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Author Topic: Secularism vrs Multiculturalism
wedge_oli
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posted 18 July 2005 12:21 PM      Profile for wedge_oli     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I had a rather heated argument with a friend the other day over the recent laws in france banning, among other things, the Hijab and other religious symbols in public...

In a society that claims to be both secular and multicultural, how far does one bend in either direction when the two principles come into conflict?

For example, I remember that my public school would always allow students with particular religious holidays to take the time off, and usually be excused from any assignments or homework. But to what extent should religious needs be catered to in schools that are technically supposed to be secular?

If a muslim girl refuses to go to gym class because it would transgress her religion, should she, in the name of diversity and multiculturalism, be allowed to never attend gym class ever?

What are the criteria for determining which relgious needs are "feasible" and which are not?

Another example would be a recent fiasco here at Mcgill where the Muslim Students Association was denied a prayer space on campus for 'lack of room.' Following an uproar generated by the school paper, the princpal sent out a mass email saying that McGill had no obligation to provide for these student since it was a 'Secular organization.'

Was she transgressing a human right to freedom of religion? Or was she simply upholding the right of all students to an objective, secular education?


From: Montreal, QC and St. Catharines Ontario | Registered: Jun 2004  |  IP: Logged
Tommy_Paine
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posted 18 July 2005 01:20 PM      Profile for Tommy_Paine     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Freedom of religion does not extend to my wallet.
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voice of the damned
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posted 18 July 2005 01:23 PM      Profile for voice of the damned     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
I had a rather heated argument with a friend the other day over the recent laws in france banning, among other things, the Hijab and other religious symbols in public...
In a society that claims to be both secular and multicultural, how far does one bend in either direction when the two principles come into conflict?


As far as I know, secularism is an official policy of the French government, whereas I don't think multiculturalism is. So I'm not quite sure it's accurate to suggest that France promotes both secularism and multiculturalism in the same way.

quote:
banning, among other things, the Hijab and other religious symbols in public...

First of all, I believe the ban only applied to state schools, not the entire public space. Secondly, I don't think it contradicts multiculturalism, because it's applied accross the board, to all religious symbols. And my understanding is that France had long banned Catholic and other Christian symbols from their schools, so it isn't a case of the rule suddenly being implemented out of fear of Muslims. Basically, Muslims are being subjected to the same rules as everyone else.

IIRC, under Mitterand Muslims were given the right to wear Hijab in the schools, even though other religions were barred from wearing their symbols(crucifixes and whatnot). So the current policy is just a revival of the old uniformity. Someone can correct me if my history is wrong here.

[ 18 July 2005: Message edited by: voice of the damned ]


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voice of the damned
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posted 18 July 2005 01:31 PM      Profile for voice of the damned     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Another example would be a recent fiasco here at Mcgill where the Muslim Students Association was denied a prayer space on campus for 'lack of room.' Following an uproar generated by the school paper, the princpal sent out a mass email saying that McGill had no obligation to provide for these student since it was a 'Secular organization.'

Was she transgressing a human right to freedom of religion? Or was she simply upholding the right of all students to an objective, secular education?


Most universities provide office space to religious groups, but usually anyone who wants to can still enter said space, whether or not they belong to the faith in question. Would this prayer room have been off limits to non-Muslims? If so, then yes I think the univeristy was quite right not to fund that(unless of course they have a general policy of providing restricted prayer space to religious groups, in which case the Muslims were victims of discrimination).


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wedge_oli
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posted 18 July 2005 01:44 PM      Profile for wedge_oli     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
[QUOTE]Originally posted by voice of the damned:
[QB]
As far as I know, secularism is an official policy of the French government, whereas I don't think multiculturalism is. So I'm not quite sure it's accurate to suggest that France promotes both secularism and multiculturalism in the same way.
[QB]

Sorry, when I mentioned a multicultural society, I meant Canada, and I only mentioned the French laws to see what, if any, application the ideas behind them would have here.

I'm not criticizing the French law, and whether or not it is discriminatory is an entire other question. What I'm interested in is:

Here in Canada, how far can we allow freedom of religion before it conflicts with our secular foundation? Is it simply a matter of dollars that sets the limit or is there some other criteria?


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Tommy_Paine
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posted 18 July 2005 01:44 PM      Profile for Tommy_Paine     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I googled the France/Hajib story to jog my memory. I seemed to remember it targeted the Hajib alone-- and maybe at one time it did-- but the law, as brought before the French assembly included all religious symbols-- except small ones.

