Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Whole lot of nuthin’ is what ‘moment of silence’ in the public schools amounts to

As a reporter-type person, I have had many occasions to set foot in high schools – including the ones I attended – during the 28 years since I graduated and went away to college.

Yet I don’t look at these teenagers and long for those days of innocence when my biggest concern was a chemistry final and my biggest wish was that the cute blond girl who sat next to me in English class would actually give me the time of day, let alone speak to me.

I LOOK AT what comes off as the excessive security measures we impose in the schools and all the other many requirements we have implemented on students, and my only reaction is to be thankful that I’m not a student these days. I don’t know how I’d handle all the stupid stuff that exists these days for students to cope with.

That is pretty much what I think of the latest new requirement that public high school teenagers are having to deal with – the moment of silence.

In theory, I like the idea. Everybody shut up for a few seconds! Pipe down, you’re all giving me a headache with your racket.

Of course, cutting down on the amount of aspirin a high school teacher consumes during the school day (unless, by chance, there is some sort of regulation against the teacher being able to take an aspirin or any other kind of medication while on school property) is NOT the reason that officials pushed for this moment of silence.

THIS WAS THE compromise devised years ago by the people who seriously believe that the day in public school – which is a mixture of all kinds of kids from families with religious beliefs ranging from pious to apathetic to non-existent – should start with a prayer.

These people are going to pretend that the quiet time is being used by these kids to pray to a god that he may give them the strength to get through another day of the bureaucratic mess that has become high school in the early 21st Century.

Anybody who expects this scene to take place in a Chicago-area public school today is delusional.

I know better. Because I see that while the layers of nonsense we have added to the school day (it amazes me the number of checkpoints I encounter whenever I set foot in a modern high school, rather than just getting a pass from the principal’s office) have increased, the basic mentality of the people themselves hasn’t changed.

I wouldn’t be surprised to learn, if I were capable of reading minds, that the number of students who think prayer is stupid outnumbers the number of students who actually use the quiet time to pray.

I’M ABSOLUTELY CONVINCED that those students combined would be significantly outnumbered by students whose thoughts ranged elsewhere.

I couldn’t help but notice a Chicago Tribune report by which a reporter (who probably got the third degree from school officials before being let anywhere near the entrance to the school buildings) actually asked teenagers what they thought about on the first day of quiet time – which in some schools was Tuesday.

Homework. Chores and errands. Some just sat and meditated quietly, although one kid got herself quoted in the Tribune by claiming to have remembered the people who died nearly 10 years ago in New York at the World Trade Center.

Not that you could accomplish much in the five to 10 seconds that most school districts seem to be setting aside to comply with this state law, which is new in enforcement but has actually been on the books for a few years.

THIS WAS OUR General Assembly at work, coming up with a measure in 2007 meant to appease people of a certain socially conservative ideological bent while not actually giving them what they want. If we had, class on Tuesday would have started with a lot of reciting of “Our father, who art in Heaven, …”

Which is why this worked its way through the court system, with an injunction in place to prevent the law from being enforced. Until a federal appeals court recently upheld the idea of a moment of silence, saying it doesn’t necessarily violate the idea of keeping organized religion separate from government (or public school) activity.

Yes, I think the idea of a ‘moment of silence’ is silly, in large part because it is too brief to accomplish anything. And I wouldn’t want to see it lengthened because I don’t trust the motivations of the people who push the most for this concept.

If there is any consolation to me and others who opposed this idea, it is that the mindset of the modern teenager (whose music and clothes are just as tacky as the junk we wore back in the early 1980s) hasn’t changed much.

THE PEOPLE WHO wanted this ‘moment of silence’ as a symbolic victory of sorts toward bringing back school prayer would be seriously upset to learn that at least one teenage boy is using his quiet time to ogle that girl sitting next to him.

Too bad the teacher can’t come along and whack him with a ruler for his “impure” thoughts. That is, unless a bill permitting such activity is the next goal of those state legislators who fought so hard to get this moment of silence.

“Thank God I’m no longer in high school.” That’s my thought for a moment of silence.


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