Separation of Church and State

As a future language arts teacher I find talking about controversial topics to be most educational, because I want to learn how to lead a charged classroom discussion when provocative topics such as religion and sex education arise. To have a charged classroom the teacher has to start a discussion that will create both friction and potential for further learning, but it’s the teachers’ job to guide the students’ discussion towards a democratic education approach. Now in regards to the controversial topic of religion and sex education, I strongly believe in the separation of church and state as well as the right to have freedom of thought, inquiry, and speech under the First Amendment. With this in mind I believe these provocative topics should be discussed in public schools, especially in high school when these topics are relevant.

Now, abstinence-only education goes against our constitutional right to educate children because it “restricts students’ access to information and limit learning to one “approved” message about human sexuality” (Taking Sides, 2005). Furthermore, how can abstinence-only education align with the principle of separation of church and state when the programs are strongly associated with churches, primarily Christianity, that’re pushing their religious values. Why is it that federal and state funds have shifted from supporting comprehensive sexuality programs to abstinence-only programs that limit students’ sexual education? These programs offer curricula developed by religious groups “whose views on sexual orientation, non-marital sex, contraception, and abortion are not shared by other religious and non-religious people” (Taking Sides, 2005). It’s not democratically or culturally fair to promote one religion or creating a “we” of the school, as a community against non-Christians, which is something teachers should be aware of and avoid. Thus, the whole ideal of abstinence-only programs is biased to Christian values. The last thing I want to do is make one of my students feel like an outsider because their cultural beliefs differs from the majority of their peers.

Standardized tests and homework

My teaching values reflect a student-centered disposition which is fundamental towards impacting student learning, because it encourages teachers to go beyond what is required of them to support their students learning needs. Teachers should facilitate student learning and help students learn what is important to them rather than simply teaching them how to effectively pass a standardized test, because the “goal of education should be to create a population of lifelong, self-directed learners” (Dr. Scheuerman) instead of simply future employees. I want to accommodate student’s academic interests, instead of just teaching students to take standardized tests and following a strict curriculum that focuses on the short-term testing gains. Now in regards to the controversial issue over homework, I think it can be a beneficial tool if applied correctly. Homework can be used to further the day’s lesson, but teachers need to be careful of using it as a means to cover the regular curriculum when class time is more focused on standardized testing. The goal is to get away from superficial short-term gains and focus more on how we can effectively teach and motivate our students to “internalize the value of learning” (Dr. Scheuerman), which then leads to enduring and meaningful learning.

I decided to be an English teacher because of my passion of literature and the discussions that arise from interpreting and analyzing a piece of work. Like Lev Vygotsky (1980), I believe learning is most beneficial as a social act, and must not be done in isolation. His research also suggests that students and teachers learn more, are more engaged, and feel like they get more out of their classes when working in a collaborative environment. Thus, I am a passionate believer that learning should be active not passive. My aim is for students to take what they have learned in my classroom and apply it to life by equipping them with problem solving strategies, which hopefully will enhance their lives. Due my active view on learning I can see how homework can seem like a black hole when scaffolding new knowledge, because I cannot see how they’re completing the assignments outside of school. Therefore, I would keep a record of how they’re doing on in-class assignments as well as discussions to make sure the work matches my expectations of them. I would also place more value on in-class assignments and discussions to avoid relying on homework to purely assess student knowledge and to make sure my students are more active in class.