Atheist Scruples: it’s back to school time again

August 13, 2014

This question is apropos:

Your child is doing poorly in one subject which is bringing down his average. You’ve tried coaching but his learning is slow. Do you do the homework until he improves?

How would that help him learn? I’m not going to conjugate his French verbs for him. Been there, fuck that. It’s bad enough I had to do my own in school. My mother’s French but I don’t recall getting a lot of help out of her to get through it. I also don’t think I asked for any, really. By the time I was in high school French, Mom had been speaking non-stop English for twenty-some years and only spoke French if she phoned home or we went to New Brunswick.

She did get me a copy of 501 French Verbs at some point, but I think that was for university. Grade 12 is when I really could have used it. Man.. I swear. Fifteen verb tenses over five weeks or some damned thing. We’re getting quizzes often and after weeks of low scores on them my teacher pulls me aside and says in English, “It looks like you’re having trouble with French verbs.” Wow. Chapeau. Hat’s off to Larry, lady. Thanks for finally noticing… I scraped by in the final, but I don’t remember by how much.

Neither of my parents got far into school. I think Dad finished Grade 9 but didn’t go much further and Mom might have quit before that on account of needing to care for her siblings or work or whatever. (I really ought to get both of them to dictate their life stories. I don’t know enough.) I have a sociology degree with a minor in philosophy and a year of elementary education thrown into the mix.

The Man skipped the university route, opting to work those years instead, but is now putting his RESPs into an art program. He’s a few classes away from completion. He’s no slouch in the brain department either. His parents are teachers by trade. There was no getting away from getting good marks in that house.

His ex and mother of the Little Man got a youth care certificate of some sort. I don’t know if she tried any university courses prior to that. I’m thinking no.

Collectively we should be able to instill in the Little Man a sense of how important it is to work hard in school and do his best to understand and use what he’s learning. He’s in French immersion. The Man and I are very rusty with French and Ex has none to speak of so we’ll all learn with him as he starts Grade 1. Especially once we have to decipher his school assignments and make sure he’s doing them correctly. “Ah non, ce n’est pas correct, mon petit garçon… Ah oui! Très bien!”

I think a related Scruples 2014 question would probably run along the lines of this:

You’re struggling to keep up with the class assignments and a friend suggests you buy relevant essays online or copy text from a website to paraphrase and make your own. Your friend admits to doing both regularly. Do you follow her lead?

I got a kick (wallop, stimulation, refreshment) out of a recent Guardian piece (section, specimen) on the funnier side of plagiarism recently, namely the habit some students have of replacing original text with whatever a thesaurus may suggest as an alternative. It’s called Rogeting, after the famous thesaurus compiler.

To “stay ahead of the competition” became the quaint “to tarry fore of the conflict”, while “new market leaders” was turned into “modern store guides”.

Sadler’s favourite Rogetism, however, is a rendering of the phrase “left behind”, which was marvellously converted into “sinister buttocks”.

“This was a sad business for me and especially [for] my student, but I do think ‘sinister buttocks’ deserves a prize,” said Mr Sadler, who entered the student mistake for this year’s Times Higher Education exam howlers.

I can find articles about this year’s short list for the competition, but nothing about who won it yet. Sorry.


Prom season is open season on gay relationships

May 14, 2012

A Catholic school in Kentucky banned a lesbian couple from attending theirs. The trouble is, Hope Decker and Tiffany Wright found out they couldn’t go as a couple when they arrived at the gym on Saturday night and were immediately turned away. No warnings ahead of time. Just found out on the day.

“I would understand and respect the school’s decision if they truly upheld church teachings,” Wright said Sunday night. “They didn’t forbid the entrance of all the couples who’ve had premarital sex and all the kids who planned to get drunk after the prom.”

Sounds like hypocrisy in action. I’d say they truly are upholding church teachings… The kids opted to party in the parking lot after that.

Wright said the couple’s parking-lot prom was great.

“We had a wonderful night, and we were surrounded by true friends,” Wright said. “I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.”

