Monday, February 20, 2012

God in my Library

Yesterday this story came up in my news feed about a teacher who omitted a line that referenced God in a song. It was a timely piece because God's been making appearances in my school library lately, and I don't mean in the form of miracles or visions.

Before I start today's post, let me state a few things up front.
1) I work in a public school.
2) I am a practicing Roman Catholic (although I joke that I'm practicing because I need to work at it).

I don't evangelize at work. That's not my job. However, I do realize that my religion impacts my conduct and views. I think that sometimes in public schools, educators are afraid to mention God or religion for fear of offending people. The article cited above is a perfect example. I think if we pretend that religion doesn't exist or treat it in a completely detached manner (e.g. as part of a study of Ancient Civilizations, apart from our current lives and reality) that we ignore a way to dialogue with our students in a deep, meaningful manner.

I teach media literacy to all the kindergarten students in my school. The definition of media that I use is:
Media is made by people and for people. You can see it, hear it, feel it, wear it, or experience it. All media has a message.
We started to explore examples and non-examples of media and used the definition as our criteria. A book is an example of media; it's made by authors and illustrators and publishers for readers. The students were eager to offer up other ideas to see if it met the requirements. What about people? One vocal little person said that God made people. Another said that the mommy made the baby in her tummy. Both were legitimate answers. Was this like a company or factory or group making something? No. Therefore, is a person an example of media? No. I could have steered the conversation in a different direction (natural vs created/manufactured) but this would ignore the experience they bring. If certain topics are taboo, we silence discussion.

Older children are not exempt from such talk either.When discussing some of the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading books with my students, so they can earn signatures in their Silver Birch or Red Maple passports, we discuss some heavy issues that appear in the books. Religion is no exception. One of the students told me about the content of his religion class as it related to one of the novels. Another talked about religious fanaticism as presented in the plot of another book. If we are upfront about our own beliefs and open to discussing alternate views, learning can happen for all.

I'm slowly working through weeding my non-fiction collection and it will be interesting to see what materials I have in the 200s section.

Before you express concern about my agnostic or atheist students, or about any subjects you may suspect that I deal with unfairly due to my religious affiliation, fear not. I try to make a point of mentioning that not everyone believes in God and I am not the person that usually initiates religious discussion - it's my students. I purchase and provide books that meet with my school board's Equity policies, even titles that some members of my religious community might be less-than-pleased with. I am not an evil Papist plotting to convert my unaware students; I just know that my religion is important to my life as it is to many of my students. If I get a chance to go to Mass on Ash Wednesday this week, I'll explain the black mark on my forehead to anyone who asks. I may work at a public school but God is still allowed in my library.

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