Saturday, 17 September 2011
My mother works as a physical education teacher in an elementary school. She has had many students with many different needs, but she has one student this year whose needs seem to be a bit more than the school should be required to accommodate.
This particular student is, to the best of our knowledge, a member of some extreme sect of Islam -- just based on his mother wearing a traditional hijab where only her eyes show. He cannot shake hands with women, but that's not really a big issue. The problem comes from another of his requirements: he cannot listen to music.
Not American music, or rap music, just music -- all music of any kind. He cannot attend music class at all, but that's only one day in a six day cycle in our district, and it's also not a federally mandated course. Physical education, on the other hand, is.
Anyone who works out knows that music adds a lot to your motivation and energy while exercising. My mother plays music in the gym almost every day.
She asked what she was supposed to do and was told, "We need to accommodate him."
She called me last night to tell me about this and asked rhetorically, "So the other 27 students in class with him can't have the benefit of music while they're playing games? They have to miss out on something the other 400 students in the school get to enjoy because he's in the class?"
She asked him what he usually did in school when there was music, and he said he just left the room and sat outside.
My mother proposed that this is even more ridiculous, because he will inevitably hear music all day. Sitting right outside the gym doors, he'll be hearing it loud and clear, so what purpose does that serve? She'll be playing it in the gym during other classes' gym times, and if he walks by he'll hear it.
What about graduation? Can he not march on stage while Pomp and Circumstance is playing?
After we talked about this for a while we both got quiet and she said, "Religion is so sick." Especially in this context I could not agree with her more. I understand not wanting your kids to hear certain kinds of music, or particular artists, but what the hell is so wrong with Beethoven that any god would forbid it?
Music is beautiful and precious. It infiltrates all aspects of our lives. You'll be hard pressed to find more than a few scarce cultures around the world that don't have music. It's in every movie, in every television show, during every commercial, in every mall and dentist's office.
As a musician myself I practically want to cry imaging what I would do if someone told me I could never sing or play piano. Anyway, that's not the point.
At what point does accommodating a person's religion and allowing them to practice it as they see fit interfere too much with others' freedom from religion? By not playing music for his class in gym, his religious values will be protected but those same values will also be forced onto the other kids in the room. How is that fair?
Similar, though obviously more serious, debates happen surprisingly often with medical issues. Many religions forbid certain medical procedures -- Jehovah's witnesses, Christian Scientists, Amish -- and parents have had their children die by refusing them these treatment. Courts have then gone on to rule that these parents were not criminally negligent.
Any parent refusing a life saving medical treatment for their child for any reason other than religion would without a doubt be jailed for such actions. Why should a person's religious beliefs exempt them from such scrutiny?
Other much less serious issues crop up along the same vein. For example, one may not lead a prayer inside a classroom, but one is allowed to hold voluntary prayers on school grounds provided it is not during class time. Religious groups can form in schools, though they cannot receive funding. In my personal opinion, this particular freedom of religion does not at all impede my freedom from it, but that's just me.
Where do you think freedom of religion ends and freedom from religion begin? What would you do if you were the teacher in a situation like this? Have you ever experienced a situation in which one person's religious beliefs impeded on the beliefs of others?