Agnostic Humanist In The South, Parenting

Survey Says…

One of LilZ’s teachers did something I found odd last week. Actually, depending on when you talked to me, I may have actually been too outraged to refer to the incident using such a benign word as “odd.” It angered me to no end. It has since passed and I’ve spent a lot of time talking about it and thinking about it. I’ve come to a few conclusions about it, but I wanted to hear what you all had to say first. I’m not going to tell you what I may or may not have done in response to the situation, because I’m not sure I could explain myself well regarding such an emotional issue. I’ll wait to see what YOU have to say. I want to know what YOU would have done.

One of LilZ’s teachers (Remember – he’s in 8th grade at a public school) made everyone in the classroom take turns telling what church they went too.

Yes. What church they went to.

Now – I’ve already mentioned I was angry, but more because I feared my son would be looked down upon for my choices. But LilZ did not want me to do anything about it for fear of greater repurcusion.

So – my question: Would it have even angered you? What would you have done? How would you have discussed it with your child?

And more importantly — what do you think the teacher would have done if some kid said, “The church of SATAN.”

109 thoughts on “Survey Says…”

  1. I would be (and am…for you) horrified if a teacher asked that of my child. He attends a public school, for crying out loud.

    Growing up, we never went to church…my mom was frustrated with the church she grew up in and decided to allow me to wait until I was an adult to decide for myself.

    I would have an deep thought provoking conversation with my child and I would go straight to the principal. I just would, in spite of what my child may want. This is unacceptable if you ask me (and you did.)

  2. I think it is ridiculous to ask that of students. That is a personal family choice and has nothing to do with curriculm in school.

    I am curious if it was a science teacher though?

    Anyway, I would be upset and frustrated with the school, but I would also respect my child’s wish not to say anything this time. But I would withhold the right to speak up it other topics upset me.

  3. Oh hell no! I would be very upset if a teacher asked that kind of question in public school. What could possibly be the point of asking about church affiliation? I would have a discussion with my child and the teacher and/or principal. I think it just doesn’t occur to some people that there are a variety of religious views out there – not all of them mainstream.

  4. WOW! Man, I would have been LIVID. I agree with the first comment, I think you should talk to the principal. Maybe I should start ‘brainwashing’ my kid right now to answer “we’re Wiccans, problem?” HA! I find it pretty outrageous that the question would have been asked in a public school for God’s sakes!

    As a mom who is spiritual but has nothing to do with organized religion, I fear something like this for my 3 year old son. If he was uncomfortable in a situation like this, I would feel like it is my fault, EVEN IF IT ISN’T. Shame on that teacher, especially for putting 8th graders on the spot.

    I never comment, so let me take this opportunity to let ya know that I love your blog. Always makes me smile, ponder and laugh!

  5. I go to church and I was a teacher and that is just totally out of line. Whether my kid goes to church or not, it’s not a public school teacher’s place to ask what church a kid goes to and force them to tell the entire class. Wth? It’s his choice to share that how and IF he wants to. Not be put on the spot in front of the class. AND? Totally and completely unprofessional. I tried to think of some way that this could possibly be okay and I can’t. However, I think I’d let it go this time and chalk it up to a lapse in judgement (and document it). But if anything like this happens again? I think I’d have a chat with the teacher and try and figure out where her head is. I don’t agree necessarily with going straight to the principal – I’d maybe ask her (nicely) about it first.

  6. If it was a Catholic school, I would not have thought anything of it.

    In a public school, I would be pissed beyond belief. I think LilZ has a point about repercussions. Not everyone can handle constructive criticism. That said I would try to wait until I calmed down and then either approached the teacher and/or the principal. I would feel it is must, so that the teacher doesn’t repeat the mistake (giving her the benefit of the doubt).

    I would go with a no holds barred discussion with my child.

  7. I would have lost my mind in a rage. Hello, seperation of church and state? Religion is a family/personal matter, noT to be publically surveyed in junior high. I would have gone right to thr principal and said W.T.F.?

  8. I honestly probably wouldn’t have cared all that much. I just don’t think it would have bothered me. That being said I also don’t necessarily think it was an appropriate thing to ask children in a public school either. I think there are much better ways to break the ice than something like that.

  9. I would be horrified and, yes, very angry! A teacher in a public school has no business asking students where they go to church at all, let alone in front of the whole class.

    I think maybe a strongly worded letter to the teacher/school/principal/school board would be in order.

  10. Not that it makes it okay, but what was the context of the question? Was she trying to make some point about diversity? or was she using it as an icebreaker? Neither are okay, but one is at least understandable, though badly misquided, the latter is simply wrong!

  11. Wow. I’d have been in that prinicpal’s office so fast, the teacher’s head would have been spinning.

    That is so completely inappropriate, and possibly illegal.

    What did LilZ say? He’s such a smart kid, I bet he took it all in stride.

