Would this 4th grade teacher's behavior put you on alert?

School has begun again, and with it comes the usual parental angst over whether this year’s experience will be a successful one.

On the third day of my son’s 4th grade class, the teacher told the kids they’d do an “experiment” (not sure if she said “science” experiment or not). She had them squeeze toothpaste out of a tube, then try to put it back in, which of course they couldn’t. They talked a little about why, but my son came home not being able to explain it (and he is a very articulate young scientist).

Then she said there was a moral: once you say something, you can never un-say it. So you should be careful what you say.

Before you read the spoiler, give some thought to the question: does this activity bode well for the type of education my son will receive over the next year?

Now read the spoiler and see if it changes your feelings any.

She is the widow of a prominent evangelical minister and on day two she shared with the class that her favorite book is “the Holy Bible.”

As for my reaction, I’m doing my best to withhold judment until I see more of the class operations. But I’m paying attention. And I’d be curious if other Dopers would feel a faint stirring of concern. Or am I too paranoid?

I’d be leery.

If she really likes the bible, fine. She should know that she has a curriculum to follow, and I’m sure that reading the bible isn’t part of it. Besides, she seems to me to be the kind of person that is awed by such simple statements as “You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.”

You seldom hear about the (I’m assuming majority) of evangelical ministers that are as pious as they seem to be, it’s the ones that get arrested that catch ones eye.

I’m sure that she’s a good teacher, but I would wonder what she’s teaching that isn’t on the approved curriculum.

Sounds like a reasonable analogy to me… 4th grade kids are starting to learn that their skill with language can be used to cause hurt in a calculated manner.

Telling 'em that words can’t be called back is a useful lesson IMO. It wasn’t a science experiment, but she may have explained that better.

If she’d shown the toothpaste “burning in the pits of hell” for coming out of the tube, then you’re right to be worried, but I think you’re looking for outrage where there isn’t any.

I’m not too worried about the ‘experiment.’ I’ll admit I’d be concerned if she called it a “science” experiment, but you’re not sure that’s what she used.

It could be an effective lesson, I think, for some fourth graders.

As for being concerned that her favorite book is the Holy Bible, would you feel better if she said she spent her days reading the National Enquirer, instead?

I’d be keeping a quietly watchful eye on the situation.

Not alarmed, but alert.

You’re obviously uncomfortable with both the methods and the background of the woman who your child is learning from. It might be nothing more than an allegorical teaching method (though, like you, I’d have preferred my child to know *why the toothpaste couldn’t go back) combined with an honest answer to a simple question.

There’s an old saying that someone will know better than I do, Twice is co-incidence, three times is a trend (?)

It’s a great thing that you talk about school and discuss what happened during the day, carry on with that and perhaps document anything else that worries you for discussion with the Principal or PTA.
Only if you feel that kind of escalation is warranted, of course.
*Oh alright, I want to know why the toothpaste wouldn’t go back, the scientific principle involved, tell me tell me tell me!

So her favourite book’s the Bible. So what? So she’s the widow of a minister. So what? America’s a free country. She’s got to work to eat, just like you. Take a look at yourself in the mirror: are you prejudiced againt Christians?

IMHO you should keep an eye on what she’s teaching your child in just the same way as you do with each and every one of your child’s teachers. No more and no less.

Maybe she figures the, hands on, messiness of the toothpaste thing will create an indelible memory of the associated message. Not a bad ploy. The bible statement records a minor tweak on my caution meter and I’d be alert for more of this.
As for being “predjudice” toward christians, I certainly detest prosletizing and it has absolutely no place in our public school system.

On the whole, I think that an elementary-level public schoolteacher’s religious preferences should be shared with her charges with the same frequency and detail that should be used to describe her sexual habits and attitudes to the class. However, I don’t see any necessary connection between the toothpaste lesson and her favorite book. Moreover, it is beneficial – perhaps even necessary – for students your son’s age to see their teachers as whole people, so it’s a poor educator who leaves a large percentage of herself at the door.

