Religion in the Classroom in Cupertino

A little bit of local news around here has been getting some national attention. Seems that Cupertino 5th grade teacher Stephen Williams thinks that the school is working too hard to keep materials that reference the role of Christianity in American history out of the classroom. In general, I’m inclined to support Williams; I think that too often, gun-shy school administrators ban material that provides important historical context because of fears of calls from parents about ‘teaching religion in school’. My own high school ran a comparative religion class for many years without any problems, and I’ve always felt that such classes (as an elective element of the curriculum) had a lot of value.

Unfortunately, the material in question makes it clear that Williams was doing more than trying to teach his kids about the role of Christianity in public life. His classroom material is little more than a grab-bag of unrelated quotes about the importance of Christianity and the superiority of the Bible. Totally lacking in this selection is any notion of historical context and balance. The ‘Frame of Government of Pennsylvania’ is edited so as to exclude any information not related to God. The selections from the diary of John Adams have nothing to relate the views that Adams expresses to the larger political picture. Most egregiously, the selection of quotations from ‘Great Leaders’ gives an unbalanced view of several figures from history; there are as many quotations from Jefferson critical of organized religion and Christianity as there are in favor, but Williams has cherry-picked the one-liners that support his position. Finally, there’s no clear indication of what these quotes have to do with each other, other than the fact that they all relate to the Bible. Do the views of Rutherford B. Hayes and Herbert Hoover really have anything to do with the choices that Jefferson and the Founding Fathers made in constructing the Constitution?

The simple truth is that Williams is letting his own beliefs set the lesson plan for his students. It’s an ill-conceived notion at best, but in a school district like Cupertino, where many of the students are from non-Christian backgrounds, it’s unfathomable. I hope that it is the result of ignorance on Williams’s part, and not a thought-out attempt to create friction in these children’s homes by introducing a religious wedge between them and their families. Shame on Williams for not thinking about the effect of his deeds on the lives of his students, and shame on his supporters for pushing evangelism in the name of academic honesty.

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