  12. Inappropriate. I’m not even sure I can see where s/he thought this was a good idea in any sense.

  13. I am a Ph.d. in education. I study teachers as a profession. And this question is the equivalent of malpractice. I would like to know what her instructional purpose was? How was this discussion either a) in the service of learning or b) in the interest of building community in her classroom at the beginning of the year? Teachers are supposed to build inclusive classroom communities and she needs to know that this discussion crosses so many boundaries in so many ill ways.

  14. I would have been pissed. This just reminds me of how inappropriate people can be. R and I got married, and all we keep getting asked is when are you having kids. Well, what if I was infertile? Anyways, I would mention something to the principle. Do you have a parent teacher’s night coming up soon? Maybe mention something about your Church of Satan 😀

  15. I’m angry just hearing that this happened! I have never found a church where I feel comfortable, so I don’t go.

    I’d chat with the principal about what is appropriate in the classroom. That topic can only serve to segregate and isolate students. How did that teacher think that was an ok question?!

  16. I vividly remember being in sixth grade in Enterprise, Alabama and something like this happened (except the question was about Sunday school). When I answered that I did not go to Sunday school my teacher offered to take me to her church with her. I was very embarrassed, and to this day it makes me very angry.

    I told my parents and they just let it go (which was their way). I am still upset my parents didn’t do anything about it, if nothing else to maybe save some other poor bastard from the embarassment.

    I am sorry that happened to your kid, I would be furious.

  17. Um, yeah, NO. That is an inappropriate question and you would be remiss in NOT talking to the principal. You could make a phone call and not use your name (or your child’s name) if there is a reasonable fear of retaliation. But frankly, I’d march into the principal’s office and tell him/her the story AND tell him/her that my kid didn’t want me to talk to anyone about it because of fear of reprisal. Because I think that’s an important part of the story.

  18. I would be angry. What does it matter? I would speak to the principal immediately.

    Last year in seventh grade I had the unfortunate duty of taking my daughter to a memorial service for a friend. Imagine my utter disbelief when the preacher started asking who was saved and who wasn’t and if they wanted to commit right then and there. I was furious. In a service full of impressionable and emotional young kids, many attending their first service like this, it was out of line. As soon as I could I grabbed my kid and high tailed it out of there.

  19. I think it’s a completely inappropriate question for a public school teacher to ask of his/her students in a public school classroom – the key word here being PUBLIC! Separation of church and state, anyone? Hello?! I think I might have to have a chat with the Principal regarding that teacher’s choice of topics!

  20. That sort of question is only appropriate in a homeschool environment.

    I am actually shaking from this, but for the same reason it angered you: our child doesn’t worship ANYWHERE, but I don’t want that to be something that separates him from others.

    But now? Now we’re teaching him to answer “St. Mattress’s Cathedral”.

  21. I would have been PISSED. Actually, “would have” isn’t right… I AM pissed, and it’s not even my kid or school! I’m curious as to what the purpose of the question was and what followed after all the kids responded.

    Are there any other parents or teachers in the school you know well enough who would be upset by this? I think it is something that should be brought up to the principal, but there’s strength (and less repercussions) in numbers.

  22. Delurking to say that yes, I find that completely and totally unacceptable. My kids aren’t school-aged yet, so I can’t really put myself in your place. My concern for them is somewhat the same but opposite…because of my husband’s job, we *do* attend church regularly (although I don’t consider myself to be religous), and I don’t want my kids to think this sort of thing is OK just because they have an “acceptable” answer.

  23. I would be absolutely crabbed if someone asked my child at public school what church they went to. But after living in Knoxville, TN, the church capital of the South, it doesn’t surprise me. But like Roz said, what context.

    I am not sure I even know how to answer that question as an adult and not have people look at me like I am wearing a devil suit.

    Sheewwww. Glad I don’t have kids at this point.

  24. I would have been angry, very — VERY angry. I would have, in fact, arranged a meeting with the teacher and the head master. I went to a private school in high school and that STILL would have been an inapropriate question.

    Not all right, not at all.

  25. Totally unacceptable. I’d be on the phone with the principal (if not in their office) as soon as I heard about it. I’m still pissed at my pediatrician (who I’ve always loved to death) because he decided to tell me and my 15 year old daughter that we need to be involved in a church to keep her on the right path to avoid sex and STD’s. This was when I asked him about getting her the HPV shot. Which he does. not. carry. Ugh. I go to a physician for medicine, not doctorine. 😛 Same with public schools. Teach, don’t preach.

  26. It was highly inappropriate of that teacher to ask that question of her students. If I were a parent of one of her students, I’d have been very upset.

    If in that situation, I would go directly to the principal of the school to lodge a formal complaint about that teacher. I would also ask the teacher why was that question asked of the class. Finally, I would explain to both the teacher & principal about the concept of church & state, that public schools are state-run not church-run, and that if I ever heard of another similar incident or if any reprisals were even percieved to be perpetrated on my child because of my actions, I’d file a federal discrimination suit against the teacher, principal, school & school district seeking punitive damages.