Among the other students outside with them were Lexington Catholic senior Suzie Napier, who said she wrote a letter to school administrators expressing displeasure at their decision. Napier said 107 fellow students signed it.

Puts me in mind of anther school a couple years ago in Mississippi that actually cancelled their prom to stop lesbians from dancing together. The school got a hell of a lot of bad press and the girls got a hell of a lot of support from many circles.

Napier said the students played music from their parked cars at the outside prom and set up a table for refreshments.

“I definitely think this prom will be much more memorable than any prom the school hosted,” Napier said.

Megan Carter-Stone, a senior, also attended the outside prom.

“It was a wonderful time, and I think we got our point across,” Carter-Stone said. “At least I hope we did.”

It’s good that these girls and their friends made the best of a stupid situation and hosted their own party instead of let the school officials ruin a night that’s supposed to be memorable for better reasons.

If the school had always planned on keeping them out of the gym, they should have been told sooner. It was mean spirited to let them think they could come to prom and then leave them out of it entirely. Would Jesus treat people like that? If he really was the caring equalizer Christians want to claim he was, then the only obvious answer is no. Decker graduates this year but Wright still has a couple years left at this school. How’s she going to be treated after this? Catholics praise their martyrs for standing up for what they believed in in the face of adversity. Will they praise her, too, or make the rest of her time there a living hell?


Student willing to ruin school career over Jesus T-shirt

May 5, 2012

From CBC:

A Christian student suspended from a high school in Nova Scotia for sporting a T-shirt with the slogan “Life is wasted without Jesus” vows to wear it when he returns to class next week.

William Swinimer, who’s in Grade 12, was suspended from Forest Heights Community School in Chester Basin in Lunenburg County for five days. He’s due to return to class on Monday.

The devout Christian says the T-shirt is an expression of his beliefs, and he won’t stop wearing it.

“I believe there are things that are bigger than me. And I think that I need to stand up for the rights of people in this country, and religious rights and freedom of speech,” he told CBC.

Swinimer wore the same shirt to class for weeks on end, the article goes on, but teachers and students were starting to feel like it was less a message about personal beliefs and more like a passive attempt to convert the entire student body. As Nancy Pynch-Worthylake, board superintendent, put it –

“When one is able or others are able to interpret it as, ‘If you don’t share my belief then your life is wasted,’ that can be interpreted by some as being inappropriate,” she said.

Swinimer was too wrapped up in his own feelings of persecution to see it that way, though, and was willing to risk losing the rest of his school year over his shirt. I was curious about what other coverage this story had and found CBC’s update. The school board has reconsidered.

Swinimer called the board’s decision “awesome” and said he will be wearing his T-shirt to school on Monday.

“Some people say you’re not supposed to have religion in school. Well, every other religion is in that school and they constantly put Christianity down,” he said.

I don’t know what he means by that. Is he saying his school looks the other way while kids from other religious backgrounds blatantly insult the Christian kids, or did the school make the decision to be less Christian-centric and open things up to more secular events like winter festivals instead of Christmas parties?

Pinch-Worthylake said the board will use this incident as a learning moment for everyone, adding that it is time to move on.

“We’re going to be working with students around how they can express their religious views and other views appropriately, and how we work together when those views may be interpreted or misinterupted by others,” she said.

“So, the focus is off the T-shirt. Whatever T-shirts come to school on Monday with personal beliefs will not be an issue for us.”

And that might help with whatever perceived slurs Swinimer claims are hurting li’l Christian feelings, too. Personally, I think he still needs to be taken aside and reminded that school hours are for class work, not proselytizing. He’s going to waste his life if he doesn’t care more about getting a good education and it won’t matter how much love for Jesus he has if he can’t get a good job as well. I expect this story will follow him for years and there will be places that will not hire him – not because he’s Christian, but because he comes across as arrogant, self-centered and willfully ignorant of the fact it’s perfectly acceptable to not be Christian.


In terms of comparative religion, why not include paganism?

