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Thursday, February 17, 2005

Hammer's Mail Bag: Release Time (Non-Massage)

Posted by: Hammer / 12:07 PM

An alert reader best-known for inspiring the beloved (though still unreleased) game "Derekota" sends in this nugget from Slate:
This week, the Staunton, Va., School Board met to consider changing its 60-year-old Weekday Religious Education program. The WRE is a released-time Christian educational program, in which students in first, second, and third grades in the public school system, leave regular classes on school time in order to attend 30 minutes of religious instruction each week. Twenty such "released-time" programs exist across Virginia, and many more exist in at least 32 states nationwide. To comport with constitutional requirements, these religion classes happen either at local churches or in buses or trailers parked off school grounds. Estimates of the number of Staunton school kids currently participating in WRE differ slightly: The schools say that between 78 percent to 87 percent of the students at their four elementary schools attend WRE classes; JoAnne Shirley—state president for WRE—says that closer to 95 percent of the kids take part. The classes and facilities are funded by local churches.

...At Monday's meeting, it became clear that one of the school board's principal concerns was with the fate of those children whose parents opt out of the WRE. Not because they are stigmatized, but because these kids sit around and color while all their friends go across the street to church. So, in a 5-1 vote, the board decided to try to find some more useful way to keep them occupied. It was seemingly less concerned with the fact that these children were being segregated on the basis of religious beliefs, since they voted to continue the program, at least for another year....

At the start of Hammer's long, tortured journey through adolescence he had an hour of weekday religious education which the Lutherans called Confirmation. Hammer, like many classmates, was released early from basketball practice in order to walk to church to learn the Godly lessons his father had neglected to teach him in Sunday School.

Hammer's father taught Sunday School because the alternative -- drinking coffee and eating bars with other parishioners for an hour -- was far, far worse.

Hammer's father also coached little league. (Hold on, we're swinging back around to make a point.) He coached little league because he was very good at it and because he enjoyed it. If nothing else, it allowed him to yell at his children in public without fear of censure.

At the end of Hammer's baseball career there was one kid on the team who was terrible. If he ever hit a pitched ball, it was by accident. If he ever caught a fly ball, it would be an act of divine intervention. One day this kid -- I'll call him Jeff Hagen, even though it's not his name, because I really don't care for Jeff Hagen -- started to cry when the lineup was announced. He was upset because he was batting last and playing right field. Again.

Jeff Hagen was (here comes that point I promised) feeling stigmatized because he always batted last and always played right field. What right -- I thought then, as I think now -- does anyone have to not feel stigmatized? If you're terrible at baseball and choose to play baseball, kids will find out. Some will make fun of you (not that that would've been allowed on our team). If you're Jewish in a Baptist town, some kids will make fun of you. If you don't want to stand up and say the Pledge of Allegiance, some kids will make fun of you. If your parents name you Sunni Sailing, some kids will make fun of you.

People -- kids included -- have a right to be different. But they don't have the right to be free from scorn and ridicule on the playground or elsewhere, for being different. So to the parents of the 10% of Ms. McHenry's 3rd grade class who don't wanna do WRE and are afraid their kids will feel left out: get over it. If you want your child to be like everyone else, put down the Utne Reader, take off your sandals, and spend more money at Gap Kids.

So, I've got no problem with WRE or letting kids leave class early to be indoctrinated. Lord knows if you don't hook them early, you probably won't hook them at all. Just because you've let most of the class go, Ms. McHenry, doesn't mean school is over. You've got a class size of 10 or 5 or 2 and you decide it's time for free play? There's not a public school teacher in the world who wouldn't love to have a five kids in class, if only for one period a week. Shame on you for not using the time as productively as possible.


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