First, a little background. My school is not affiliated with the catholic church, as many schools in SL are. The primary school for girls in Laborie, for example, is called the Laborie RC Girls' Primary School, with RC meaning Roman Catholic.
So not being affiliated with the church, you might be surprised to learn that at the boys school we (the boys) pray four times a day. They sign themselves and say the Lord's Prayer first thing in the morning, sign themselves and say grace before meal before they go for lunch, sign themselves and say some other prayer right after lunch, and sign themselves and say a different prayer at the end of the day. If we were affiliated with the church we would also have a daily class period devoted to religious education.
Add to this the fact that all staff meetings at school begin with prayer. So, to set the stage, I believe there is more than enough integration of church and state and more than enough time spent on prayer. This morning, however, I got more of both.
I arrived at school this morning to find that the boys that had already arrived were sitting around the school courtyard, where we have our Monday morning assembly. Today is Wednesday. I sat and noticed the principal talking to a white couple in their 70s. (As an aside, I prefer to be the only white person at any gathering, other than my fellow PCVs. Others I consider interlopers.) My first thought was that these were donors who had come to be thanked in person by the boys. But, no.
The principal introduced a teacher who led us in prayer ( 😩 ) and then introduced the interlopers as Uncle Bill and Aunt Karen. Uh-oh, I thought, this feels wrong. The first words out of Uncle Bill's mouth confirmed my fears: "Good morning children. What a nice prayer. Can you believe that we aren't allowed to pray in school in the United States." Ah, great. Baptist Missionaries. Today, I thought, we will have prayer at the assembly, some no doubt heavy-handed evangelism, and then prayer the standard four times. It's no wonder reading levels are so low--who has time to read.
Heavy handed, it turns out, was understating it. Not long into the shtick Uncle Bill made sure to tell the children that Christianity is the only true religion. Bad enough, but then he pulled a dummy out of his suitcase and started doing ventriloquism. Religious ventriloquism. Surely a new form of ventriloquism. Uncle Cousin is the confusing name of the dummy. Then Aunt Karen started doing ventriloquism with a drawing she made on a small whiteboard. (Don't ask!). At this point I looked around for the cameras...this just has to be someone punking someone else.
It couldn't get any worse. Or so I thought. Because then Uncle Bill started doing magic! Religious magic. Surely a new form of magic. Could some accordion-playing be far behind?
It eventually ended. I walked out with one of the teachers. Someone I was getting along with so far. Someone I thought of as an ally. I suggested that this was time that could have been better spent on literacy. I commented that it is inappropriate to have told young children who were forced to listen that christianity is the only true religion. She responded by saying, "Well I guess you are entitled to your opinion." Uh-oh! We talked some more and I made a few points that I thought everyone would agree with. Not everyone did. I walked to my classroom thinking I had just lost an ally. @#$%. %^&*.
When I walked into the staff room for lunch today I noticed the former ally coming out of the principal's office. I heard him say, "Mr. Strathman, a word please." Are you kidding me? Twelve days in and I get sent to the principal. At that moment, I had a fleeting thought of saying, "Excuse me, that's Dr. Strathman." But, the principal and I get along very well. He is absolutely an ally. And he and I have talked at length about religion in the schools. He describes himself as a non-believer and would do away with prayer if it wouldn't get him fired. He explained that he gets pressure from parents and the community to allow events like this and feels he has little choice. I said I have been here long enough to know the huge role religion plays on the island and so am no longer surprised by events like this. But he agreed that telling children one religion is better than the others is inappropriate.
Oh literacy, hallowed be thy name.