As far back as I can remember I’ve always had a phobia for all things religious. However through the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune I’ve found myself teaching 6th grade Astronomy at a Catholic school. I know it’s strange but I felt the job would afford me the opportunity to study the Catholic in his native habitat and gather data. I also felt that I was not compromising my beliefs by respecting the house rules. In other words, when on school grounds, and while interacting with the children, I leave my atheism behind and I don’t feel that I’m being dishonest in doing so. If a religious person can teach at secular school why can’t an atheist teach at a parochial school.
On entering the school for the first time some things made me uncomfortable. There was the portrait of the Pope in the main lobby, the statue of the virgin Mary keeping vigil over the playground, and a crucifix on the wall in each and every classroom. As for the students they were so well behaved and beautiful in their school uniforms that they seemed almost creepy in a Village-of-the-Damned sort of a way. It was strange being in a classroom in northern California classroom where all the students were white and just as strange that class size was limited to 16 students.
But the oddest thing of all is that over the last year and a half I’ve come to feel that teaching at a religious school is liberating rather than constraining and I do mean incredibly liberating. I’ve come to love it. I teach them about Galileo and about the big bang and so far no complaints, not a one. I also teach my students that some people believe the universe is only 6000 years. But I let the young Earth creationists speak for themselves. A few weeks ago I showed my class the youtube video of Rep. Paul Broun saying that the big bang and evolution were lies straight from the pit of hell. Not a single one of my students believed Congressman Broun. They could all see he was a nut.
What I’m saying is this, if you are an atheist and you are given the opportunity to teach at a religious school take it. You’ll find that it’s a different world. I’ll be the first to admit that some aspects of it are horrible but some aspect of public schools are just as horrible but in a different way. From K through 12th grade I attended schools in the Palo Alto Unified School District. I understand why the student suicide rate there is so appalling.
Last year as one of the boys was leaving after class was dismissed he said to me just as clear as a bell, “I love you Eliot.” I was so stunned that I didn’t know how to respond. I can’t imagine that happening at any of my old schools in Palo Alto.