I had an awkward experience in class today. Here's the background. The 3rd graders were working on a poster for Charlotte's Web. All they needed to do was write a quote and accompany it with an illustration. I was just monitoring their tables to make sure that they are staying on task. There seemed to be some minor conflict at one of the tables. So, I hovered on over...
One of the students was complaining, "Mr. Auto. He doesn't believe in god." My reply was "So what? Let him believe what he wants to." The student that was accused asks me, "Mr. Auto...? Do you believe in god?" I was extremely hesitant in answering that question. To be clear, I never gave him an answer. I just told him that I can't answer that question. Unfortunately, that made him even more curious. Now, he was begging me to tell him. "Please, Mr. Auto? Tell me. Why can't you tell me?" In the end, I told him that I would give him an answer about whether I can tell him whether I believe in god. Seriously. He sees that I take notes of my observations in class, so he even insisted several times that I write a personal reminder since the next time that I will see him is on Wednesday. He watched me write it. Here is what it reads: "On Wednesday, Oct. 12 2011, I will tell [undisclosed student name] whether I will answer his question about whether I believe in god." He was giggling after every other word that I wrote. I found that interesting. Oh well... The joke's on him because I'm just going to tell him that I won't give him an answer :-P.
Going back to how I hesitated in answering his question, I wasn't hesitating because I didn't know what my answer was. My position is clear and firm. I classify myself as an apathetic agnostic (i.e. I don't know whether a god exists and I don't care). I hesitated because I have no idea what his parents think. I don't know how they desire to raise him. If I told him that I didn't know whether a god exists and I don't care, the worst case scenario is that out of his admiration for me, he starts copying my lack of religious beliefs. Further, let's say his parents do believe in god. Now, they'll be pissed that I instilled this spirit of godlessness into their child. In the end, I basically hesitated for the sake of practicality. I don't want his parents coming after me in case we are in disagreement.
Also, especially with children, word travels fast. Even if I wouldn't be in disagreement with his parents, he could tell other students who would tell their parents. And, it could so happen that THOSE parents ARE believers in god. So now, they might think I'm putting THEIR children at risk. So yea... while teaching, all in the name of practicality, I keep information pertaining to religion to myself.
I gotta be honest. If I was only visiting this school for one day and he approached me with that question, I would totally tell him what my view was. I would tell him in order to give him a different perspective to consider and because I prefer to be honest, which includes stating what my views actually are.
Anyway, what do you think? Under any circumstances at all, would you express your religious beliefs to a 3rd grade student who asked you whether you believe in god?