I read with interest the news that a federal judge ruled Illinois’ moment of silence unconstitutional Wednesday on a number of levels.
I grew up in Illinois and still have strong attachments to the state through friends and relatives. I’m a rabid Chicago sports fan even though I live in the heart of Colts country in central Indiana.
I also have a degree in elementary education and taught in a public middle school the past four years. The moment of silence was introduced here three years ago and has become standard procedure in classrooms. In the school where I taught it is observed after the Pledge of Allegiance and before the morning announcements on the loudspeakers.
I disagree with U.S. District Judge Robert W. Gettleman’s decision for reasons that have very little to do with faith.
In his ruling Gettleman said the law forces students to contemplate religion. From what I saw on a daily basis this isn’t the case unless students already come to the classroom with a faith perspective.
My homeroom class typically had 20 to 25 students aged 11 and 12. It was in a conservative rural/suburban community. Reliably every year, one or maybe two students would bow their heads and/or close their eyes in obvious prayer. The overwhelming majority of students would simply stand there staring at the clock, gazing out the window, perhaps working around the gum in their mouths trying to keep it from sticking to their braces.
The reason the moment shouldn’t be banned has more to do with education than with faith. It gives the teacher a very small but helpful tool to let students settle into their day for academic instruction. It can be used as a way to remind students of appropriate classroom conduct and not a time to rush through math homework, snap pencils or create elaborate paper footballs. It allows the classroom teacher a small, welcomed opportunity to calm the waters before the often unpredictable school day begins.
If the moment is promoting anything, it’s a dose of patience and self-control. These are valuable skills which would benefit many adults.
I don’t know the political wrangling behind the creation of all the moment of silence laws, but if the intent was to promote prayer, it’s not working. It’s a fact that may demoralize some, but during the regular academic day the pressure placed on administrators and teachers by state and federal accountability standards is immense. The focus is on behavior, academic achievement, and like it or not, building up student skills for good performance on standardized tests.
Is the moment of silence concept a failure? No. From a faith perspective it underscores what many people already know: the most effective place to promote belief in God to children is at home through the family and participation in a close-knit congregation.