Sunday, December 20, 2015

Got Religion?

The Board of Education continues to draw big crowds this year, but I wouldn't say that's because of rave reviews and boffo performances. They played to overflow crowds this week. It's too bad they can't do charity performances because this would have gone a long way towards meeting a philanthropic goal. (Funding paraeductaors, for instance?)

Here's the deal: just when you thought they couldn't offend any one else, the school system proposes taking the Jewish High Holy Days off of the school calendar as official days off from school. Lisa Philip covers it here. This was pretty much an invitation to a standing room only sort of response, with people in matching t-shirts vying for their three minutes to express concern and dismay. And they weren't all Jewish, either.

In general, the Board is respectful to the overflow crowds who turn out in matching t-shirts. (Except for these folks. Wonder why?) So I am guessing that they weren't on the receiving end of typical Board member comments depicting them as "selfish" "me, me me" "them" or "too white and privileged to understand." Did anyone suggest they needed an advanced degree to understand the calendar? I hope not.

I find it odd that some members say that we can't add any days off which are specifically religion-based. The fact that Christmas and the days surrounding Easter are state-mandated does not in any way obscure the fact that they are Christian holidays. Our school system calendar has a deeply entrenched Christian default mechanism, and everyone knows it.

So now other religions come along asking for some of the same kind of respect and it looks to me as though the response is to freeze everyone out. And that means, apparently, backing up the truck and getting rid of the Jewish holidays, too, so that everyone is equally disrespected. Except the Christians.

I identify as a Christian (some days more than others) and I love getting Christmas off. When I had a church job, having Good Friday off was essential. And recovery from a Holy Week with as many as seven sung services made Easter Monday bliss. But it would be the height of selfishness to ignore that my religious/cultural heritage is favored by the state and those of others are deemed irrelevant. If we are going to say "all or nothing", then we need to be even-handed all the way around.

Board member Cindy Vaillancourt has been encouraging discussion on this issue on her Facebook page. The conversation has been both fascinating and respectful. One comment struck me. In response to modifying the educational approach on school days where a portion of the student body is absent due to religious observance, one person said:

Sounds like my kid is getting a degraded educational experience because of somebody else's religion.

What about all the non-Christians in our community who live with our Christian-centric calendar? What if they felt that way? Would it matter? Does Christianity matter only as long as it rules as a majority religion and draws the bigger numbers? Are other religions in our community less worthy of institutional respect because of their minority status?

The only certainty I am able to draw from all this is that, while you are educating yourself about the upcoming Board of Election race, you should give priority to candidates who are willing to engage in conversations about the difficult issues. If you find one that says that you don't matter, or that nothing can be done, just move on.

The time is long past to remove such people from the equation.



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