April 15, 2012

I watched The Wicker Man recently; the 1973 release, not the Nicholas Cage remake that’s only good to watch for a laugh. Mind you, as an atheist I found humour in the original where I’m sure none was intended at the time it was made. I caught myself sniggering as the righteous Christian Sergeant Howie (played by Edward Woodward) gets more and more distressed at the education, habits and traditions of the people living on Summerisle. A very young Christopher Lee plays Lord Summerisle who explains to him how the paganist roots of the community got started. His grandfather had to engineer and modify the crops he brought to the island because they wouldn’t grow well in the soil otherwise. In order to make sure the locals had faith in his new apple trees etc., he had them pray to the Goddess of the Harvest and follow other ancient rites (a lot of which required naked women and outdoor orgies) and when they were rewarded with an excellent harvest, they were led to believe their new religion was the reason, thus encouraging them to keep it up year after year. But now it looks like the crops are starting to fail and Howie is easily led to believe that a young girl is going to be sacrificed on May Day to ensure a good crop next year. He realizes, a bit belatedly, that he’s a bit wrong about that…

But anyway, a friend of mine added a link to her Facebook page that I simply had to click on. It’s from the Daily Mail’s coverage of the news that Cornwall schools must add paganism into their religion courses, even down to the early childhood levels. Cornwall Council is clearly catering to a fringe movement in the area (the upper estimate puts 750 pagans in a population of 537,400 so .001 percent) but its inclusion gives it the practice a legitimacy that was otherwise lacking. This alarms the Christian campaigners who are against the move, of course. They’re claiming it’s a time issue, that the course can’t devote enough time to the majors let alone a fringe religion, thus it’s a waste of time including it.

‘Introducing paganism is just faddish and has more to do with the political correctness of teachers than the educational needs of children.’

Is it a fad to include Buddhism, Judaism and Islam, as well? Did anyone ever try to claim that those are only included because of political correctness instead of educational value? It’s too much of a straw man argument to extend this toward them wanting all Christianity all the time in that class and nothing else, but deep down it wouldn’t surprise me if that was the way a few of them think. It tops the list of commandments, doesn’t it? No other gods but me? (Commandments aimed very specifically at the Israelites and their YHWH, but neveryoumind…)

This, too, is something of a stretch, but I wonder if their attitude might have a bit to do with concerns over what might get taught in terms of how early Christians behaved toward pagans. They moved into the area and usurped a belief system that had flourished for hundreds of years and what beliefs they didn’t ban they stole and repurposed toward their own ends. Glory glory hallelujah.

Paganism is historically relevant in Cornwall so the fact that a minority of people have chosen to retain the traditions is a fact kids should be allowed to learn in school.

Neil Burden, the council’s cabinet member for children’s services, said that the move would give children ‘access to the broad spectrum of religious beliefs’.

The council said the teaching of Christianity still accounted for nearly two-thirds of religious education in its schools.

Clearly they don’t like things to be fair, with equal time devoted to all the religions included in the syllabus but maybe they’d make the argument that .001 percent worth of pagans suggests a mere .001 percent of class time should be given over to them. And I don’t think I’d disagree with using a rationing approach of some kind. If the intent is to expose students to all available religious lifestyles in their geographical area then it’s probably logical to spend more time on the ones they’re most likely to run into in their day to day lives and just touch on the others out there that aren’t so in-the-face all the time.

I wonder what their approach is in terms of validity of religions overall; if the teachers promote Christianity above all other faiths as if it’s the right and only one worth having, or if they teach this so kids will come away from the course understanding that every religion is essentially the same in terms of purpose; they all exist to impose some kind of order on an otherwise chaotic world.

Bottom line, I don’t see the harm in including paganism in this course. I don’t remember much about my school days but I know I learned nothing about whatever beliefs would have been held by the aboriginal population of my province before the Christians ran ripshod over their culture and decimated it. It would have been interesting but my religion class was aimed only at getting the kids ready to be proper Catholics, whatever the hell that might mean. I never had a religion class like this Cornwall one until I hit university and it was quite the eye opener, to say the least. It’s good that these kids don’t have to wait until university to get the same experience.


