Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Topics I like to avoid before I’ve had my decaf

This entry is oozing out of me, but I’m hesitant to write it for so many reasons. Number one, it could come off as political, and overall I think politics are overrated and used to define, classify and divide too often. Also it may make me look like I assume I know what all people in one religious group believe on an issue, and I don’t nor do I claim to. Plus, it’s indirectly about a topic I hate and, almost eight months pregnant, don’t really want to talk about: abortion. Because today before 10 am I had the responsibility of fielding questions about back alley abortions from 8th graders. Yeah, just another day at the office.

It started out as a normal day. We’re reading a book we’ve read for five years, a girl gets pregnant, is sent off to have the baby somewhere else because it’s the 1960s and that’s that. But this year it didn’t stop there. Students in two of my classes raised their hands and asked if there was abortion in the 1960s to which I answered it wasn’t legal then. One student continued by asking if the dirty, back alley kind were an option in the 1960s. I repeated my previous statement about the legality issue and moved on.

But this entry isn’t really about abortion or the shock I felt about the casual way a 13 year old discussed it or that there was not even a collective surprised gasp when the words, “dirty, back alley abortion” flew from a girls’ mouth like the words “pink lip gloss”. It’s about lines and boundaries and who we are at our chosen professions and who we really are, and which one is actually real.

I don’t agree with abortion and I do connect that to my faith, not that I think if I was an atheist I would suddenly be okay with abortion. But my pro-life stance has been intertwined with my faith ever since I can remember because they are both what I have believed in for so long. Should that have come into play in my response? Should I have, as my husband recommended, said “the destruction of innocent human life wasn’t politically correct yet” instead of my neutral “it wasn’t legal”? Same thing, but not really because words carry meaning, and the first statement would have left no doubt about where I stood. With my students politically, religion, and issue wise, I always leave doubt. I’m not here to tell them what to think, I’m here to teach them how to think. None of them could tell you whether I’m a Republican or Democrat, pro-death penalty or against, pro-life or pro-choice. What’s a little scary is none of them could tell you if I’m a Christian or not, largely because I’ve kept it that way.

I am a huge supporter of the separation of church and state and that’s always been my defense. I do not want anyone’s religion running our country, period. I am a Christian before I’m anything else, but that doesn’t mean other people have to be. However, when did I become a droid, if that’s what I am? Because honestly it goes a little beyond wanting to make sure I wasn’t teaching kids what to think. I didn’t want angry parent phone calls flooding the principal’s office, and that crossed my mind in the brief time before I answered.

Though I did momentarily think of making a comment like my husband recommended, and I rarely let offending people get in the way of being sarcastic, I weighed the cost of that kind of comment and decided it was too high. Was that the right decision? Could parents have really been upset because I expressed more than neutrality at eight months pregnant with my son kicking inside of me about abortion? Who knows, but it’s easier to not rock the boat when there are hundreds of parents who I have seen get offended over much less.

In a place like where my husband works, a Christian organization that holds chapel every Monday, I would have had no problem expressing my opinion. But in a diverse school where people could be offended but also maybe positively affected, I hesitated. Is that Christian relativism? It’s not like I had to preach a sermon about it, but would have expressing where I stood and therefore a little more about who I am have been appropriate? Am I willing to be who I am and express my beliefs only when it’s safe or is it just going back to my belief that students need to know how to think, not what I think? I don’t know. I either failed miserably today or succeeded grandly. I don’t know which. And can you succeed at your job while failing as a Christian? If so, is it really succeeding at all?

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