I cannot help but be righteously angry about the growing and changing belief system of our country. I am a teacher and currently teaching 11th grade American Literature. I teach this class using a historical lens and so we start off by reading literature of Native Americans and that of Colonial America, including those of Puritans. On my last assignment, we read a poem by the Puritan, Anne Bradstreet entitled “Here Follow Some Verses Upon the Burning of our House, July 10, 1666.” In the poem she uses a few different elements that students are required to learn by our state standards: allusion, plain style, and inversion. Because she is a Puritan, what do you think she makes allusions to in her poem? Yes, the bible. Given that I cannot expect my students can just identify biblical allusions right off the bat due to the diversity of beliefs in public school students, the only way I could possibly see if my students could identify allusion was to provide them a handout with the bible verses of which she alludes to. They were required to read the poem and identify the lines in the poem where she alludes to these verses.
This morning I get an email from my VP. Apparently, one of my students complained to the administration that I was having them “read the bible” in my class. The email asked me to report to administration to discuss how I was using the bible in my class.
In American History, we see our beliefs and values change as they are addressed through various literary movements such as Puritanism, Romanticism, Realism, Modernism, and Post-Modernism. Am I supposed to teach Puritanism and have us just ignore what they allude to in their literature or mention what they believe in? Would we understand what they were writing about or understand the foundations of our country? I had a student a few days ago in my first period class innocently ask, “Why are we talking about God and the bible in this class? Isn’t this public school?” He didn’t seem angry or anything, perhaps he was just curious. And he isn’t the only one as I got from the email. Furthermore last year I had a student in one of my classes raise her hand and say she was very uncomfortable about discussing God or the bible in the class for the exact reasons. I could tell she honestly felt that we were breaking some sort of rule. I explained to her and the class why were discussing it. That I was not imposing the Puritan beliefs onto them and that eventually as we get to the point in American History when God is no longer a figure to be widely valued, that we will not be discussing it any longer. That seemed to make a difference. But this year, apparently my answer did not suffice. Someone needed to double-check.
Is this where we are at? Do our youth actually believe that we are no longer allowed to even discuss what our forefathers believed because what they believed may be offensive?
So when I talk about some Native American beliefs in worshiping the sun and the land and their belief in life being a circle, that is okay, but if I dare talk about what Puritans believe, I am wrong? When I have my ninth graders notice the allusions that Homer makes to Greek polytheistic mythology, that is okay, but I am not allowed to mention Christian literature when discussing American beliefs in Colonial America?
Now in defense of my school administration, I know that when I explain to them the assignment they will agree that I did not break any rules. I myself, vented to my colleagues and they too agreed that I did nothing wrong. But that does not clear me of my irritation and concern. It doesn’t matter if my colleagues know I am right or even if administration understands and confirms that I am not breaking any rules; this still reflects the beliefs our youth. And these youth are getting these beliefs from somebody. Blame it on the media. Blame it on their parents. Regardless—-they will be the ones running this country in the future. And what this tells me is that my husband is probably right when he made the joke last night that there will be a time in the future when our history classes will simply summarize American History from Colonial America to the late 1800’s as simply “The Dark Ages” in one lecture. And then really begin the classes a couple of days later in the 1960’s when we became “enlightened.”