This is very long, but it rocks. It completely rocks. Here I am in conservative Western Michigan and today’s paper has this letter in it, written by students in Grand Haven High School’s World Religions class. I didn’t see the letter they’re responding to, but this is so clear and bold and confident. I hope I get some of these brave kids in my classes.
Grand Haven Tribune, February 6, 2004
To the Editor:
As students of Grand Haven High School, we all drafted our own letters responding to Mary Garzelloni’s letter to the editor on Jan. 20. We had hoped the community would recognize the passion behind our opinions with the number of letters we intended to submit. Instead, we have chosen to combine our thoughts into a single letter. The sentiment behind these words remains as strong as 30 letters.
First, we respect Mrs. Garzelloni’s opinion. We appreciate the action she has taken on her concerns. We believe, however, not all of the information she stated in her letter is correct.
Next, we feel compelled to explain that we are well-educated students. We understand what indoctrination means; our school has not indoctrinated us in any way! We are even encouraged by our teachers to question what they teach so we may better understand it.
Thirdly, the Establishment Clause of the Constitution requires all public schools to remain neutral on religion. Therefore classes like yoga and world religions are secular. When worship occurs in our school it is because a student chooses to exercise this right. We appreciate the opportunities our school provides us. We have unique courses addressing diversity and healthy living, with lessons that include real tarantulas, and snakes. Other courses warn us about STDs while encouraging abstinence, and our library houses a collection of materials that is balanced, credible, and extensive in its variety of topics. Knowledge is power! These opportunities have helped us become open-minded in this homogeneous community.
Fourth, we take opposition to the implication that Mrs. Garzelloni makes regarding the school’s encouragement of alternative lifestyles. Vegetarianism is an alternative lifestyle; homosexuality is not. As for the Gay Straight Alliance, the purpose of this group is to combat harassment and raise awareness of real injustices happening in our hallways. Our school has never encouraged anyone to become a homosexual. The school does teach tolerance of all types of people so that everyone can feel safe at school.
Mrs. Garzelloni fails to mention the many religious and public service groups students may join. First Priority, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Students Against Destructive Decisions, and Interact are only a few.
You call parents and pastors to action. What would you have them do? Remove all reptiles from schools? Segregate all homosexuals? Denounce every other religion as anti-Christian? Burn books? None of these suggestions provide a solution to sustaining a neutral and effective learning environment.
The world is changing Mrs. Garzelloni. There was a time when women could not submit letters such as you have. Our school is empowering us and preparing us for the changing world. The teaching of religious values is left to our families, and we have the right to choose whether or not we attend a secular or sectarian school
Let’s end this superior point of view some people hold over others. Let’s stop condemning people before we get to know them. Let’s be good students of many beliefs and do unto others as we would have done unto ourselves.
As concerned citizens, taxpayers, and caring members of this community, we implore responsible persons to take action and fight to keep our curriculum open-minded. Bigots beware! Students speak up! The word of tolerance is being taught in our schools.
Mary Jane Evink’s World Religions Class
Dan Baldus, Kris Wierenga, Mari Jo Koedyker, Danielle Schuitema, Jessica Moore, Kelli Holcom, Corie Schroeder, Dan Mayse, Chelsea Armstrong, Norma Bethke, Pat Shannon, Ashleigh Urbanik, Ashley Whipple, Meryl Wisner, Sam Adamczyk, Matt Weir, Derrick Churchly, Idan Gelbard, Maggie Dwyer, Tim Sheill, Mike Chambers, Kendra Bedient, Abby DeVree, Casey O’Bryan, Samantha Allore, Stephanie Balog, Jamie Lucas, Jessica Dirheimer, Brandon Brady, Tasha Gumpert, Jessica Ketner, Kathryn Haddad, Randall Schultz, Lora Whitney, Jess Sutton, Tony Melton, Janelle Nienhouse, Jeff Muskovin and Sara Tate.