My Preschooler Doesn't Need a 'Prayer Break,' But Thanks, Public Schools

child thanking GodRemember school separation of church and state? Well, forget about all that. Prayer in public preschools is about to be possible for thousands of little kids -- and, yes, it's completely Constitutional.


Here's the deal: When New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio took office, he promised a free pre-kindergarten seat to each of the city’s 70,000 4-year-olds. I wondered where he planned to put these seats, as NYC public schools are so overcrowded, they’re turning art, science and music rooms into classrooms for the students they already have. How were they going to find room for 70,000 more? Turns out they weren't. The plan is to put publicly-funded pre-Ks into existing community centers, Head Starts, charters, secular private pre-schools, and religious ones.

And come fall, a new proposal will make it legal for Jewish, Christian, Catholic and Muslim schools to offer religious instruction and prayer.

In public school. These prayer periods will ostensibly take place during a mid-day break.

So what about non-religious kids? Any child who wants to has the right to opt-out.

Think this makes the case for prayer in public schools across the country?

Let’s visualize this, shall we? Twenty children in a classroom. The teacher calls a prayer break. The majority of the children dutifully congregate where told.

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Who is this mysterious, self-possessed, immune to peer-pressure 4-year-old who will happily opt out of doing what the rest of his or her friends are doing? This doesn't sound like any 4-year-old we know!

And if he or she is specifically told by a teacher (presumably because their parents requested it) that they can’t/won’t/shouldn’t participate, think about how this kid will feel. Will they wonder why they’re being singled out? Will they think they’re being punished? Will they wonder why they're not good enough to be a part of the fun? They're 4. They don't have the ability to think this through quite yet.

Or will the kids being taken away to prayers think they’re the ones being kept from doing something super fun, like that other, lucky kid? Why does he get a privilege the rest of them don’t? Is there something wrong with him? Is she too stupid to do what we’re doing? Or maybe she’s the teacher’s pet? Maybe we’re the stupid ones. I’m going to find out why she thinks she’s so special and what she does when the rest of us are not around.

Good thing 4-year-olds are very mature and understanding, right? They won’t bring the subject up in anything but a respectful manner. Certainly no child will ever be teased either for not being a part of the prayers like everyone else, or for not getting to do the fun optional activity, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah.

Then there’s the flip side.

Parents who send their children to religious schools usually want them to get a religious education. If now everyone is allowed to “opt out,” (and what self-possessed 4-year-old will opt for sitting still and learning to read in a foreign language over hey, want to play parachute?), how will those parents feel when their kids want to skip out on prayer time to go play with their opt out buddies? If they arrived at the school prior to the city’s pre-K requirements being implemented, it’s kind of a bait-and-switch.

Finally, what, exactly, will kids who choose to opt out of religious instruction be doing during that time period?  According to the Department of Education, it will be something educational…ish. Well, no one is really sure. But it will be totally awesome. (Right now, there isn’t even a unified curriculum for all the public pre-K’s, causing them to fluctuate insanely in quality; there certainly is nothing on the books for what should be happening during the opt-out periods.)

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That means that, for a set time during the day, students will be doing different things, varying not only like now, from school to school, but even from teacher to teacher within the same school. (Will the opt-out kids require a designated, credentialed teacher? What if there are none to spare? Will they be randomly dumped on any available adult?)

The children’s learning will be separate. But -– we’re assured -– equal.

Nope. No problems there that I can see here ... how about you?

What do you think of the plan? Would you allow your kids to attend that preschool?


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