Monday, October 3, 2011

Teacher Punished For Banning Disruptive Behavior

The Los Angeles Times said that a teacher punished students for saying ‘Bless You’ in class. In reality, Vacaville, California high school teacher Steve Cuckovich disciplined students by deducting points for disrupting class. The disruption would occur whenever someone sneezed, prompting numerous students to say “Bless you,” and the sneezer thanking each one of them individually, taking considerable class time away from learning.

Students complained about the points, as if they were being punished for being polite. Parents complained about the infringement on religious freedom. According to the Times, one parent said, “First the Pledge of Allegiance, now preventing a kid from saying 'Bless you?'" Fox News complained and made a spectacle of Cuckovich.

Fortunately, he was not really punished for his actions, which were an appropriate response to disruptive behavior. But he was “punished” in the sense that he was forced to justify his actions and be subjected to harassment and ridicule.

Parents, Christians, Fox News, Everyone, take a step back!
First, a single “Bless You,” “Gesundheit,” or “Salud” would be sufficient.

More importantly, this is not about religious freedom in the first place and it is pathetic that parents would try to make it so. Several students in Cuckovich’s class said that the “bless yous” were a deliberate and provocative disruption by students. Many had been playing the same game since middle school, getting the same laughs and the same teacher frustration.

However, let’s assume that it was about religious freedom, that Cuckovich was suppressing students’ “right” to bless their peers. Could his banning of the practice really be seen as an infringement on students’ rights?

As soon as “bless you” is reclaimed as a religious statement (which etymologically it is), instead of retaining its common use as the figurative equivalent of “Gesundheit,” or “Salud,” then it truly would have no place in the public schools, and those who said “bless you” could be seen as violating the rights of non-Christians and atheists, who might be offended by the term.

Frankly, as a scientist, I find the all the above terms troublesome. Sneezes do not necessarily have anything to do with demons, heart stoppage or impending infection. People sneeze for numerous reasons, most of which are connected to the need to rid the nose of bothersome substances. These substances could be germs, dust, toxins, pollen, or even aromas. However, there is nothing anyone can say that will make the sneezing stop or make the sneezer healthier or holier.

Nevertheless, trying to teach people to unlearn a habit like saying “bless you” is not a fight I’m interested in fighting as a teacher. To most people, it is just a polite thing to say and they say it without thinking and without religious intent, in much the same way they say “Adios” without considering its religious implications.

However, people need to let teachers do their jobs, including holding children accountable for disruptive behavior. (And it wouldn’t hurt if some parents learned to do this, too).

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