Interestingly, only Catholic and Protestants seem to have small symbols, so we are back to square one as far as targeting the Hajib.

Public and private schools in Canada tell students what they can and can't wear on school property or at school functions.

In London, gang colours, and gang related things such as bandanas cannot be worn. But yet religious gang symbols are okay.

We don't think of religions as "gangs", probably because the Bloods and the Crips are wussies when it comes to gang violence when compared to religious gangs.

Knowhatimsayin?

And of course, Catholic schools have a uniform, for the purpose of keeping alive school girl fetish sites in the web.

Personally, I'd let kids wear what they want in schools. If there was something I didn't want them to wear, I'd make those things mandatory for the teachers over 40.

Where the line is crossed is when religious groups want state money to support thier religious dillusions.

In the case of the Muslim students at Mcgill, I would have allowed the prayer room when they bought the land and built the building for it, and the maintainance.

And of course that would stand for the other religious gan--- beliefs, too.


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Tommy_Paine
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posted 18 July 2005 01:49 PM      Profile for Tommy_Paine     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Holy crap, I spelled 'dillusions' right on the first go. It looked way wrong to me.
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wedge_oli
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posted 18 July 2005 01:56 PM      Profile for wedge_oli     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Here is the link to the McGill Daily Article

quote:
Riad Saloojee, Executive Director of CAIR-CAN, said the legal grounds for a human rights complaint lie in both provincial and federal human rights legislation, which affirm that service providers, like businesses or academic institutions, have an obligation to accommodate religious needs, up to the point of undue hardship.


quote:
McGills position is that we do not provide permanent space for any religious group and we are committed to the principles of the separation of education and the practice of religion.

Heather Munroe-Blum
McGill Principal


[ 18 July 2005: Message edited by: wedge_oli ]


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skdadl
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posted 18 July 2005 02:00 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
To me, the French policy of secularism, as they practise it, is a misreading of classical democratic theory, which rests instead on the separation of church and state.

To raise "secularism" to a state practice is to violate the separation of church and state.

Classical democratic theory would guarantee any moderate expression of cultural or religious identity / particularity in public institutions, including the school system.

A genuinely public school system should not be teaching cultural or religious particularity, but it should not be denying or attempting to obliterate it either.

If it is sometimes hard to pin down a fuzzy term like "moderate," in practice some societies have shown that the distinctions can be made practically. In Canada, no one is allowed to interfere with what you are wearing on your head, or why, unless you constitute yourself a dangerous religious minority of one and put a poisonous predator up there.

It pains me that the culture that produced the greatest of the classical thinkers about democracy and the rights of humankind, the French, should now find it so hard to grasp that their version of secularism is anti-democratic, and that the (later) American notion of the separation of church and state is a truer reflection of C17-C18 French thought than is their own current practice.

But there you go. History ... keeps on keeping on. And the Americans are hardly very good, these days, at defending their own best accomplishments.


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voice of the damned
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posted 18 July 2005 02:29 PM      Profile for voice of the damned     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
It pains me that the culture that produced the greatest of the classical thinkers about democracy and the rights of humankind, the French, should now find it so hard to grasp that their version of secularism is anti-democratic, and that the (later) American notion of the separation of church and state is a truer reflection of C17-C18 French thought than is their own current practice.


Valid observations, skdadl. However, unlike the French, the 18th Century Americans didn't have the forces of Catholic reaction constantly trying to regain their former control over the state. So perhaps they felt they could be a bit more lenient in that regard.

I believe that even John Locke, the father of liberalism, thought that Catholicism should be suppressed.


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skdadl
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posted 18 July 2005 02:35 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
votd, I will admit that I pick and choose among the classical thinkers that I like.

Locke is such a sweetheart, and I didn't know that about him, but ... tant pis, eh?

Certainly, my favourite mid-C18 Frenchies knew all about the Catholic church, were often horrified by it, but would never have fallen for an enforced policy of "secularism."


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Mr. Magoo
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posted 18 July 2005 02:37 PM      Profile for Mr. Magoo   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Ryerson had a similar flap a few years back when it refused to provide a space for worship. If I recall correctly, they had at one time allowed free use of a few rooms, which could include using them for worship, but they wouldn't expand those rooms nor make any others dedicated; sort of an "as is" policy with regard to facilities.

