Preying In The Schools

Copyright © by Len Holman, 9/29/10


  School prayer is one of those defining issues:  it clearly illustrates the “culture wars” and keeps track of who is on which side.  But it’s a false eyelash on the Eye of Truth, a non-issue in which the pundits and point-makers and zealous ideologues do nothing more than pour more cement onto their feet, to stand more firmly in an already-deep hole, and they do nothing but prey on those kids who just want to pray.

  First, what is prayer but thought?  It is a pointed, intentional thought, but a thought nonetheless, and that thought, or series of thoughts, takes place inside a person’s head.  So if ideologues on the one side demand that no praying be done in school, they are demanding that no thinking of a certain kind be done.  This is pretty serious stuff—something that may only occur at Wal-Mart corporate offices and Tea Party rallies.  It’s a demand that requires that thought be policed so that only the RIGHT kind of thought can be done.  It’s ok for a teenager to think of vaginas and penises and anally-shaped toys sold for ridiculous prices on the internet, but NOT thoughts that deal with communicating with a Divinity of some sort.  The other side demands that school kids be allowed to think these thoughts, but more than that, they demand that the public school—and that means the State—give permission to these kids to do this.

  It is an incredible feat of the most sublime stupidity and highest arrogance to demand a certain kind of thought from someone, to demand the absence of other kinds of thought.  There are some difficulties with this line of—I WAS going to say reasoning, but I shy away from hyperbole—thinking about thought which is called “prayer.”  Prayer is tricky to identify because it is well-hidden.  A student can pray while the teacher is taking roll. She can pray on the volleyball court or in the bathroom or on the school bus.  American technology is woefully inadequate for detecting such thoughts, so the vigilant advocate for separation of Church and State must be especially perspicacious.  Until the machinery is set up to detect prayerful brain waves, reliance must be put on the keenly observant guardian of secularism to read body language, facial expressions and that certain “something” which separates the law-abiding citizen from the criminal, like TV viewers during the Nixon-Kennedy debates, which chose Nixon as the bad guy, only to later find Kennedy was no saint, either.  But a person praying in Christendom is hard to catch.  It’s not like the salat, the Muslim prayer in which the devotee prostrates himself.   A Christian can hide in plain sight and so it might be a good idea for monitors of these lawbreakers to be given extensive training by someone who is expert at spotting people who hide secrets, like tabloid reporters or baggage screeners at airports.  How much American territory has been spared terror by these people who discover which starlet has no panties, and those who arrest toddlers and infants? 

  The other side has a bigger problem.  It demands, insists, throws a hissy fit, to get the schools to allow prayer.  Now this is the equivalent of saying that pro-prayer advocates demand that the State give permission to students to think certain types of thought.  That is, without the State’s express agreement, there can be no “official” prayer.  Imagine for a moment that there is a God On High who hears these thoughts.  Here comes one now, but He dismisses it, puts it in the “trash” pile, because it was done without official government sanction, or it was done outside of the school campus.  A wasted prayer, and so the kid doesn’t get his iPad, gets pissed, grows up to become an disgruntled atheist, leads a protest against the minister in his home town and is gunned down by cops who go to church every Sunday.  But that’s not the whole of it.

  Once you start down the bumpy road of asking permission from the state to pray, then the State—much like that cute Great Dane pup you used to feed scraps to under the supper table—will demand more permissions and grow stronger and more insistent:  the pup grows up to be 190 pounds of trouble who will eventually take the food and your fingers.  Will the State be the guarantor for everything that is supposed to be free, supposed to be just between one person and his or her god?  For everything that is private and contained within oneself?  It’s like asking permission of your boss to breathe.

  Advocates of school prayer don’t seem to get that, because prayer is private and virtually undetectable, no one needs the permission of some authority to do it.  People who pray to a God ALREADY have permission—the only permission they need.  Maybe the problem for these people is in the teaching of HOW to pray and WHY.  Somehow, the zealots of public prayer have forgotten Jesus’ words about praying in secret, and insist that a public spectacle be made of it by children who break out in pimples if they just have to raise their hands in class.  So one of the really great ideas introduced is to have “two minutes of silence” at the beginning of the school day, or some such incredible nonsense, where—advocates righteously (or is it self-righteously?) proclaim—no one has to pray out loud. No Jew or Muslim or Buddhist or atheist need be exercised by this because it isn’t public.  But of course, that’s just what it is, by virtue of it not being “official.”  This is supposed to mollify the zealots of “no praying, anywhere, at any time on school property” although SOMEONE should pray for the kids that ride those riotous vehicles called school buses home.  This solution mollifies none of them.

  But what is the problem with silent prayer?  Kids don’t know about it?  It isn’t taught to them properly? How does a kid praying while the roll is taken destroy Democracy As We Know It?  Or at least, as the guardians of Liberty and the Totally Secular State conceive it?  This sounds like the specious and ridiculous argument “traditional marriage” advocates use when they insist that the same-sex couple down the street is going to destroy the marriage of a straight couple next door.  The mechanism of that remains unclear.  So somehow, a kid praying over her lunch is making Thomas Jefferson spin in his grave.

  For people who advocate prayer in schools, perhaps they should teach their kids to pray anywhere, at any time—school, store or playground.  They should be mindful of asking the State to give them permission, as they would be mindful of buying them a pet gorilla.   And the non-prayer crazies should lighten up.  Whom does it hurt for a kid to pray?  Speaking as a teacher with a LOT of years in front of classes, if I could have used Merlin’s magic or the Devil’s power to get the kids to invest in their own learning, I would have.  If praying makes a student feel more comfortable, then better for her and the teacher and school, and better for the society.

  This is not an issue that needs investigating.  This is not an issue in which the True Believers on both sides need to use the school children as prey.  This is just not an issue at all.  Or at least, it shouldn’t be.  If you pray, fine.  If not, OK.  Making kids the prey in our carnivorous political and social battles is cowardly and beside the point.  The point being, will we be one country or many?


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