I don’t know the circumstances – if was she asked the name of her favorite book, if such preferences were relevant at the time, if she presented the information modestly or belligerently, or a hundred other things that would affect my perception of the matter. At this point, all you can say is, she shared some personal information with her students.

If she habitually refers to her Bible as a source of wisdom and moral guidance and factual information, overtly or not, you’ll have a concern worth raising. As it stands, you and your son can have a talk about how religious belief can influence a person’s, even a teacher’s, words and actions, and how it might go too far, and how it might sometimes even be a good thing, and how it’s important to extract from an experience only that wisdom that is in it, and no more.

I’m a little confused. What does the toothpaste exercise have to do with Christianity? It seems like a perfectly reasonable activity for fourth graders. One of the things you learn in a college level speech communication course is that you can’t take something back once you say it. ie. you can’t unring a bell.


I wonder if some of the kids now think that words will clean your teeth, as well.

I’m with MGibson. The toothpaste activity seems fine and a good lesson for kids to learn.

If they were talking about favorite books and she mentioned that her favorite book was the Bible, I don’t have a problem with it. If she volunteered the information, that’s a little weirder.

Right now I wouldn’t sweat it. Good teachers come in all shapes, sizes and religions, and as long as she doesn’t prostelytize in class, what’s the harm?

Hey, nice range of thoughts there! Now that I’ve done my best to keep quiet on extra background/my own perceptions, let me fill you in a bit.

originally posted by Otakoloki:

I asked myself that question, although the analogy I came up with was “Audobon Field Guide” not National Enquirer. And I decided that she should be free to (a) like the Bible best; and (b) be honest. After all, my son answered the question with “Northern Lights” (which is a rather anti-
Christian book) and I’m not feeling as though HIS expression should be curtailed.

Originally posted by maggenpye:

I have no desire to give this woman a hard time. I’m sure she is a decent person, but more than that, she was widowed suddenly less than a year ago. Unless she was doing something flat-out harmful, only a truly hateful person would want to give her a hard time under these circumstances. Anything I say – if I should feel it necessary to comment at all – will be between me and the teacher.

Originally posted by Quartz:

I don’t live in America, though. Because I live in a Moslem country, the attitudes and behavior of evangelical Christians who have moved here tend to be particularly … stark. For example, my friend was talking to her neighbor, an evangelical, about how long she thought she’d stay in Egypt. Her answer? “Until the last Moslem is converted to the word of Jesus.” That’s the tradition from which my son’s teacher comes. (Not to put words into the mouth of the teacher; I don’t know that she personally would answer a question that way. But there is good reason, given the nature of the church her husband built into an awesome Christian force here in Cairo, to believe she would indeed share that sentiment.)

Am I prejudiced against Christians? Well, since I was raised as a Christian and I married into an exceedingly Christian family (I got ministers all over the place on my husband’s side of the family) I try very hard to stay balanced in my view of religious behavior. Most people are religious. I’m not. I try, with varying degrees of success, not to let that bother me. Anyway, Quartz, don’t take me to task for a crime I haven’t committed. Why do you think I asked for input? Lest you think it was “for the hoped-for joy of seeing my own preconceived notions reinforced,” it was not. It was because I find the SDMB to be a wonderful place to get a variety of viewpoints and do some healthy reality-testing. If I were merely prejudiced, I’d just be pissed off at the teacher, not trying to gain perspective.

Originally posted by** A.R.Cane:**

Well, here is where we truly get to the heart of the matter. This is not a public school (my son would not be permitted, by law, to attend an Egyptian public school if he wanted to). It is a private school catering to expatriates, although the school is about 1/3 Egyptian. As a private school, they can do pretty much what they want, as long as the parents don’t start mass withdrawals of the students. In years past, the school went through a VERY fundie phase. They didn’t celebrate Halloween for a few years (they substituted a “fall festival”) because, you know, Halloween is pagan and all that.

My son’s teacher was almost certainly a teacher at the school during that time, not that this proves anything one way or the other.