On the other hand, our indoor pool used to be curtained off for two hours every week so that female Muslim students could swim. The whole facility would be blocked off, and of course no men could swim at that time, lest they see a Muslim woman in a bathing suit.

Odd.


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bigcitygal
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posted 18 July 2005 03:11 PM      Profile for bigcitygal     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Interesting thread. Some thoughts.

* * *
wedge said:
What are the criteria for determining which relgious needs are "feasible" and which are not?

Here in Canada, how far can we allow freedom of religion before it conflicts with our secular foundation? Is it simply a matter of dollars that sets the limit or is there some other criteria?
* * *

1. Let's look at the assumptions in the question: "How far can WE allow freedom of religion before it conflicts with OUR secular foundation?" (I added the emphasis).
Who is "We"? Anglo Canadians? The ruling class? "Nice" progressives who think that multi-culti policy is fine but it has _gone__too__far?

2. As a non-religious person I've never liked that private religious schools, which are not open to everyone by definition (and that's fine with me), get government monies. I feel that either all private religious schools get funding or none should. The only ones that do, as far as I know, are Catholic schools and Jewish schools.

3. The 2 examples given are about Muslims. Interesting. One way of framining the general Canadian multicultural issue is "We had a fine society until all you poc came in and made us have to learn about other cultures and religions." I'm getting shade of that in this dicussion. So Muslim religious symbols are larger than the tiny crucifix that some Christians wear. So?

4. Observant Muslims need to pray several times a day, which is a departure from the ways that Christians and Jews pray. Asking for space for this is not unreasonable. Certainly accepting tuition cheques from Muslim students was not a problem for the administration was it?

5. Having space for "Muslims only" should not bother any of us who are non-Muslim. There are many occasions that groups want to be with people in their own community. The thread in anti-racism about babble and race, as well as the one that Heph began about the Black lesbian who committed suicide address these issues very well. (sorry I don't have the links or the full names of the threads.)

6. The money question is a red herring. I pay for lots of services via taxation that I will never benefit from: public education (I have no plans for children), roads (I don't own a car and don't plan to), community centres (I rarely utilize them), libraries (ditto, for shame I know!). I could go on. And, to be clear, I'm fine to keep paying, as all those services benefit society, and that's the kind of society that I want to live in.


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miles
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posted 18 July 2005 03:15 PM      Profile for miles     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
bigcitygal You wrote that:
quote:
2. As a non-religious person I've never liked that private religious schools, which are not open to everyone by definition (and that's fine with me), get government monies. I feel that either all private religious schools get funding or none should. The only ones that do, as far as I know, are Catholic schools and Jewish schools.

That is not accurate across Canada. In fact in many provinces including Ontario no Jewish Day School gets any provincial money. For that matter it is better put that the only religion that receives public funds is the Catholic system. Prior to 1984 they only got funding to the end of grade 8 since 1984 they get full funding.

If we are truly going to remove religion from "Government" then a logical first step would be the removal of the Lord's Prayer from being read at the beginning of every session day at the Ontario Legislature. Each day the Speaker reads the Lord's Prayer.


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wedge_oli
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posted 18 July 2005 04:06 PM      Profile for wedge_oli     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by bigcitygal:
Interesting thread. Some thoughts.


1. Let's look at the assumptions in the question: "How far can WE allow freedom of religion before it conflicts with OUR secular foundation?" (I added the emphasis).
Who is "We"? Anglo Canadians? The ruling class? "Nice" progressives who think that multi-culti policy is fine but it has _gone__too__far?
.


*sigh* I used the term 'We' to emphasize US, as the people living here in CANADA as opposed to FRANCE (which had been confused in an earlier post), not to push some hidden agenda.

quote:
3. The 2 examples given are about Muslims. Interesting. One way of framining the general Canadian multicultural issue is "We had a fine society until all you poc came in and made us have to learn about other cultures and religions."

In no way is this a question limited to Islam, those were simply the first two examples that came to mind. There are tons of examples where both Judaism and Christianity encounter the same situations.

quote:
6. The money question is a red herring. I pay for lots of services via taxation that I will never benefit from: public education (I have no plans for children), roads (I don't own a car and don't plan to), community centres (I rarely utilize them), libraries (ditto, for shame I know!). I could go on. And, to be clear, I'm fine to keep paying, as all those services benefit society, and that's the kind of society that I want to live in.

The question isn't whether having a muslim prayer space would 'benefit society' or not. Rather, my question is whether, by not providing the space, the university is breaching human rights.