    There’s no excuse for that type of thing in this day & age.

    I hope you gave ’em hell. 🙂

  27. Hell yes I’d have been outraged. I’d have contacted the teacher and possibly the school/princpal. It’s not only none of her buisness but it was completely unprofessional for a PUBLIC school teacher to ask her class that no matter the context.

  28. Yes, it is odd to me (and I DO go to church, but am a FIRM believer in the separation of church and state).

    However, I would see what the context surrounding the conversation was – maybe there’s an explanation?

  29. OMG! (And yes that is god not goodness!)

    I understand LilZ’s fear of repercussions, but definately an email to the Principal is in order. The Principal should be professional enough to call down a few students to question to back up your story and then to confront the teacher without any names.

    It is definately not only wrong it is Illegal!

    As a school secretary, I had a parent try to do something like this as a class volunteer. Any child she worked with, she kept turning the convo around to religion. WHen confronted she proclaimed it was her duty as a “whatever” to spread the “word”. Sorry, sunshine go spread it on some bread cause you can’t here.

  30. My child goes to Catholic school, and this still makes me livid.

    One of her teachers said to me this morning “I saw you guys at church Saturday night, that was the first time in quite awhile”.

    Um yeah, that would be because we live 30 miles away, with at least 5 OTHER churches between here and there and will gas at $4.00 a gallon I am sure God would understand if we were trying to save a buck or two.

    Go judge someone else.

    It would be, not that it would make it ok, to hear to context in which it was asked though.

  31. I would have friggin LOST IT. For one thing, the assumption is astounding. For another, I don’t believe school (non-religious, anyway) is the place to discuss religion unless it’s in history. For yet ANOTHER, why would you ever ask a question that could so easily alienate individual students? What a dumbass.

  32. Yep, not a good questions on any front. I am a Christian and attend church and I have taught in a Lutheran school, and we had non-Lutherans and I never would ask such a question.

  33. Oh yes, I would be very annoyed, it’s very presumptious. Actually it reminded me of the first time I went for a baby scan here (living in the UK since a couple of years back) in May and had to fill in a form at the hospital and one of the questions was about my religion. Now where I’m from originally asking that is considered a huge no no and might actually be against the law (to prevent discrimination) and I really do not see the point anway, I got pretty offended and left it blank.

  34. I had twelve years of catholic school, plus I don’t have kids, but yes, I’d be livid if my public school attending child had to announce which church s/he went to. I’d definitely have a little chat with the principal.

  35. So, if they were learning about Religion in History, and the teacher wanted to discuss religion (as it is part of history), I could see ‘maybe’ then it being ‘close’ to okay to discuss in school, but outside of that? It was totally inappropriate. – Ben

  36. I would certainly be horrified if a teacher did this, specifically because there are students, like your son, who may feel like this is putting them on the spot and separating them from the implied majority of a church-going group. If I were you I would definietly frind some way to contact the administration about this. I might send a note or phone call to the principal and ask if this is a regularly asked question and for what purpose the teacher might have for this information. Then if asked or it seems appropriate I would give my opinion of what happened. I know LilZ doesn’t want you to do anything at all, and I can relate to that, but I really think it is something worth looking into.

  37. I would like to know the context of why the question was asked. Its not a question that should be asked in class.

    I would probably make up a random email address and drop an email to the principal about the situation and see where that takes you. It won’t have a reflection on Lilz because they won’t know its you.

  38. I would have been annoyed! That could be the basis of discrimination in so many different ways!

    -The teacher against kids who dont go to church
    -The teacher against kids who have a different religion
    -The kids against the kids who go to the “poor peoples” churches
    -The kids against the kids who have different religions
    -The kids who dont understand why some people dont go to church
    -The kids who think they are better than everybody else because of the church they go to….

    That was so not on, and if it was me i would be having words to the teacher. Why open that bucket of worms with the kids? Why not just let it be??

  39. Yeah, this is completely inappropriate. (I’m not too happy with KLynn’s pediatrician, either.) I agree that someone at the school needs to know that this happened and that it isn’t right. If LilZ is afraid of reprisal from the teacher, then I guess it should be the principal, and s/he should know that LilZ was afraid for you to say anything because he was afraid of repurcussions.

  40. Totally, totally unacceptable. I would have been wicked pissed as well. Teachers simply should not be asking that question in a public school in this country. Period, end of story.

  41. I’ve tried thinking of possible scenerios where this question might be used to TEACH something and I simply can’t come up with one. Even in a class about Religion there absolutely no reason to take a headcount of who attends which church. None. Even a history class on the subject would not require the students to know where their classmates do or don’t attend.

