sickening. We're Christian, so I don't mind DS doing this stuff, but it feels soooo awkward, when I think about all the children in his class who *aren't*.

Anyway, no tips for you, since nothing I say or do will ever change anything in this public school! But good for you for trying to remind the school to strike a balance...
post #14 of 21
In 2002, the University of NC at Chapel Hill required incoming freshman to read sections of the Koran and listen to Muslim prayer recitations and write a paper on it. After a lot of complaints, they did offer another option to students. Talk about mixing church and state! I think it was meant to offer students more understanding of the Muslim religion, as there was lots on anti-Muslim sentiment in the years following 9/11. Bad decision for UNC; noone should be forced to read about religion unless they are in a course on religious studies.

post #15 of 21
I think your last thoughts are so great, mama. Sounds like you're in a pretty good school for being able to avoid these things without much of a look or problem - AND, they sound like they'll welcome your ideas for even further changes, maybe. Your post taught me one thing - instead of running away from a school that isn't exactly a perfect fit as far as diversity, you can also go in and hope to help them make changes for your family and others (I'm sure) as well. So many parents probably don't speak up because they are either afraid or maybe just don't care enough about it to do so - but change only happens when we try and explain these kinds of things gently and give a new way of thinking some actual appeal. People are interested in embracing and accepting other cultures, traditions, religions, races, etc - they just sometimes don't realize it until it is put to them the right way by the right person! YK? At least, that's what I seem to feel after so many various experiences.
post #16 of 21
My son is Muslim. I picked him up from preschool last week, and he was working on making a blue crystal Star of David for Hanukkah. They also made a paper menorah, on which they will paste a new candle each day. I suppose this week or next they will do something for Christmas as well. I'm a little annoyed they didn't do anything for either Eid, but I'll have a chat with one of his teachers soon about that and see what's up (she's Muslim too).

I view these as positive learning experiences, and that he's on the road to the global education I want for him. We teach/practice our core beliefs and values inside our home, and when my son runs into something that's different outside, it will prompt a discussion (or several). I want him to grow up with our beliefs, but want him to be tolerant of others'. This can't happen, IMO, without his learning about them.
post #17 of 21
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by sbrinton View Post
When I was in choir in high school at a public school, we sang music from all over the world. To exclude all music that could be considered religious would not only be very difficult, it would mean neglecting most of the music that is of historical significance.

At that same public school, I had to read many books of the Christian Bible as an assignment for a British Literature class. I was so upset about this assignment that I got a lawyer from the ACLU involved, but in the end I had to read the Bible because it was presented as literature not truth. Even though I objected to reading the Bible (at the time I was an athiest), I did not have legal standing to get out of the assignment.

So in the public schools, kids can learn about different cultures and religions, sing hymns and songs from around the world, or even read religoius texts as literature. It's your choice as a parent whether to put your kids in that environment.

As an adult, I am now a Christian and I do object to how the "holidays" would be celebrated at the public schools. I have strong convictions about what I want my children to learn, especially while they are young, and so as a result they will go to a private school that shares our faith.
In my public high school, choir was optional. There was no "Bible as literature" or anything of that nature.

And as I don't have the option of sending my kids to an Islamic school full-time without relocating, and DH is opposed to homeschooling, I'm trying to make the best I can of what I have. The only private schools here are various Christian and Catholic.

For me, it's about trying to teach them how to navigate. so that by the time they have a choice, they will realize they do not want to be in choir if they are going to sing songs glorifying things that are not their beliefs. Or maybe they will have a justiification for it based on what they know. THEY by that time will make their determinations.

However, while they are young, it is my place to teach them what our beliefs are and what our religion teaches---and how to live in a multicultural world, respecting others and their right to do their thing without sacrificing your right to not do things you don't believe in--or to do things you DO beleive in.

I'm just trying to figure out how to do the best I can with what I have.
post #18 of 21
I hope this isn't too O/T - to me it is sort of the same thing.