I'm not sure I understand why you oppose funding for religious schools yet you defend funding for religious spaces when both are serving exactly the same purpose.


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Fed
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posted 18 July 2005 04:10 PM      Profile for Fed        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I don't like shoving stuff down people's throats, including enforced non-religiousness.

So I am of the "let them all do whatever they want to do" school of thought. I favour the voucher system for school funding. You can direct your taxes to whatever school you want to support, be it Jewish, Muslim, Catholic---or pagan, or non-religious.

And you can wear all or any hijabs, caftans, skullcaps, turbans, or whatever, anywhere and anytime you want to. (Or, frankly, nothing at all---if you've got the guts to be a nudist at 40 below, more power to you.)


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lagatta
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posted 18 July 2005 04:24 PM      Profile for lagatta     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Many French people would take to the barricades over that "voucher" nonsense - defending secular State schools is an important value in France.

My only problem with religious symbols in state schools is the extent to which they may become, as Tommy Paine said, "gang colours", that is, when pupils who refuse to wear them are singled out by fundamentalists in their "own" community for refusing to toe the line, and harassed or worse, subjected to threats and violence. This has happened in schools in tough suburbs and neighbourhoods in France.

As for gym class, no pupil should be allowed to refuse either gym or more important, biology and sex education, but at the same time gym classes should be sensitive to questions of modesty, which are NOT restricted to practising Muslims or any other observant religious group. At schools here, negotiations with pupils and their families resulted in the pupils having the right to wear more concealing gym clothing. I don't believe swimming classes were co-ed any way at the school.

I think it is important to understand the many revolutions throughout the 18th and 19th Century in France to understand how secularism developed there as a civic virtue - why should it be the same secularism as in pre-revolutionary thought? That is not a historical approach to the development of ideologies.


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belva
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posted 18 July 2005 05:40 PM      Profile for belva     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by lagatta:
As for gym class, no pupil should be allowed to refuse either gym or more important, biology and sex education, but at the same time gym classes should be sensitive to questions of modesty . . .

I do not know about gym class in Canada or in France but in the U.S., both in public & in private schools, when I was a teenager, & still today in many schools, phys ed classes are sheer terror for unathletic youngsters. They are often embarrassed by teachers (who frequently work as coaches of the school's interscholastic teams) and humiliated by the "jocks". Girls can be as nasty about this as boys but it seems much more an accepted pratice among boys. I have heard so many gay men (& more than a few straight men) tell horrific tales about high school gym classes because they lacked abilities or skills. In this country, we need to learn more tolerance of physical differences and abilities as well as addressing religious tolerance. (As expected, we are hearing of increased intolerance of Arab-American students, thanks to King George & his xenophobia!)


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Fed
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posted 18 July 2005 05:52 PM      Profile for Fed        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Risking some minor thread drift...

At my High School the Grade 12 phys. ed. theme was "sports for life." So it introduced us to sports one could play well into middle age---I remember being introduced to curling and square dancing, for example. Just a wee bit o'thoughtfulness by the phys. ed. staff could eliminate the "jock" bullying factor.


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puzzlic
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posted 18 July 2005 11:07 PM      Profile for puzzlic     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I recently met a group of progressive, feminist international human rights lawyers. Two of them, whose work I otherwise respect, supported the anti-hijab law. I was gobsmacked.

The law, they said, applies to teachers and students in public schools, and also to all government employees. It prohibits "ostentatious" religious symbols, e.g. hijabs, Sikh turbans, yarmulkes, and "large crosses", but does not not apply to non-ostentatious symbols, that is, small crosses. (I don't know whether the law applies to Sikh or devout Muslim men's beards.) So that leaves Christians as the only ones who can wear their symbols in French "secular" schools. These lawyers confirmed that the real motivation behind this law (based on the public and parliamentary debate around its passage) was to ban the hijab, and that the other religious symbols were banned just to be even-handed.

These two lawyers supported the hijab because (as lagatta points out) some women's and girls' families might be forcing them to wear them.

I don't doubt this. Non-Muslim husbands or families might dictate what "their" women and girls wear, too. I think Hailey, for example, has had similar experiences. For that matter, when I was a kid, my parents often forced me to wear skirts when I didn't like them. That's no reason to ban skirts, though. Many Muslim women freely choose to wear the hijab (at least insofar as anyone else's clothing is freely chosen). Why not just prohibit coercion, and let women wear what they want? Why is it more of a problem to force a woman to wear hijab than to force her to wear a skirt?