    I find this inexcusable. I think something needs to be done, but that it needs to be handled very carefully for LilZ’s sake. First, he doesn’t need to worry about the teacher punishing him for ratting her out. The other worry is the reaction of his classmates and whether or not his mom making something out of it will causes him grief. Because let’s be honest, 8th Grade is hard enough without getting razzed by your friends and foes alike.

  42. I understand there could be a concept behind asking certain religious based questions in like a history class but I don’t see how singling out each child to ask which church they attend applies to any lesson. If it was a math lesson then there were plenty of other examples she could’ve used and it really doesn’t apply to evolution. I think it was totally inappropriate. We believe in God, pray before meals and such but we currently don’t attend a specific church. My child should not be asked that question for any reason, nor should they be treated differently because of our decision of not making it to church on Sunday.

  43. Wow, every single commenter has agreed with you zoot. how often does that happen in the blog world?

    I am also curious to know WHY the teacher was asking. Is this teacher going to be biased now when giving out grades? I just can’t see in what context a question like that would be appropriate. If it were a bible school maybe.

    What about the kids who don’t go to church? Did the teacher say anything to those kids that would have made them feel bad?

  44. My instinct would be to fly into the principal’s office like a bat out of hell. But. . . I think you need to respect LilZ’s concern about repercussions. Teachers can make life a living hell for kids they don’t like and any complaint needs to take that into account.

    So if LilZ gave permission I would ask for a meeting with the teacher and principal and say something like “Gee, I’m not sure this class is the right fit for my son, since the kids were required to talk about church attendance. I’m afraid the other kids will give him a hard time if religion keeps coming up. Was it a one-time occurance, or will religion be discussed in the future?” Even though the teacher was incredibly wrong, going in with an adversarial attitude and asking for the teacher to be reprimanded probably wouldn’t help LilZ much.

    And if LilZ doesn’t want you to get involved, I’d respect that BUT keep a written record of any classroom religious discussion and at the end of the year file a formal complaint with the principal. At least that way maybe the teacher would be stopped from doing it in the future.

  45. My first thought is what repercussions is LilZ concerned about. The social stigma of being the guy whose krazee mom stirred up trouble? Totally understand that. But as others have said, you can anonymously (and calmly) make a phone call to the principal expressing your concern.

    And you most definitely should contact the principal. That wouldn’t be an appropriate question for those kids even if the subject that day was religion. Even if the subject that day was religion, asking the kids a question like that still isn’t appropriate.

    Second, I’d have a conversation with LilZ. Help him with some appropriate responses if someone asks that question in future. I’m guessing you don’t want your 13 yr old telling an adult, “That’s nosy!” so maybe “My faith is a private matter for me. I don’t feel comfortable discussing it.”

    Also, talk to him about the importance of standing for what you believe in, as well as the discomfort that can be associated with doing so. The teacher asks this today. What if the teacher continues to ask more and more inappropriate questions? Or make uncomfortable

  46. Oh Lordy Bee, that is NOT an appropriate thing for a teacher to ask their students. What does it matter?

    I guess I would talk to my kid about how they felt, what they did at the time, and how upset or not she was. Depending on her answers, and probably in spite of them, I might talk to the teacher. Maybe I’d wait for parent/teacher conferences or maybe I’d wait to see if something like this happens again or if it was just a one-time thing. I would try not to be angry, but just say that asking about a child’s church is not an appropriate ice-breaker at a public school and that it made my child uncomfortable, and it makes me uncomfortable. That I’d appreciate it if nothing else like this happened again.

    How frustrating.

  47. Oops…got cut off.

    Or what if the teacher makes uncomfortable comments about religion or churches, based on the information the kids gave? It is all too easy to excuse away an inappropriate comment here or there, say that you don’t want to rock the boat, but sooner or later, you start to wonder why you didn’t speak up and how you let it get so bad.

    Having had a teacher who made inappropriate comments to the class, I am a bit het up about this!

  48. True story, only in Utah…

    A friend of mine’s son’s teacher had all the NON-mormons stand up in the class and then told them that Joseph Smith, the religion’s founder, was killed by their ancestors.

    If that had been my kid, I would have been on the phone to the ACLU within ten minutes. I would have a conversation with the principal, if I were you. That kind of conversation has no place in public schools.

  49. RARR!! I don’t think I would have been able to stay out of the principles office. That just infuriates me and that should never happen. I think I would have discussed it undercover and tried not to let my kiddo know.

  50. Get thee to the principal’s office, if you haven’t already! Like others have said, if LilZ was so worried about repercussions, what does that say about the teacher and the classroom?


  51. In the north, that would cause a law suit. In the south it is considered normal conversation.

    I would contact the school administration about the inappropriateness of that discussion in a classroom. (My husband would lose his mind if that happened to one of our children.)

  52. I would have answered truthfully. I go to _____ church. Or, I do not attend any particular church. Simple.

    I do not think it was an appropriate question but I don’t think you have to freak about it. Just tell your child to answer honestly – which he probably did. Kids don’t get as bothered as adults about personal issues.