Quoteable book reader

March 13, 2010

Inside Higher Ed has a link to an L.A. Times article about a recently released list of professor-chosen 40 bad books via 10 pages worth of PDF for those who want eye strain. Twilight does not get a mention, but the Da Vinci Code does earn a mention.

The titles have been picked for a number of reasons: bad plot choices, badly written, deliberate pulp designed to tug heart strings or manages to tug heart strings even though the set up was completely see-through and retarded. From the Times article:

There is one good lesson in the enterprise. Sophia A. McClennen, from Pennsylvania State University, doesn’t name a bad book; she writes, “In almost every class, I teach a bad book, an awful, poorly written, sometimes sexist, racist, reactionary book.” She doesn’t tell her students, though — they read it on the syllabus and come into her class, disturbed, upset and engaged. That’s a bad book — put to good use.

I never majored in English in university and I’m hard pressed to recall what we did study in year one. King Lear for sure, short stories (“I would prefer not to” — Bartleby the Scrivener. Oh, I admired him even then…) and poems. I don’t recall any work with long fiction. In high school and earlier though, man! It was a huh! kind of moment when I realized most of my teachers’ book choices came right off lists of challenged books. Sadly, I don’t recall any kids getting interested enough in any of them to create debate.

I was interested enough in The Pigman to rewrite the entire tale in rhyming couplets for one of my free assignments that year. I wish I still had that. I also wrote far more than a chapter to affix to the end of The Crysalids for a project the next year. I wish I still had that, too. On the flip side, I think I deliberately lost my class copy of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz after I read the whole damn thing and then our class never got around to discussing it anyway. Reading Wikipedia’s entry about it, I have no recollection of that plot whatsoever. Maybe I’d like the book now. Or I can just try and find the movie…


Teacher imposes religion on kid and gets confused as to why he’s suspended

March 5, 2010

A Christian Industrial Arts teacher told one of his students that he couldn’t build a Wiccan altar and wound up in hot water once the school officials found out. He’s since been suspended without pay and is whining about it.

Dale Halferty, who has taught industrial arts at Guthrie Center High School for three years, said he was asked to meet with the school district superintendent and high school principal when he returns to work Tuesday.

Halferty said Wednesday he still doesn’t understand why school officials are forcing him to act against his own beliefs as a Christian and allow the student to disrupt his class with a project based on a religion he believes is wrong and bad for youth.

“Personally, I think it’s offensive to worship rocks and trees,” Halferty said of Wicca, a religion based on ancient beliefs and a reverence for the Earth. “I am just trying to be moral. I don’t know how we can profess to be Christians and let this go on.”

No doubt the same sentiment was shared in Salem.

You’re not trying to be moral, sir. You’re trying to force everyone to think and do as you do, and it’s uncool and not very nice.

Problems started in Halferty’s industrial arts class when the student, a senior whom officials have not named, told the teacher the table he was building was actually a Wiccan altar.

After the student told him he was a practicing witch, Halferty said, he told the student he could work on his project but must keep any religious materials at home. He said the student kept returning to class with a book of witchcraft, which prompted him to tell the student he couldn’t build the altar in his class.

Halferty has said he previously told another student he could not build a cross in shop class because he believes in the separation of church and state.

Some other blogger (sorry, forget who) pointed out that a cross is too easy for shop class and any sensible teacher would say no to allowing such a project as hammering two pieces of wood together and calling it done.

Maybe the kid continued to bring the book because he was modeling his project off a picture in it and couldn’t be bothered to photocopy the relevant pages. Or he doesn’t consider Wicca to be a religion so much as a philosophy and lifestyle and therefore he was carting a reference book around the classroom, not a religious one.

Superintendent Steve Smith and Principal Garold Thomas placed Halferty on leave Friday and Monday while they conferred with the school’s attorney. They said more than one school policy, and state and federal law, prohibits discriminating against students who express religious beliefs in school assignments.

Almost 70 students signed a petition last week saying they didn’t want witchcraft practiced at the school.