I strongly object to much the schools teach - and not only religious stuff. Most of the health ed, from sex to drugs, is taught from a warped perspective, IMO. The whole idea of "stranger danger" is wrong, what they call nutrition is laughable, and on and on. Religion is the least of it (not minimizing anyone else's experience - I just see it more broadly). The fund-raiser sales, TV culture, rewards for reading, Disney based curriculum, I could keep going. My 2 littlest ones are foster kids, and required to be in Public School.

I feel it is up to me to tell them when I disagree - respectfully and rationally. I try to explain in not too critical ways (don't always manage) that we do things differently. No, you can't have a cross necklace like your friend has, because that would be sending a message that you are Christian to anyone who sees you. And I am willing to teach an overview of what that means. But I also am fine with the fun and secular aspects of the holidays - an easter egg hunt, the corn maze at halloween, gift exchange.

I know everyone sees life differently - and that religion is a very important issue for many. I mean this in the context that, well, I explain our beliefs in hundreds of ways (no, you can't have $ for individual, disposable bottled waters from the machine at school - you can bring a reusable container for tap water from home if you want - this embodies frugality, ecology, and more). Most of my values and ethics don't come under the umbrella of religion. My daughter is at the age (9) when she wants to be just like her peers. I am flexible in some ways, not in others - yes to clothing styles within reason, no to the TV shows most other families watch. I think the current public obsession with hand sanitizers is misled and probably harmful (public health is my field - I am not just ignorant). I think most babies should be born at home and breastfed - - lots of non-mainstream notions I teach my children every moment. Really, religion is the easy part.
post #19 of 21
How old are the kids in school?

I personally have tried my hardest to keep little kids out of public school whenever possible. It wasn't possible when my daughters were little, and I honestly feel like my own spirituality (and the religious level of the household) declined as a result. I wasn't, at that time, strong enough to "fight" the school on everything and re-teach everything my kids picked up in school. I finally caved on Halloween participation after a few years. Part of it was my own problems at the time (getting involved in, then getting out of, an abusive relationship) and I just didn't have the strength to worry about "little things" that would have been important under other circumstances.

I had all my kids in Jewish schools for a while. Then I was doing a combination of Jewish schools and homeschooling. Now, the private schools are completely out of reach (scholarships don't go as far when more families need financial aide) and I have two in public school and one at home. But, the two in public school are older. I've seen that there's a whole lot less of this "holiday stuff" in the older grades, plus my daughters are pretty sure of themselves and less likely to be influenced by their peers. DS isn't nearly ready to do that- his sense of self is still developing.

Now DS is 8 and homeschooled. He is exposed to other faiths and cultures (including "mainstream" culture but also some non-mainstream ones) but all from the perspective of "We're Orthodox Jews. This is what we do. Isn't it cool what other people do?" I'm sure there's a way to work out the same kind of attidude within a public school setting, but it's harder when you're not there as the other cultures are being presented (and the teacher isn't able to say "this isn't our thing" the way you can.)

I'd say more but DS wants the computer now.
post #20 of 21
I have the same problems, but come at it from a different angle, as DH and I are atheists. But in the end, the last thing I want it to be one of the stereotypical atheists and rain on everyone's parade

My opinion is that the more inclusive school try to be in accommodating everyone's faith, the more exclusive they are being to those who are not of a theistic mindset.

That said, my DDs attend a private Montessori school and they do learn about religion. Quite a bit, I'd say. I don't really have a problem with it. The holidays aren't the only time. They do a unit on creation stories and the big bang theory, and that is where much of the religion comes in. They do read Bible stories. Instead of being a stick-in-the-mud, I offer to come in and tell them Native American creation stories. That way, even if I am an atheist, I can share some of my culture instead. No, I don't believe the Native American creation stories either, but I can share the importance of oral tradition and storytelling through telling these stories to the class. And I'd rather share my Native American culture during Big Bang/Creation week than at Thanksgiving

So, I guess I'm just saying, the long way, "yeah that" to those who said that parental involvement in school is key.
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