    Choose your battles – LilZ and you will live. Worry about something MAJOR. Was it appropriate? Not. Will you die over it? NOT Have you done something inappprpriate at work this week/said something inappropriate? Probably. You’re just not in the spotlight of a bunch of teens so that everyone knows about what you said/did.

  53. I am thrilled that everyone so far has agreed with you, but I think we are a self-selected population. I am absolutely terrified of sending my child to school. Any school. And religion is a huge factor in that fear.

    My husband’s game plan is going to be marching into the head office and asking if they teach evolution. If they equivocate at all, Jackson can’t go there. Working at a university with a large School of Education I am sure that 90% of them won’t know what “equivocate” means, but that is another rant.

    I think that will leave us with Catholic school. At least when I was going there (OMG, 30 years ago) they taught evolution without apology and I hope that hasn’t changed. But with atheist parents, Catholic school could be dicey for the little guy.

  54. As the person who is perhaps closest to your situation — geographically, politically, culturally, metaphorically, etc., etc., etc. — I say unequivocally, MAKE A BIG DEAL OUT OF THIS. DON’T LET IT SLIP. I’ve done it myself, even when common sense would dictate otherwise. I’m sorry, but “when in Rome” doesn’t excuse blatantly unconstitutional blurring of church and state boundaries and possible discrimination.

    Write a letter calmly and reasonably laying out a bullet-list of your objections, and cc the the principal and the superintendent.

  55. Full disclosure: not only do I attend church regularly, but my husband is a pastor. I’m not sure if that means that now no one will listen to me and that I’m automatically not allowed to have an opinion, but alas…there it is.

    My child attends a private, Christian school and I attended a school like his and a public school both growing up.

    I would have been HORRIFIED at this question in my public school as an 8th grader. Whether you go to church or not, that is pretty much a matter of your parent’s choice at that age and most 8th graders are petrified that their parent’s choices are going to alienate them from their peers. Okay, well, maybe that was just me…but anyways…

    Even at the school that my son attends, I would feel just awful for him if this question was asked. I think it is too personal in a public setting.

    I’m honestly not sure what I would do. I would be livid. But if my son asked me not to do anything? I would be torn to protect him. I all too clearly remember junior high and how that felt.

    Ah, now I’m dying to know what YOU did.

  56. That is so not appropriate for a teacher to be asking at all. In some cities it could also be grounds for dismissal. I don’t know if I would say anything just yet. I would maybe keep track of anything else this teacher says/does like this. If it happens a few more times then it is time to talk to the teacher. If it still goes on, then take it to the principal and so on and so forth. It isn’t acceptable behavior from a teacher, and why is it any of their business??

  57. I’m with everyone else on this one.

    What happened to the separation of church and state?!

    My son would’ve been, “what’s church?” LOL

  58. I speak as a former public school grade 8 teacher (now SAHM) and non-church goer (though I did attend regularly for a brief time), and religion is a very sensitive topic. I tried to maintain a very neutral position when kids talked about their church experiences (there are a number of strong church youth groups here), or if we had to discuss curriculum that dealt with anything religious (say missionaries coming to the New World).

    I also do not like conflict. As a parent, I would not be very comfortable approaching the teacher or principal. However, I don’t know that waiting to see if it repeats or gets worse is the best solution for this situation. My fear is that this teacher may continue to operate with a bias, and that future incidents may be more subtle, but still damaging to kids. In the words of Stephen Colbert, teacher: “you’re on notice!” This teacher needs to be made aware immediately that religion and the classroom do not mix, not in the way that s/he has demonstrated.

  59. I would be very disturbed by this question. Not livid. Not angry. Just worried. The teacher may or may not use the information she receives in a responsible manner. Everyone made the assumption that the teacher was religious. Conversely, maybe she is NOT religious, but thinks folks who go to church are freaks?

    While there could be a case made for respecting LilZ’s wishes on you not saying anything, there is also the fact that you are the mother for a reason. Kids do not always know what is best for them.

    I don’t think you need to go all krazee over their asses, but I could see it being perfectly reasonable for you to calmly ask the teacher why she asked the question and what she was hoping to gain from the answers she received. If the teacher pops an attitude, then it would be a good time to go to the principal. I think going to principal first without giving the teacher a chance to explain herself could create a negative situation.

  60. I am church-going, but when the time comes I do NOT want anyone asking my kid about it in school. I think I would have spoken to the principal, and specifically addressed the concern regarding reprisals. Then again, I don’t actually have a kid yet, so who am I to talk?

  61. Echoing all of the “inappropriate” and “unacceptable” comments. I wouldn’t let it go, I’d fear it would leave the teacher open to more inappropriate questions/comments. I’m all in favor of nipping it in the bud NOW, whether you feel the need to do anonymously or in person.

  62. I would be absolutely irate. I’m pissed of on your behalf. And I would hope that my child would be able to muddle up a nice whitty answer for that one. Church of Elvis, anyone?