Why would they assume he’d use the altar on school property anyway? That’s just retarded. The whole petition is retarded. It follows from the idea that witch magic actually works to do good or harm and it mystifies me why anyone would be scared of those who follow a wiccan way of life. “An’ ye harm none, do what you will,” is their mantra after all. No student is going to wake up in the morning craving flies. None normal, anyway. And how is this boy going to deal with the fact that at least 70 kids in his school are rejecting his beliefs? I doubt that he won’t care. Good thing there aren’t many more months of school left for him. What a way to finish high school, though. Hopefully he has friends he can count on that will support him, even if those wankers don’t.

Thomas said Halferty has every right to return to his job. But the matter will not likely be over if Halferty still refuses to allow the student to build the altar.

“It’s sort of like, what if I had a biology teacher who does not want to teach evolution?” Thomas said. “If a teacher doesn’t do the job to which they are assigned, they are insubordinate.”

Thomas said if Halferty refuses to go back into the classroom, it will be up to the superintendent to decide what to do next.

I don’t know if he needs to get the sack over this. Maybe he needs a kick in the sack and a reminder that the world is filled with people who aren’t Christians and will never want to be Christians. Don’t judge his choice of project, just grade him on the quality of his work and be done with it.

It didn’t have to be newsworthy. Now it is, and now the whole world can see how yet another Christian just wants the world to go his way and nobody else’s. How predictably selfish of him.


I know kids are embarrassed by parents, but hiring new ones?

September 27, 2009

That’s taking it to extremes, isn’t it?

The headline itself makes it seem like something that must be coming out of California or something – “Mom’s Ugly? Hire a better one!” but even I know there are no ugly people in California! So where’s this “ugly” mother?

It turns out she lives in China.

The generation gap in China has become so dramatic that parents who fail to catch up with the rest of the society could be abandoned by their children.

This was the case with a middle school student who disapproved of her mother’s outfits so much that she hired a “mom” to attend her school’s parents meeting.

Mrs. Wang and her daughter Pingping live in Dalian of Northeast China’s Liaoning Province. Although Pingping attends school regularly, Wang never attended any of the parents’ meetings because her daughter never told her about them.

It was only when Wang called the school did she realize she had missed many meetings.

Bewildered, Wang asked her daughter about what was going on, but Pingping’s answer astonished her. “You made me lose face,” she replied. “I have been asking a classmate’s aunt to take part in it for me, 50 yuan (US$6.4) each time.” Pingping’s father is always busy and has no time to attend the parents’ meetings.

It started when Pingping started doing well in school and felt her mother did a poor job explaining what it was like to have such a smart kid. She didn’t stay on topic, for one thing.

“… This girl has a lot of shortcomings. For instance, she is outside playing all the time. She doesn’t even wash her own socks at home. She talks back to me defiantly all the time.”

Pingping’s mom suddenly had a lot to say, but the teacher had to cut her short so that other parents could speak as well.

“Do you know what my classmates said about my mom after that?” asked Pingping. “They wondered if I was adopted because we are so different: one is eloquent, and the other has problem in public speaking; one is sharp and neat, and the other looks like just coming out of kitchen to attend the parents’ meeting, with her apron on.”

Can’t talk right, can’t dress right. Yeah, sounds like a mother to me…one who doesn’t put appearance first, but is still proud of how well her child is doing.

But Pingping thought she was a pain, badly dressed and nosy about how much money other parents were making and thought her mother was making a terrible impression on everyone. So, when she started at her new school, she made sure she had a new mother to take along with her.

It took a bit of deceitful lying to sell it, mind you. She told her friend that her parents had divorced and Mom had left and Dad was too busy for her, and didn’t want people feeling sorry for her broken family situation. Yingying’s aunt felt moved to offer to join Pingping at school meetings. Looks like the aunt had no idea a deception was happening, though. Ping paid Ying to keep quiet.

Fifty yuan is not a small amount of money for Pingping, but she thought a good “mom” worth it.

