The first day of school is a time that brings joy to parents. The parents get to see their child learning and the beginnings of growing up. This is a time to spend nights helping with homework and playing games to help study for upcoming tests. This is a time of change and growth, but for some secular parents, there is a sense of dread. Hidden behind the shopping trips for school clothes and preparing for classes, is a fear of what may come next.
While raising a child in a secular home, god is seldom mentioned. However, at the point of joining school, the child will be introduced to concepts that they were not aware of. The fear of this, is not in the child learning what religion is. A child that does not know much about religion, may ask questions that others could find offensive: ‘what’s a god?’, ‘Why do you talk to someone that isn’t there?’, or worse ‘Aren’t those things just made up?’. The realization comes quickly that these conversations may happen, and there is no preparation to completely avoid it. Since religious views are so common, there are bound to be some issues with children, teachers, or parents being insulted by a lack of belief.
In some situations it is hard to see what the alternate perspective of others is like. Religion and religious symbols are everywhere. Although, holding a different view from others, even if only as innocent inquiry, can be taken as an attack. The problem is not religion itself, but to separate specificity of a preference of religion from learning institutions and government. This is not meant as an aggression against those who hold these deeply spiritual beliefs. The idea of separation is to allow for other religions, and the non-religious, to not be outcast from a group of students for their differences.
The opinion that religion being spread in schools is harmless, is only representative from one side of the argument. To other children that share in the same religion, it isn’t a problem. However, children of other religions or secular children can be bullied and singled out. The perpetuation of xenophobic tendencies and the association of atheism with evil, causes this type of bullying to continue. It is up to the faculty to intervene. But how can they intervene, when they reinforce the same negative assumptions as the children do?
This is where separation of church and state comes into the issue. Holding a personal belief is one thing, but holding on to biases that interfere with your chosen position are potentially harmful. One must set aside personal preference, belief, and opinions once taking on a position that requires an element of neutrality in taking actions and making decisions. By encouraging objective decision making of teachers, we can lessen the possibility of allowing discrimination and bullying of secular and religious children.
Teaching children at an early age that being different is not something to be ashamed of can help to lessen the possibility of issues later on. Both religious children and secular children should be aware of not harassing others because they hold different opinions or beliefs. By showing children to accept one another early on, we can help to mold better future interactions for them and their classmates. It is not appropriate to force others to agree with you. It is okay to accept that someone has different opinions and beliefs, while still staying true to your own.
Neutrality is important when addressing issues with bullying. Favoritism and personal biases have no place at work for the teacher. It is important to step in when a situation escalates, in order to reinforce the idea of interacting peacefully with one another. At times this can be difficult, but it is the best thing for the children to have someone that remains objective under such circumstances. Teachers may want to talk with children about differences and why it is okay to have different views or be different from one another. This can help to allow the teacher to preemptively counter possible later conflicts that may arise from discriminatory behavior.
Once a conflict does occur, teachers need to be swift to take action to prevent any harm. This type of action also requires being observant of the children and their treatment of each other. By supervising during school to ensure that no one is being harassed, teachers can prevent the issue. If the students are aware that the teacher will intervene, this may dissuade them from harassing another student. Simply the act of watching and being observant of their behavior can also be a deterrent. However, the lack of supervision of the students or their interactions may leave more room for bullying to take place.
Another issue is with awareness of biases. The children will know if the teacher is likely to take sides or bring their personal biases and views into the conflict. This can encourage children to antagonize one another, knowing that they will not be held responsible. Without any consequences for their behavior, some students will see this as a valid reason to begin bullying other children.
Ultimately, the goal is acceptance. We must learn to live peacefully with one another, without antagonizing each other. In some cases this can mean to lead by example. If a child sees an adult, that is acting negatively toward another person for their views, then the child will think that this behavior is appropriate during those instances. Children will mimic the behaviors of the adults they look up to. This is why it is so important to be a positive role model for them to learn how to behave politely toward others.