Jesus Christ

August 11, 2006 – 10:44 pm

Before I left for my last trip to the US, I went to a school board meeting where a program called Super Kids was discussed. It’s a kids Christian program that wanted to use the House Of Learning (aka “library”) at our local primary school after school hours. I voiced my objection, asking why they would want to use the school when there was a perfectly good church and Sunday school one block away. The meeting ended with the board deciding to ask the program for more details.

Foolish me for assuming that’d be the end of it. When I got back, there was a note in the school newsletter saying that the Super Kids program was launching. Parents who wanted their children to attend had to fill out a form saying it was okay (no kids without signatures would be taken). This comes just as the bus schedule for the local area was “rationalized” by the Ministry of Education and now there are 5-10 kids whose bus doesn’t leave until an hour after school gets out. I wasn’t happy, but I was prepared to accept it.

Then Jenine called me on Wednesday. There was a woman from Super Kids at the school during the morning assembly time, telling the kids what fun they’d be having at the Super Kids after-school program. This, for me, crossed the line between outside-school-hours and inside-school-hours. I wrote this letter:

From: me
Subject: No Jesus On Leigh School Grounds
Date: 10 August 2006 9:47:50 AM
To: principal

Hi, Debby. I hate to be the bad guy on this, but apparently someone has to. I hear from Jenine that someone from Super Kids was at school today, sitting the kids down in the playground and telling them about how wonderful the program would be and how they’d read Bible stories.

I find this completely unacceptable.

At the last board meeting I attended, I said I didn’t want the Super Kids program operating from the school after the final bell. I still don’t want that. It’s unnecessary and it’s the thin end of the wedge. It’s unnecessary because Christians already have two places to teach kids about Christ: their church and their homes. There’s only one reason for a Christian group to use a school instead of a church, and that’s to ride on the school’s authority.

I also don’t want the Super Kids people talking about the program during school time. School is where we teach our children facts and life skills. Any mention of Jesus, particularly the unquestioning endorsement that comes with the Super Kids program, makes kids think that Jesus is a fact or life skill. Jesus is neither; Christianity is a religious choice and as such has no place in schools lest it be confused for fact.

I wouldn’t mind a religious studies class where equal time is given to Hindu, Shinto, Maori, Christian, Moslem, and Pagan beliefs. Super Kids isn’t a religious studies class, however: it’s a particular religion being given access to our children. The reason they start with after school time is precisely so that they can get the in-school time and blur that line between fact and fiction.

And that’s unacceptable to me.

Please consider this a formal complaint. I’m happy to meet with you or anyone else about this. I’ll also be at the next board meeting to have them thrown out.

Nat Torkington

The principal replied the same day, saying that as a formal complaint it had to go to the board and she sent it on to Garth, the head of the Board of Trustees. We ran into Garth Thursday night going out for pizza, and he asked me to stay behind after Friday night soccer so we could talk. I just got back from that.

Garth spoke for about ten minutes, laying out his point of view. As I understand it, his case is:

  • The school is a community school and serves the community as part of its charter.
  • Christianity has a long tradition within our culture and many members of our community go to church or are otherwise Chrsitians..
  • Therefore Christian after-school education is no different from after-school soccer or judo.

My response was that it seemed a mistake to confuse soccer for a hot-button topic like religion. I reiterated that I didn’t think there was a reason for the Super Kids program to use the school. He said they’d said they were having trouble getting access to the church and that they were worried about child safety as they cross the road. The one road between the school and the church.

He also disputed Jenine’s version of the Super Kids administrator’s presence on school. Again he said it was no different from sport: “we let the touch rugby coach tell the kids about it to sign them up therefore we let the Super Kids coach tell the kids about it to sign them up.” There was no active proselytizing, he said.

Garth pointed out that many schools in New Zealand are Christian schools and that, for example, the Matakana school hosts church services on Sundays. I replied that I hadn’t sent my kids to Matakana school or to a Christian school. I signed my kids up for Leigh school. He said that twenty years ago there was a lot of deep religious education in schools, which became toned down to Bible class type “what is Jesus’s message” stuff. I replied that the trend is obviously towards the elimination of it and that this happens through the objections of people like me.

Garth said something like a third of people identified as Christian at the census. I pointed that that meant that two thirds of people didn’t. That religion was not like sport, that it is a profound and meaningful thing that changes the whole way people see the world and think about it. And that as such it should be kept a parent’s choice whether their kids are involved in this.

Garth seemed to feel that my letter was very confrontational and aggressive. I’d been quite proud that I’d been so restrained and diplomatic! As Dad pointed out afterwards, Kiwis don’t communicate like that—they hesitantly invite people around for tea and broach the subject 45 minutes into a conversation about the weather. For my part, I just didn’t want there to be any confusion about my disapproval and the reason for my disapproval.

He said that tolerance was another fundamental part of our culture and our community, implying that I wasn’t being tolerant. I said I’m perfectly tolerant of Christians. I’m not objecting to churches, I’m not objecting to people praying in their homes. What I do object to is the insertion of religious education, which is propaganda for something that’s highly personal, into the school. I think it artificially raises the credibility of the religious education and lowers the credibility of the school.

He said it was highly unlikely that, should I demand they revisit their decision on the Super Kids program, the Board would change their mind. I said that I would check with the Ministry to see what the national policy on church and schools is. More immediately, what I want is to have my disapproval registered formally so that when these situations come up again there will be no default assumption that everyone in town is perfectly fine with religious things happening on the school. Until I hear from the Ministry, I’ll hold off on demanding they’re thrown off the school.

That wasn’t not at all the conversation I’d expected. I should have been prepared by the conversation I had at the secondary school a few years ago, when the two people in the office with me (both Christians) could absolutely not understand why church and state should be separate and why having skateboarding Christian evangelists on the school grounds during lunchtime was anything but a good thing.

Some background reading on Super Kids is Evangelization of Children (search for “Wellington”), a paper on how programs should evangelize to children. It’s clear that evangelists often focus on kids who need help (at-risk, troubled, etc.) but by tying their help to their religion just I can’t tolerate it on school property.

Am I really being out-there with this?

  1. One Response to “Jesus Christ”

  2. You’re out there, because they’re not in your culture. they’re in a culture where church and state never really separated, where it was all just a polite fiction.

    To these people, religion is something you *need* in order to be a stable person. People who declare they have no religion are either lying, or must have no direction in their meaningless, consumer-driven lives.

    Hence their willingness to propogate it to children. It’s the honorable conveyance of a greater purpose, not the slimy brainwashing of children that we see it as.

    In general, the only real solution, if you can’t prevent the delivery in the first place, is simply the delivery of better quality information. I suggest running an after-school program called “UberKidz”, which explains how to manipulate religious people into giving you money 🙂 The techniques are straightforward, and once people have looked behind that particular curtain they are pretty thoroughly inoculated against lesser forms of spiritual scamming.

    No doubt the school board would fail to approve that however, you might have to dress it up as “Magic classes” or something.

    By phirate on Mar 12, 2008

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