Originally posted by The King of Soup:

Maybe there is no connection between toothpaste and her favorite book. My fear is that she is teaching like a Sunday-school teacher, not an academic teacher. Of course, I have no problem with the toothpaste analogy per se. The point is well taken and teaching kids to think metaphorically is appropriate. But I got the sense she TOLD the children what the “moral” was. I worry that her primary goal as a teacher is not to teach the three Rs, but to instill values. In my most extreme moments, I find myself thinking: Thanks, lady, but instilling values (beyond the routine schoolyard stuff that inevitably comes up) is MY job. You want to teach Sunday school, you know where the church is.

As to the circumstances, she gave the students a form to fill out on the first day of school. It included a question “what is your favorite book?” On day 2, she passed out a copy of the form with her own answers.

As a final note, she has a reputation as a good teacher. And my son’s 3rd grade teacher, who I had great respect for, recommended that my son be placed with her. (She can’t spell or punctuate, though. Her form, which asked how many “brother’s and sister’s” each student had, said she felt “priviledged” to teach the class. Yikes. That’s a whole separate issue.)

I think the toothpaste sounds like a fun activity – it’s messy and unusual in the sense that they use toothpaste every day with the understanding that you never squeeze it all out of the tube at once. It reminds me of that chapter in the Ramona books where Ramona gives a little girl a box of Kleenex as a gift, because she thinks it will be a thrill to pull them all out in one sitting.

It would be alarming if the lesson were “once the stain of original sin is removed, you can’t put it back” but “thinking before you speak” is generally regarded as a good thing for children (or anyone) to ponder.

In terms of presentation, it’s hard to judge without having been in the classroom, I can honestly imagine different scenarios that I would react differently to.

The King of Soup has a lot of good points about the Bible comment, it’s so tied up in context.

Sorry, I thought you were still in Hawaii.

Okay, now she’s losing me. :slight_smile:

Originally posted by A.R. Cane:

::awards points to A.R. Cane for attention to detail::

Wow, I’m impressed. I wouldn’t have expected anyone to remember that. Yup, I’m only in Hawaii during summers – school years are spent in Egypt.

Uh, shouldn’t that be “loosing”? :wink:

Just wanted to add that it sounds as tho you already have a really good and open relationship with your kid. By 4th grade, you should be able to communicate intelligently on just about any conceivable issue that interests him or that you consider important. So this could be an opportunity to talk/work with him about the need to work with/for people who may have different beliefs/cultures than him, how and when to express his beliefs and when to keep silence, how to deal with authority figures he disagrees with, etc. Have a fun year!

On the one hand, I can see where you’re coming from. On the other hand, teachers instill values all of the time. “Share,” “don’t hit,” “don’t call names,” “respect others”—these are all simple examples of important values that teachers impart to their students. It’s hard to imagine teaching children without consciously or unconsciously giving at least some attention to values.

Fourth grade is when jockeying for social position gets intense. Saying nasty things about other students is often unfortunately part of this. Dealing with crap like this takes time away from a teacher being able to focus on academics. Doing a memorable lesson at the beginning of the year about choosing your words carefully could help nip that in the bud.

Personally, I kind of like what she did. It’s an interesting experiment that ties a concrete, everyday activity to an abstract, new concept. It takes them from something they understand (toothpaste) to something they’re just learning (can’t un-ring a bell). Like it or love it, a teacher’s job isn’t all teaching – sometimes it’s social control, or just plain babysitting. Instilling these kinds of values, or at least exposing the kids to them, can help them to understand how a mature world operates and how they can operate within it. That makes them better adjusted little hellions, and makes the job of the teacher a bit easier.

Now of course, that all applies only to the incident described in the OP. If she starts giving science lessons on the Crucifixion, then there’s something to worry about. Instilling secular values is one thing – instilling the Commandments, word for word, is another altogether.

I don’t blame you for being leery - we live in the Bible belt here, and it does put one on guard.

But I wonder if that specific exercise didn’t have something to do with kids’ social skills at that age. A lot of books have been published in the last few years regarding girls’ socialization, the cliques and cruelty that transpire. Maybe she’s trying to create an atmosphere of kindness by teaching children to practice some self-control.

Sharing her favorite book in the same way they shared theirs seems like a nice gesture. People are always asking kids nosy questions without offering their own answers.