If a woman is being dominated by her fundamentalist family, how exactly does it help her to exclude her from education and limit her job options??

Why is it so often women who have to bear the burden of religious or national symbolism -- either by being forced to wear the hijab, or being forced to remove it?

[ 18 July 2005: Message edited by: puzzlic ]


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lagatta
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posted 18 July 2005 11:39 PM      Profile for lagatta     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
puzzlic, a majority of the leftist/progressive women I know in France (though not all) INCLUDING those of Arab and/or Muslim family backgrounds, also agree with the law banning the hijab among pupils in state schools. I don't know what they would say about teachers or civil servants. They see the hijab as a symbol of the oppression of women. The grills of Arab and/or Muslim backgrounds are the most vehement about this.

Actually, I wasn't only talking about family pressure, but about literal "gang" pressure in tough housing estates and neighbourhoods. Girls have been subjected to beatings and gang rapes for appearing wanton. There was an important movement among young immigrant women a couple of years ago to denounce this, "Ni putes, ni soumises".

As for Belva's thread drift about gym class, I wholeheartedly agree. I lived in terror of gym class.


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salaam
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posted 19 July 2005 10:48 AM      Profile for salaam     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Being "leftist/progressive" doesn't mean being right. Muslim or ex-Muslim women lashing out at hijab-wearing Muslim women for any abuse they experienced in their communities doesn't make them right either. And I'm sure you know Arab background has nothing to do with the hijab.

The way I see it, the logic behind banning women who wear a hijab from public education is no different than the logic behind banning women who don't wear a hijab from public spaces. Its extremist and cruel.


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v michel
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posted 19 July 2005 11:20 AM      Profile for v michel     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by puzzlic:
IThese two lawyers supported the hijab because (as lagatta points out) some women's and girls' families might be forcing them to wear them.

If a woman is being dominated by her fundamentalist family, how exactly does it help her to exclude her from education and limit her job options??


quote:
Originally posted by lagatta:
My only problem with religious symbols in state schools is the extent to which they may become, as Tommy Paine said, "gang colours", that is, when pupils who refuse to wear them are singled out by fundamentalists in their "own" community for refusing to toe the line, and harassed or worse, subjected to threats and violence.

Some problems are beyond the schools' abilities to solve, and I think we're on this territory now.

If harassment and violence are problems, take them at face value and confront them. It is neither possible nor desirable to do an end-run around the problem by trying to eliminate the symbol that causes the conflict. The symbols exist outside of the school, the conflict exists outside of the school, and it will seep into the school no matter what.

I favor letting students wear whatever symbols they want, religious or no, oppressive or no. As others have pointed out above, banning will fuel conflict in the home environment. It will cause arguments and alienation and result in the most vulnerable members of the community staying home from school.

I feel strongly that school is not the place for social statements by boards or administrators. School is the place for educating children of all ages, religions, and social classes equally, to the highest possible standard. That would be revolutionary enough if it were achieved.

I would rather have every single one of my values openly flouted and mocked than see one single girl staying home from school because it conflicts with her faith. I would rather see every adult in the school shocked and offended than see one girl decline an education.

If the aim is to eliminate oppressive symbols worn by students, it would be infinitely more effective to teach wearers of the sybols to think critically than to ban the symbols outright. Plus you'd get the added bonus of the wearers of the symbols making that decision themselves, rather than a school administrator from another culture making it on their behalf, which I think would impart some confidence that the decision is the right one.


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skdadl
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posted 19 July 2005 11:33 AM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
vmichel, I support that every word of the way. Very well put.
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v michel
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posted 19 July 2005 11:38 AM      Profile for v michel     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Thanks skdadl! It's a subject that gets my hackles up as you can see
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salaam
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posted 19 July 2005 11:48 AM      Profile for salaam     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I wish I could be that thoughtful when my hackles are up. That was great, vmichel.

[ 19 July 2005: Message edited by: salaam ]


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salaam
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posted 19 July 2005 11:48 AM      Profile for salaam     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
[sent twice somehow]

[ 19 July 2005: Message edited by: salaam ]


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puzzlic
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posted 19 July 2005 01:41 PM      Profile for puzzlic     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Me three. Way to go, vmichel.
From: it's too damn hot | Registered: Jun 2005  |  IP: Logged

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