Religious Behavioral Norms Carry Over to Classrooms

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To the Editor:

A careful viewing of any five-minute segment of President Barack Obama's eulogy this summer for the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney in the wake of the Charleston, S.C., church shooting may offer a learning opportunity for teachers.

During what may be one of the most important presidential speeches of this historical period, the audience of highly respected, largely African-American political leaders, church officials, and family and community members called out their reactions—in no prearranged order, and without being called on. They stood up, stomped their feet, and shouted out whenever they felt moved to. In short, they exhibited behavior similar to that which frequently lands African-American students in detention.

Clearly, however, the funeral-goers were not being disrespectful. Their attention was riveted. Their respect for the person talking was unquestionable. Their upholding of the dignity of the Rev. Pinckney's life was beyond reproach. In fact, their response was exactly what any teacher should hope for from engaged students: whole-hearted, emotional, and fully embodied.

Now consider if this funeral service were being held for eight members of a Presbyterian church. Or a Buddhist temple, a Catholic church, a Muslim mosque, or a Jewish synagogue. In each case, the most respectful, fully attentive, and deeply engaged response of those present might be vastly different.

Recognizing that many children learn the explicit and implicit rules for how to behave from their church experiences, a good bet would be that those who have learned to show respect by silence, and those who are practiced in complying with commands, would have the fewest behavioral referrals in school, and those trained in expressive attention would have the most.

A good question for teachers to consider is to what degree their expectations and perceptions of appropriate classroom behavior might be implicitly biased, and perhaps influenced by religious tradition.

Alice Ray
Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer
Ripple Effects
San Francisco, Calif.

Vol. 35, Issue 03, Page 22

Published in Print: September 9, 2015, as Religious Behavioral Norms Carry Over to Classrooms
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