In God We Teach: A Documentary

Thought you all might find this interesting. It’s a documentary about a court case over a history teacher’s proselytizing in the classroom.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Paula G V aka Yukimi

    I watched the documentary on the Friendly Atheist website and I think it really tries to present both sides of the issue as fairly as possible even if I personally think the teacher’s attitude is indefensible (not that I agree a hundred percent with all and every action the student took, I think taking an extraccurricular club of Christian teenagers to the Creation Museum might be morally bankrupt but within their rights).

    It’s curious than in Spain, as we don’t have separation of Church and State we do have religious class (catholic in the 99%) in public school (optional and I never went) even if it’s been tried to be suppressed for years but we don’t have to suffer evangelists and it would never be tolerated to be taught religion in any other subject. Also virtually nobody here believes in creationism or any of that pseudoscience and pretty much everybody believes religion to be something personal not something you shove in other people’s faces. I guess it helps the fact that between young people most are only catholics in the books nowadays and despite other stuff pretty tolerant (gay marriage very accepted, …).

    • Cado

      “(not that I agree a hundred percent with all and every action the student took, I think taking an extraccurricular club of Christian teenagers to the Creation Museum might be morally bankrupt but within their rights).”

      I’d agree if they weren’t taking this trip during school hours and presumably on taxpayer money. Religion, especially when it comes to specific beliefs that are presented as if they carry as much weight as scientific fact, has no place in the educational system except in contexts where it is factually relevant. That’s why I wouldn’t be opposed to an optional religion class, or optional classes for each major religion, but I can see why he’d take issue with something like that.

      My real concern is that by bringing this issue to the forefront he’s making it look like he’s harassing this teacher (or believers in general) and that may weaken his case in terms of public perception. It’s impossible to say at this point whether or not it is, but because fundamentalists are energized by conflict it’s often a better tactic to pick your fights as opposed to speaking up whenever they do something mildly objectionable. The battle he fought while he was at the school was a critical one and it’s good that he did, and maybe this will help make people aware of just how deep this kind of thing goes in our educational system, but I think a different strategy would ultimately work better.

      • Paula G V aka Yukimi

        I hadn’t thought about that and I agree with you on all your points. I hadn’t really given it much thought. I would like to point out that for Matt, the fact that his teaqcher was again doing something like that probably left him no option but to intervene because he is very invested in it.

        I don’t mind otative classes of religion either but the problem in Spain is tha tkids who arne’t in religion class are forced to not do nothing during those two hours a week in school because if not they could be getting an unfair advantage with respect of the religious class kids (words of the bishops who pressed the government into half-enforcing this) and that”s something I find pretty awful, I remember when this came up in debate (until then people did whatever they wanted in alternative to religion from language and maths stuff to watching films and making commentaries about them) and that year we were using the time to learn about religions in the world but we were forbidden to do it (I’m sure it wouldn’t have happened anything if we did but the teachers tend to respect rules).

  • machintelligence

    My real concern is that by bringing this issue to the forefront he’s making it look like he’s harassing this teacher (or believers in general)

    Obviously, getting a reprimand was not sufficient to get the attention of this preacher posing as a teacher. Someone has to keep holding this school district’s feet to the fire, and I can’t think of a better person. I could almost hear teeth grinding during the board’s apology and praise for Matt. He has them on the run and this is no time to stop.

  • JJ

    I love this blog, and I’ve never posted before, but this documentary made me feel like I needed to.

    -Matt may not have made any money in the settlement but I’m curious how much money he made in his talk show/interview circuit that he did.

    -What were the list of changes that Matt and his family wanted the principle to make in the school?

    -How much would it have cost the school to implement the changes that he requested?

    I feel like with the constant budget cuts, its not like schools don’t want to have sensitivity training/ continued teaching education/ training on working with students from many cultures, but there isn’t money for it.

    Teachers are human; their political and religious/social/moral opinions will come through even if it is only in the phrasing of how they teach from the book. It really sounded like Matt recognized that his teacher was very religious, and then goaded him into have a conversation about his faith in order to create a conflict he could champion against.

    The issue that I have is that Matt went to the principle with recording in hand. As far as I can tell from the documentary, he never sat down with the teacher and said, “when you bring up religion in class it makes me uncomfortable,” and then give the teacher the opportunity to self access and be sensitive to his student. In fact Matt did the exact opposite, feigned interest in the teachers faith, and then used that against him.

    I feel like it is cruel on a human level not to give people the opportunity to change before you punish them, and going to the principle with recording in hand and threatening lawsuits if people don’t change things to your fancy (whether or not your fancy is right) is just kind of an antagonistic move at best.

    Not that the teacher came off much better, most of the interviews with either of them left me cringing inside.

    • minuteye

      I feel like the difficulty with taking it to the teacher first, is that students move through the school system very quickly. If the teacher refrains from preaching during one class because a student expressed discomfort, it’s very likely (in my opinion) that he will not then permanently refrain from preaching in all classes. He’ll just do it in classes where no one speaks up (or classes where no one cares, even if 100% of the students in the class agreed with him, the kind of statements the teacher was making would still be a violation of church and state). If this is brought to the principal formally, then there’s a record of a complaint and a chastisement, so that a teacher who fails to make change is held accountable.

  • machintelligence

    I believe Matt said he made the the recordings because if he had no documentation, the teacher would deny making the statements, and no one would believe a mere student. And look at what happened: the teacher (and some classmates) denied that he made the religious statements and that sleazy lawyer for the teacher accused Matt of doctoring the recordings. It took the threat of a lawsuit to get the administration to address the problem and now the teacher is apparently about to step over the line again. No surprises there.

  • JJ

    Maybe it was just the school system I grew up in, but a lot of school clubs did fieldtrips that can only loosly be described as “educational” the students did have to make up all homework assignments and lessons from classes missed. I remember a cinema club that got to go see a movie during school hours. I don’t feel like it is a big deal for a religious club to go on a religious themed field trip.

    Also, a lawyers job is to raise reasonable doubt, and I can’t really blame the teacher for his lawyer being sleazy as hell, he was probably court appointed considering most teachers income.

    And, from as far as I could tell the teacher didn’t deny talking about his religion in class, he just hadn’t believed that he had said what the recording proved he had. I don’t know, maybe the teacher was lying, but I don’t think it is strange to not remember exactly what you’ve said from days/weeks ago. I think it is really normal to remember your words intentions not how you phrased it in the moment.

    It’s not even that I’m trying to defend the teacher here; as I said above I think they both came off poorly. I guess the documentary just rubbed me a bit the wrong way :P

  • machintelligence

    I guess we will just have to agree to disagree. I realize that lawyers are advocates, not neutral parties, and I remember feeling sorry for all of the law students that majored in environmental law who ended up defending the big polluters.