I have failed as a teacher in an American public school system.
That realization hit me when I racked my memory and could not even remember the last time I confiscated a bible or slapped a student for praying that the bell would hurry up and ring so he wouldn't have to listen to Mr. Turner any more.
Don't tell anyone, but I have even accepted writing assignments in which the students talked about their religion and the important role it plays in their lives. And it wasn't just the Muslim girl's papers that I accepted, I even allowed an evangelical Christian to turn in her paper and Lord help me, it was so well written I had to mark a bright red "A" across the top of it.
I even recently published a book about the tornado that struck my Joplin community on May 22, 2011, and wrote a chapter about the Joplin High School Graduation in which one of my former students told me how faith got her through her senior year after her family lost its home. The book even includes photos of an outdoor church service held after the congregation lost its building in the storm, and the entire transcript of the speeches made by a pastor, our governor, and President Obama at a prayer service one week after the tornado destroyed one-third of our community.
What kind of public school teacher am I?
For far too long, the well-heeled enemies of public education have tried, with increasing success, to label public school teachers as godless liberals, arriving each day at their schools with the express purpose of indoctrinating impressionable children with secular humanism and turning them into tree-hugging, spotted owl loving liberals, looking for every opportunity to accept a government handout and drive a carload of job-stealing "illegal immigrants" across the border.
That libelous definition of public school teachers is most likely the one being fostered by those who would prefer to see their money going to private schools and turn public education into a sausage factory turning out dutiful, compliant students who can fill the entry level jobs that open up whenever the "job creators" cannot find a way to ship those jobs overseas.
By convincing the American people that public school teachers are trying to usurp the role of the home in the upbringing of children, it makes it that much easier to tear down the public school systems that have offered a pathway to success for middle class and lower class students for more than a century.
One example of this ongoing attack is Amendment 2, which will go before Missouri voters next Tuesday. On the face of it, it doesn't seem like something that should concern teachers.
Called the Missouri Public Prayer Amendment, its supporters say it will ensure that students have the right to pray and express their religious beliefs at school. The bill's sponsor, Mike McGhee, R-Odessa, related horror stories of children having their bibles taken away when they were reading them during study hall (Do any schools actually have study hall any more?), being stopped from singing Jesus Loves Me on the playground and being told to stop praying in the lunchroom because it isn't "appropriate."
I am not naïve enough to believe that there have never been any instances of teachers exceeding their authority, misunderstanding the First Amendment, and infringing on students' rights, but it is not the epidemic that Amendment 2's supporters are describing. The problem could be easily handled simply by making sure all teachers are aware of their students' rights -- ones that they already have.
However, a common sense solution would not give right wing politicians the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone -- rally the base around another issue that will bring them to the polls and keep the voters' minds off the fact that their elected representatives spent another session addressing non-issues and doing nothing to bring jobs to Missouri.
And for those who are in the pocket of the billionaires who would like nothing more than to stop having their money go to public schools, this bill will help ease the electorate toward that goal. Who, after all, wants their money going to evil, godless liberals who would strongarm a child whose only crime was singing Jesus Loves Me?
That does not describe the teachers I know and have worked with for the past 14 years. They are representative of the communities in which they teach. Many attend church services, have their bibles with them everyday, and follow their beliefs -- but they know where to draw the line between their religion and their jobs.
Teachers are not all liberal either. For years, I heard the sounds of Rush Limbaugh's program coming from the teacher next door during the lunch break and he was far from being the only conservative in the building. Schools, just like every other place, are filled with people of all kinds. Schools, no matter what Mike McGhee and other supporters of Amendment 2 would have you believe, are a reflection of their communities.
Next Tuesday, Missourians are most likely to overwhelmingly approve a Constitutional Amendment that is totally unnecessary. After all, who wants to vote against prayer?
Hopefully, some of the people who cast their ballots will save a prayer for our public schools and the people who teach in them. It seems that they, not students who want to pray, are the ones who have been targeted for destruction.