  63. Gah! I would have been livid.

    I do understand LilZ’s point about not wanting to make an issue out of it though. Even with best intentions, if he senses that this could cause him further trouble, he might want to deal with this in his own way.

    I stood up for my son last year when his bus driver was having the kids sing songs calling my son gay. Yes, the bus driver. And to top if off, it was a special needs school and a “short bus!” Yes, the behavior was stopped, but the driver made his life a living hell for the rest of the year.

    It would be hard for me not to run into the Principal and give him a piece of my mind but after last year? I would try and find a way to handle it that my son was ok with as well.

    Good luck!

  64. I very much suspect that the teacher was way off base, but I can imagine a legitimate context for the question. Namely, some sort of demographics / sociology type discussion, for instance discussion of polling techniques, as long as it was made very clear at the start that “none”, “various”, and “not disclosed” are perfectly valid answers.

    I really doubt that this was the case, in which the teacher was dead wrong. But please, folks, be real careful about making assumptions when you hear or read about this sort of thing. Get all the facts first. *Then* crush the teacher!

  65. That is a rather odd thing to ask. As a teacher, I can’t imagine asking that of a whole class in a group discussion for any reason. Now, if I was talking one on one with a student and they said something to the effect of “well, in my church we do xyz like this” I would probably ask them what church they attend and see nothing wrong with it. Further, if a student asked me to purchase something that their youth group was selling as a fundraiser to go on a missions trip (this did happen) I will absolutely ask what church it is — but those aren’t what it sounds like happened in LilZ’s class.

    I would like to defend the teacher on some levels, knowing how things colleagues have said or done have been taken out of context. Unfortunately, I can’t see any way that this could have been taken differently. I don’t know that I would be angry if my child were asked this, but I would be extremely perplexed, find it to be a misguided topic of conversation and probably bring it up to the teacher personally. I would not go straight to the principal because I know that I much preferred for parents to come to me first so we could discuss things and work it out — like in any field of employment, you hate for someone to go to your supervisor without telling you there is an issue to be discussed.

  66. Interesting…

    My 10th grade English teacher (who was my favorite, I will add) asked us something like this during class one day. Not attending any church, ever, (and everyone else did in my small rural community), I was a little embarrassed. I don’t remember what the topic was, maybe something to do with religious perspectives on 18th century writing (Jonathan Edwards, in particular).

    Talk to the teacher about it rather than just react (or overreact as the case may be). Maybe it was something that was relevant to the lesson, but like me, LilZ was just embarrassed by the notion that the teacher would ask such a personal question for the entire class to respond to. You may feel better after you hear what the lesson was?

  67. Zoot! Not only uncool but blatantly illegal. Let the principal know what happened, even if you have to do it in an anonymous letter to protect LilZ from repercussions.

    I’d be raising hell!

  68. Totaly unacceptable!! I would write her a letter and tell her about herself then copy the principle. I can only imagine how LilZ felt. I hope that whatever he did say, he said it proudly.

  69. Yes, it would have angered me…if the teacher had to GO THERE, he or she should have asked them about their spiritual beliefs or lack thereof. Mainstream religion has no place in a PUBLIC school system. If someone had said their family belonged to the church of Satan, a bunch of parents of the classmates would likely have gone over to torch their house by now.

    Having said all that…I am not sure what I would have done. But it is inappropriate to just assume everyone is religious, even here in the deep south.

  70. Yeah, I would have freaked the hell out.
    I’m fairly certain that’s illegal, and there definitely would have been a conversation with the school administration in which the words “my lawyer” would have been dropped about eighty five times.

    And I’d also be really stressed out and disturbed that that was the tone my kids teacher chose to set for the year.

  71. Ha ha ha. Wow. All of your readers tend to fall on the same page as you on this one. Which is great.

    The question LilZ’s teacher asked is beyond inappropriate for a public school setting. (I went to one semester of public school in Huntsville, and we had a teacher who made us pray at the start of class; I just stared at her the whole time. Freaked her out after a while.)

    So yeah…I’d be hella pissed. But, LilZ seems mature enough to pick his own battles; if he wanted to speak up about it, I’d just encourage him to do so. If not, that’s OK, too.

  72. totally, TOTALLY inappropriate. TOTALLY. No more relevant than asking where their parents’ grocery shop, or which brand of toilet paper you use in your home. If it were me and my kid, I would want a meeting with that teacher and the pricipal. good luck, Zoot. I do not envy you one it on this one.

  73. Unless that was a topic being discussing in class, such as a world religions class, or some kind of social class, I could see the reason for the survey. But even then I would find it questionable. I would want to ask the teacher specifically why that question was asked and how it pertained to the class discussion. Did LilZ mention if/how many of the class did not attend church?

  74. I would be pissed off. And I would say something to someone, because really – that’s not acceptable. For anyone, anywhere.

