At the start of the school year, a new teacher asked me if it was OK to let her students start their warm up assignments one minute into the school’s 3-minute moment of silence. My immediate response was no, it was not OK. That’s because my philosophy is that when you plant yourself uninvited into a new community to teach, there are a few unspoken rules to follow, at least at first. Among them include:
1) Eat the food. Don’t complain.
2) Try to like the music. Don’t complain.
3) Avoid politics and religion, unless absolutely necessary. And even in those cases, don’t complain.
As far as I can see, the mandatory moment of silence is a disguise for prayer in school. And that has to do with Rule No. 3: Don’t mess with a community’s religion when that community isn’t yours (yet). Even though I, a secularist who believes in the separation of church and state, understood what she meant about her students being bored after 30 seconds of “reflection” and that the kids were the ones eager to dive into the work, I reminded her that it was important to follow the school’s rules, especially when it came to something rather personal like reflection. I suggested she check with other teachers and with the administration on what is appropriate. The last thing she needed, I told her, was for parents to complain about her restricting their children’s rights for a moment of silence and imposing her “liberal ways” on the students. Perhaps that sounds silly, but it is a real concern.
But the deeper issue that I contended with even after talking with her was whether a moment of silence is actually useful, especially when most students aren’t utilizing the time to calmly reflect and prepare for the day. To me, that seems like an odd and silly thing to expect 15-year olds to do on command for three minutes. I don’t think mandatory moments of silence should be built into the school day. I just don’t see how they are useful. But maybe that’s just knowledge I’m missing.
Two weeks ago, Teacher Magazine posted a survey asking readers whether they supported mandatory moments of silence in schools. What seemed like a whopping 47 percent out of 188 surveyed voted “yes.” That makes me think that I must be missing something about the value of silence. How do you teach students to utilize the moment of silence in a meaningful way that doesn’t involve prayer?
The opinions expressed in New Terrain are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.