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For their daughter's sake, my brother and his wife did the best they could to stay calm. They hugged my niece, reassured her that everything was going to be fine, and told her that mommy and daddy were going to take care of everything. Comforting her seemed to put her at ease, which subsequently made her outlook on the upcoming school day much more manageable.
My brother's day, on the other hand, had just taken a turn for the worse. He was furious, and he'd had enough. As much as he hated the idea of causing a rift between himself and the faculty of the school, he knew that his daughter's emotional state was far more important to him than worrying about making educators uncomfortable. He knew that his next step was to contact his daughter's teacher.
Growing anxious over the thought of an impending confrontation with the teacher over religion, my brother approached me for some advice. Needless to say, I told him much of what I have included in this series. I said that what these kids were doing to his daughter was wrong. His daughter is being bullied, plain and simple, and that he should contact her teacher immediately to schedule a parent-teacher conference. Tell the teacher everything that his daughter told him. If he can't make any progress with the teacher, then do not let it end there. "Go straight to the Principal if you have to," I said. "But make absolutely sure you have a pencil and paper when you talk to any of the faculty so you can write down everything that everyone says."
Obviously, I wanted him to be prepared for the worst.
As it turns out, my assumptions about the school, as well as my brother's, were completely mistaken. We were both pleasantly surprised by the heartfelt reaction from his daughter's teacher, and stunned at how quickly she responded to his initial email.
"I am so sorry," she replied. "This is unacceptable! I spoke to the entire class about this kind of behavior at the beginning of the school year and I can assure you that this will not go unpunished."
My brother and I were both so grateful for the attention that this teacher was willing to demonstrate to us - mainly because we both had sorely misjudged the reaction we would receive from her. Our preconceived notions born out of past confrontations with other religious people had led us to believe that no matter what these boys had said or done to my niece, their religious bullying would be overlooked simply because they weren't saying anything outside of messages that they had most likely heard during a Sunday sermon.
And yet, though we had prepared for the worst, the entire plan that my brother and I had concocted was nullified by one, three word sentence: "This is unacceptable."
Sure, it is but one elementary school teacher... but that is progress.
Of course it is in your best interest to prepare yourself when you are expecting a confrontation with another person over religion, especially considering how many religious people view the atheist and agnostic community. But the point here is that people oftentimes surprise you with their rationality - particularly when dealing with the emotional environment of a child.
I cannot speak for my brother, but I think it's safe to say that we both learned a valuable lesson. Not everyone who considers themselves religious will be ready to stand behind kids that display this kind of aggressive and abusive behavior. As a matter of fact, I would argue that there are far more rational people out there than I would normally give our society credit for. Indeed, I'm beginning to believe that most people in my community will stand with me rather than against me, firmly opposed to all groups of students who exhibit any kind of malicious behavior toward another student.
So, keep your wits and keep your cool. Because through your example, your child will learn strength and determination; so long as you make sure you're on the side of rationality, acceptance, kindness, and love.