What would you do?
The class was talking about the beginning of the Cold War. We were describing the basic tenets of Communism, and on the topic of personal freedom ( or actually the lack of personal freedom), it was mentioned that Karl Marx famously stated: "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."
We discussed the official espousal of atheism by the Communist party, and defined the word. We then were talking about how the freedom of religion was one of the most important freedoms to have, and when one of my students remembered it was one of the Four Freedoms listed by FDR against Fascism, I will tell you I almost burst into tears from joy.
But then one of my students suddenly burst out with this: "What if you don't believe in the devil? What does that mean? Am I an atheist?"
Be assured that I went back over the definition of atheism as the lack of belief in God, and explained that the refusal to believe in Satan did not make one an atheist. The kids then chimed in about how I wouldn't tell him what to believe nor what I believe because this is a public school (this is from my opening day speech). I suggested that he talk to his parents or a clergyperson, if he had one, and we moved on.
Because I am a religious person and try to be a faithful person, I am very careful not to inject my religious beliefs into my classroom. General ethical behavior, absolutely, but theology, no. Anywhere where students are taught, values are being transmitted, regardless of whether the students think they are picking up the signals or not.
I had a teacher in junior high who actively shoved her beliefs down our throats, including persecuting the Jewish kid in our class, and I ended up getting in trouble when I finally lost it and politely contradicted her. Of course, in one of my classes, one of my students attends my church, so it's not like it's a secret that I go to church. I consider the work I do with kids to be part of my ministry, but in a general improving- the-minds-and-upholding-the-spirits-of-my-students kind of way.
But this incident haunts me. He was obviously still thinking about it. What would you have done?