The same concerns apply to primary education in many aspects. Perhaps this incident was a completely unintentional act of negligence; in other settings, there have been circumstances where an overzealousness on the part of one or some school officials to develop religious tolerance has overstepped the boundaries of the school’s role. Parents therefore should be made aware of and offered training in the policies that affect them and their rights to not be discriminated against.
Many who support the superintendent’s decisions may be looking at this solely from the perspective of religious tolerance. For instance, the Boston Globe published a follow-up story titled, “Wellesley parents seem to support students’ mosque trip,” which described one such example among others:
Hind Rakin, a Muslim, is the mother of a Wellesley sixth grader. She said she plans to allow her daughter to attend interfaith field trips and had already allowed her to experience services at a Jewish temple.
‘If we don’t help kids learn to love each other despite their differences, how are we going to stop all the anger over religion?’ Rakin asked. ‘There needs to be more respect and love in the world.’
Most will agree that encouraging children to embrace one another’s differences, including religious differences, is a positive thing. However, unless we consider the overall experience in which these children are participating, this is merely a naively utopian quest for respect and religious tolerance. The potential for unintended, long-lasting consequences is a reality. By utilizing the methods practiced in Wellesley’s religious curriculum, could educators and parents alike be overlooking or ignoring the more basic premise of protecting children against religious and gender discrimination?
Watch the video again (Part 1). Put yourself in the place of one of these 10 year old schoolgirls, as you are asked to leave the prayer area and separated with all of the other female attendees, excluded from prayer for no other reason than your gender. Imagine observing the males in the next room, as they participate in prayer together. At 10 years old, does a young adolescent girl comprehend the religious rationale behind their exclusion? And are there lasting consequences to such an exercise?
In a country that has taken such pride in advancing civil rights and equality for women, how do you reconcile these stark contrasts, as the parent of a 10 year old?
Ms. Wong invites questions in her letter. As a parent, I would ask a few questions of the school superintendent:
- Upon observing the video, did you and the school district’s counsel not see the girls being segregated from the boys?
- Is religious gender segregation during a school-sponsored event something that you accept as appropriate?
- Who is responsible for administering policy in the Wellesley School District, and who trained the staff?
- When drafting your apology letter, did you and the school district’s counsel discuss your district’s discrimination policy?
In the end, one important question remains for parents across the country who are concerned after seeing this video and the response from school officials. How did Wellesley school teachers allow this to happen?
In Loco Parentis entitles parents to their children’s protection while at school from discrimination of any kind, regardless of what any specific religion demands. Trading in that protection at the expense of non-discriminatory treatment under the guise of religious tolerance is not only unacceptable, it’s un-American. There are other ways to educate children on various religions, including Islam, without violating anti-discrimination policies. Parents in the Wellesley Public School District would be wise to demand that the superintendent reassess the school district’s educational approach to this program, as well as its policies.
If Islam and the mosques that preach its doctrine are fundamentally in conflict with religious and gender discrimination policies, then immersing young students in this environment is clearly not the most beneficial or appropriate method of teaching religious tolerance.
Unless of course the next time students from the Wellesley Public School District visit a mosque, the girls and women will be invited to pray with the boys and men.