  75. Oh good lord. WTF crazy teachers? Why must you make those of us who are Constitutionally law abiding look bad?

    I teach in the South and I know how shaky the separation between Church and State truly is (prayers before faculty meetings? Yes, ma’am!) but that is just ridiculous. I would be hard put not to talk to someone about that. I could see it rebounding on LilZ in some way, but man, I just wouldn’t be able to let that pass.

  76. I get pissed when my mother-in-law asks the kids if we went to church on Sunday….nevermind the school asking what religion my child is. What was the purpose? The teacher had no business doing such a thing.

  77. Oh good grief! I also live in the South, and I do not go to church, and therefore, I could totally see this happening to me and my family and I would have been incensed. It is public school, for crying out loud, but for some reason, here in the Bible Belt, people seem to ignore the whole ‘separation of church and state’ thing. Maybe this happens other places, too, it just seems more prevalent here in the South where ‘church’ is a Really Big Deal. Still, it’s completely inappropriate in a public school. I would have been all atheist ninja up in their asses. And totally embarrassed my kid, I know. Sigh.

    But I am sure you handled the situation totally gracefully! 🙂

  78. RAGE! I am furious on LilZ’s behalf. There is no good reason for a teacher to ever ask such a thing and so many bad reasons for her to do so. I am wondering if there is a way for you to bridge the gap from letting it go to screaming like a crazy person at the principle (my first reaction)? I do think that something needs to be said to some one. This kind of crap makes me crazy.

  79. I have to agree with others – I would have been pissed. I would have been pissed enough to discuss with the teacher and the school administrators. What was the teacher demonstrating or teaching that was concerned with what church you go to – and the way the question was phrased – that not going to church is “bad” or “wrong” because that is not an option – also pissing me off. Why divide the students or point out their differences – kids figure that stuff out and don’t need help from the teachers. Gah, please tell me how you all responded? Also, I would have discussed and reassured my kid – we’ll be facing this very issue some day I am sure.

  80. She should be fired. I pay piles of money to send my children to a private, Christian school because that is the environment I want for them. Despite this, I would be very angry if I encountered a public school teacher asking that question. We all pay taxes for those schools, and those teachers have a responsibility to follow the laws and code of conduct as public servants.

  81. I’m confused? What kind of class was this that it could have been considered “in context” with the curriculum at all? Was it a sociology class or something where diversity was being discussed?

    Growing up in the South – well this is just one of those questions that people as you when they meet you and learn not to be offended by it. But any teacher in any public school has got to know they could get in series trouble for that if there wasn’t a reason it was being asked.

  82. Let me preface this by saying I have not read a single comment above, so I’m sure I’m repeating something that has already been said.

    I am a public school (7th grade) teacher (in the south, too!), and I truthfully would fear losing my job if I had done such a thing (and I’m tenured!). I’m all for religious freedom, but there is no excuse for her to have behaved in such a way. I mean, you can’t even call out a grade anymore for fear of the child being an uncomfortable “focal point.” This goes far beyond that.
    I think it would have been great for some kid to say “what’s it to you” or something equally as disrespectful in any other context…if she tried to punish them for it, then she could be called to the carpet. Anyway, that’s just my $0.02 worth

  83. I am such a fan of separation of church and state. The Constitution is such an amazing thing, really. I would be ticked off at the teacher, really ticked off. Threaten the ACLU on them.

  84. Depends on the context of the question.
    The thing is, I can’t think of a context in which it would have been appropriate!
    I’d be pretty upset…

  85. I’m not sure you’ll read this, and based on the preface of your next post I don’t think it’ll have any bearing, but WTH, here’s my .02 worth….

    I totally hear lilZ’s concern about reprecusions, but forget the idea of how out of line the teacher was; just what the teacher will do with this information? I can only see negative things coming from this and even if you don’t do or say anything about it. If not for lilZ then for someone w/a different answer than his.

    Now back to the teacher…totally inappropriate. I would pull my kid from any classes that teacher oversees no matter what. I would absolutely follow this up, there is no situation in which it’s appropriate. AND how often may this have happened before and other parents looked the other way? I would want a meeting w/the teacher & princpal. If it were a one time thing maybe the school will give a slap ont he wrist, but you may find this to be a pattern and that’s not ok.

  86. So, it’s not ok to have a moment of silence in school for kids to pray to whatever higher power they believe in but it’s ok to ask each child about his or her religion and what church they go to? I would have been furious!!

  87. In the unlikely occurrence that I had kids, and something like that happened, I’d be DEEPLY pissed off, and would absolutely make a fuss about it. I’d probably end up at the very least calling the principal, if not the Board of Ed., and would probably end up a Fark headline as a result.

    If it matters, I’m an atheist…

  88. Late to comment as well, but glad to see everyone on the same page as far as the inappropriateness of the teacher’s question. Only way I could see it being okay is in context of a religion course, but even then I think it should be info volunteered from students not requested from teachers. Oy! I do agree with the talking to the teacher first, but still having the issue addressed with the principal so he/she has an idea of what is going on.

