I recently received an e-mail from a reader asking if I knew of any books on things we, as Orthodox mothers, should enforce if we have children attending public schools. The only thing I can remember reading on this topic is in Presbytera Juliana Cownie’s book Young Children in the Orthodox Church. I’ve mentioned this book before and again cannot express how much I love it.
Here is an excerpt on Orthodox children in school:
“To be honest, the atmosphere which prevails in the average public school is not conducive to promoting civilized behavior, much less Christian conduct. The greater part of what the Orthodox parent tries to convey to the child at home will be quickly unlearned at school because of the child’s desire to fit in with the herd. Hypocrisy and shame will often see the child leading a double life, if the parents are not extremely vigilant and careful. Ideally, Orthodox children should be schooled at home, but the ideal is not always attainable. Accordingly, here are some guidelines for helping a child maintain his identity as an Orthodox Christian within the public school system.
1. Have your own dress code and enforce it. Children express their identity by their outward appearance. Many inner city schools are moving to curb gang involvement and discipline problems by issuing uniforms and banning make-up and jewelry. Thus far, these methods have been proven quite successful. Even if your child’s school has not instituted such regulations, you should insist that your child be attired modestly and without unnecessary adornment. Girls should wear dresses or skirts. If, for the sake of modesty, a girl needs to wear shorts, they may be worn under the dress. The use of hairspray and wearing boyish or distracting hairstyles should be discouraged. Boys should wear clothing that fits them properly and should have hair properly trimmed. There is a mistaken notion among some Orthodox Christians that boys who serve as candle-bearers or readers must wear their hair long, as a monk or priest does. This is not true and should not serve as an excuse on religious grounds to violate school dress codes.
2. Emphasize the importance of keeping fasts at school. Temptations will be many and will come not only from the child’s peers, but from teachers who want to treat the schoolchildren (almost always on a Friday). Provide tasty sack lunches on fast days. It is not usually too difficult to give the child something more desirable than the normal cafeteria fare. Bring fasting treats to school parties which are held during a fast period. Let the teachers know about Orthodox fasting practices at the beginning of the school year, so your child will not experience discomfort at having to explain concepts that he may be unable to articulate. Above all, let your child know you are proud of him when he refuses something he would like to have eaten. He will remember that encouragement when future temptations arise.
3. Make the child think always in terms of acting in a Christian way and pleasing Christ with his behavior. If the child does something wrong at school, he should admit it and be willing to take the consequences. A child who blames others for his behavior or lies to escape punishment is developing a pattern of moral cowardice. A parent who blames others for the child’s behavior (“The teacher doesn’t like him. It was the other kid’s idea. He just went along with it.”) , or shields the child from the fair punishment he deserves, is training him to be a moral coward, or perhaps training him to be immoral. Encourage the child to forgive the children who wrong him or tease him. Help the child to try to see things from the perspective of the teacher who may always seem so grumpy and hand out so much homework. Never give the child an excuse for not meeting his obligations at school. If he misses class to attend Divine Services, make it clear that he must make up the work. Try to have a good relationship with the teacher, so that if problems arise, lines of communication are open to discuss them.
4. Teach your child that he must never be ashamed of being an Orthodox Christian. Wearing a cross, saying a blessing before eating, refraining from blasphemy or cruelty-these are all things which set him apart from an unthinking crowd of young people who have no idea who they are. Do your best to convince him that confusion and fear of ridicule are not enviable motivations for living.
As a parent, do not be deceived into believing that the school owns your child, or has any right to dictate to you how your child should be educated, or what values he should be learning. If the school is offering a course which you find morally objectionable, have your child excused. If the school will not excuse your child from the course, withdraw your child from the school. Whether or not you choose to argue the merits of a particular class, your child should not be subjected to morally questionable material or to the ensuing controversy, should you decide to fight to have the material removed from the curriculum.”
I’m so glad to have been asked about this because it’s been quite some time since I’ve read it and with Ace starting school, I’ve reminded of several things to “nip in the bud” at the beginning of the school year instead of whenever things come up throughout the school year. Does anyone else have any thoughts on Orthodox children attending school?