Many times Wang asked her daughter why the middle school never held any parents’ meetings. Pingping answered the school decided not to hold parents’ meetings for fear it would put more pressure on the students. Her lie continued until her mom called the school.

Now that Pingping’s mom has learned the truth, Pingping earnestly offered her a suggestion along with her apologies: Please consider your dress and manners from now on – it’s not only for your own good.

What a kid.


Another reason to separate religion and school..

September 8, 2009

On the surface, not a big deal. Probably thought they were doing the kids a favour.

The favour of saving their souls.

A mother is angry about a trip led by the head football coach at Breckinridge County High School. The coach took about 20 players on a school bus late last month to his church, where nearly half of them — including her son — were baptized.

Michelle Ammons said her 16-year-old son was baptized without her knowledge and consent, and she is upset that a public school bus was used to take players to a church service — and that the school district’s superintendent was there and did not object.

“Nobody should push their faith on anybody else,” said Ammons, whose son, Robert Coffey, said Coach Scott Mooney told him and other players that the Aug. 26 outing would include only a motivational speaker and a free steak dinner.

“He said it would bring the team together,” Robert, a sophomore, said in an interview.

Two other parents, however, said in interviews that their sons told them that Mooney had said the voluntary outing to Franklin Crossroads Baptist Church in Hardin County would include a revival.

Mooney, contacted by phone, said school district officials instructed him not to comment.

But Superintendent Janet Meeks, who is a member of the church and witnessed the baptisms, said she thinks the trip was proper because attendance was not required, and another coach paid for the gas.

Meeks said parents weren’t given permission slips to sign but knew the event would include a church service, if not specifically a baptism. She said eight or nine players came forward and were baptized.

“None of the players were rewarded for going and none were punished for not going,” Meeks said.

Oh, but they were rewarded. Now they get to go heaven, isn’t that right? And now God truly blesses this Kentucky high school football team. Well, half of it anyway. The other half, who knows if their parents even told their children about the Word and the Light. Maybe half the team’s gonna go to hell now. Maybe these hell kids will ruin the team’s chances of getting a pennant or cup or something…

Yeah, I’m being idiotic here. So’s the school.

David Friedman, general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said in an interview that the trip would appear to violate Supreme Court edicts on the separation of church and state — even if it was voluntary and the school district didn’t pay for the fuel.

“If players want to attend the coach’s church and get baptized, that’s great,” Friedman said. But a coach cannot solicit player attendance at school, he said, noting, “Coaches have great power and persuasion by virtue of their position, and they have to stay neutral.”

However, Matt Staver, founder and general counsel for Liberty Counsel, an Orlando-based group that provides free legal assistance in religious liberty cases, said there was nothing wrong with trip as long as it was voluntary and no public funds were used. He compared it to a coach inviting players to attend a play or to go see a baseball game.

But a play or a ball game are entertainment, attended for fun and recreation. Baptisms are for pushing a religion on kids that may not actually want to be a part of it, but feel they have to agree to go through with because someone they admire, a mentor, their coach (who goes to that church), is suggesting they do. Kids often want to please the people they admire, don’t they? Maybe they didn’t say no because they were worried about disappointing the guy, not because they feared any retribution for not going through with it.

Meeks said she would have sought the consent of parents for the baptism of students if they had been “7 or 8 or 9″ years old. But she didn’t think it was necessary for the players who are “16 or 17.”

She said that if Robert’s parents didn’t know that the outing was going to include a revival service it was because “he apparently was not forthcoming with his parents.”

The church’s pastor, the Rev. Ron Davis, said that he requires minors to obtain their parents’ consent to be baptized, but he added: “Sometimes 16-year-olds look like 18 years. We did the best we could.”

Apparently asking the kids how old they were wasn’t part of “the best” then? And if the coach deliberately decided not to mention baptisms were going to happen, he must have known there were parents against such a thing who would have raised a freak prior to the outing.

I think these families upset by the coach’s hidden agenda and the Superintendent’s unapologetic responses (she also goes to that church) need to know this: whether baptized as a baby or against your better judgment yesterday, de-baptism is a service available for just such a situation.


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