  89. I’m going to risk going against the grain here, but it would not have bothered me or my children. (I asked them.)

    HOWEVER, I understand all arguments against the question.

    That’s all I’m going to say. 🙂

  90. That was wildly, wildly inappropriate. Furthermore, the fact that she asks tells me she has a REASON for asking, and I can’t think of a single reason that would be a good one.

    But what would I DO, other than go purple? I don’t know. I’m such a terminal chicken, and I can’t talk about upsetting things without crying, so…..calling the principal would be out. I guess I’d send an extremely polite, calm, typed letter to the principal, explaining what happened and expressing my strong preference that the teacher be told to never do that again. I would make all the language calm, except I would use the term “wildly inappropriate.” I would also say that I didn’t want the teacher told whose parent had complained, because I wouldn’t want my child’s situation compromised.

    To my child, I wouldn’t flip out. I would ask really super-calmly for as much information as I could get, which would totally alert them that I was upset, but I wouldn’t, like, rant or make a big deal about it to them, and I’d deal with it without telling them about it. On the other hand, my kids are littler than LilZ—I’m not sure how I”d handle things with an older child.

  91. I would have been livid. Heck, I’m pissed just hearing about it. I don’t know who would have been in the Principal’s office faster, myself or my husband. It doesn’t hurt that we’re Pagan, and thus this question could cause our child quite a bit of stress in the already tough middle school period.

    As far as respecting LilZ’s wishes to avoid retaliation, I think the only choice I could make would be to avoid direct confrontation with the teacher by going directly to the Principal. If it would potentially be a big issue, I might choose to do so anonymously or with a group of like-minded parents.

  92. I would be PISSED. And I would have to call someone or write someone a pissy letter. Because that is NOT COOL. It’s asking for a lawsuit as well. You should definitely say something to the principal, even if you do it anonymously if LilZ doesn’t want you to.

  93. Not at all cool, ever, for any reason.

    And yet another situation where intent means nothing–who cares what the intention was? What was said was said, and it’s wildly inappropriate. I grew up in S.C. and GA, and “Where do you go to church?” IS some fucked up kind of small talk around here. And I have NEVER been comfortable with it. In fact, in high school, i was made fun of for it. But it shouldn’t have even ever crossed the radar.This is past “none of their business”–it’s “not a fucking issue or topic, period.”

  94. P.S. What would I do?

    Go right in and talk to the teacher and/or principal. had some nutjobs of teachers in middle and high school, and if my parents didn’t make an issue of it, I was sure to send a letter to the administration. I was far less of a together kid than LilZ is, but it was one fo the few things of that era that DIDN’T scar me because it was empowering.

  95. I totally missed this post yesterday so I guess it’s better late than never…
    I am a Christian and a former public and private Christian school teacher and I would NEVER ask my students what church they go to. Even in a private school setting, I would never ask that. That teacher was out of line and should never have thought it would be okay to ask 8th graders that question. I am interested in your thoughts after you’ve had time to really think about it.

  96. Thats a bit off!

    I know that in my class at Upper School I was often the only the regular church attending student!

    I could understand if it had been at my cousin’s school as he goes to a Catholic School.

  97. Church is a HUGE part of our family life, and I would still find it completely inappropriate for a teacher to ask Alliclaus what church she attends. I would definitely have written a letter to the teacher, copying the principal, the superintendent, the PTA and the school board, expressing that this type of question is alienating to any student who may or may not attend churches outside the “norm” and that the assumption that all students practice religion is both false and absurd. Since we happen to be religious, I would tell Alliclaus that, though it may have been an easy question for her to answer, it is not right for a teacher in a public school to push an agenda that says that church attendance is the norm. I would hope that I could at least help her to see what it is like to be put in that type of situation.

  98. If you do not address this incident here at the outset of the school year, what will happen down the pike? I think a request for a meeting with teacher is in order. Keep records, too, in case this is the beginning of a pattern. Been there, done that. (In my daughter’s case, right off the bat, in kindergarten!)

  99. When I first read this, I was angry. The message that the kids got was that it’s not appropriate to not have a church to go to. It would be embarrassing for a child to have to speak up in that situation.

    On the other hand, what was the teacher thinking? Was her lesson plan about religious tolerance, and that in one class many kids can go to different churches? If that was the case, you should still bring it up because obviously that’s not what the kids remembered from the lesson.

    In that case, best to talk to the teacher – and see what else she’s teaching in the classroom!

  100. I have to admit, I’m not that shocked or offended. But I don’t really know the full story. Was she implying that everyone ought to be at church, and making the ones that weren’t feel bad? Then I would be offended. If she was just asking whether kids went to church or didn’t, with no judgement either way, that wouldn’t be as bad.

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