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Peggy McCracken


By Peggy McCracken

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Golden Rule poster

puts teacher on spot

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Who could dispute the truth of that Golden Rule, which is found in the scriptures of nearly every religion? Is it likely to warp the mind of a first grader?

Patricia Matthews doesn't think so, and she's distressed that she may have to take a poster with the verse on it off the wall in her Austin Elementary School classroom because it has the Bible reference, "Luke 6:31."

How about a big, yellow smiley face with this bit of wisdom: " Smile, God loves you." Yes, she's been ordered to remove that from her wall as well. An impending inspection by officials with the Texas Education Agency makes the speedy removal crucial, because religious instruction in public schools is prohibited.

"Public schools may not provide religious instruction, but they may teach about religion, including the Bible or other scripture..." say the guidelines, which are based on Supreme Court decisions and state and federal education codes.

But another guideline by the federal education secretary seems to permit use of the Golden Rule: "Though schools must be neutral with respect to religion, they may play an active role with respect to teaching civic values and virtue, and the moral code that holds us together as a community. The fact that some of these values are held also by religions does not make it unlawful to teach them in school."

"I think it is our God-given right to choose whom we serve," said Matthews. "Your life is supposed to reflect what you say you are, no matter what your job capacity is."

Increasingly her freedom to put up a manger scene, discuss God's creation and perform dramas based on scripture has been eroded. Not only does she feel oppressed, she senses that the students feel less freedom to pray before meals and express their faith, though the law expressly permit them to do so.

"I think everything that's happening is coming from Satan, and he works through people just like the Holy Spirit works through people" Matthews said. "I choose to serve the Lord Jesus. I pray that my life reflects who I say I am, because if it doesn't, I am living a lie. My job description shouldn't dictate my beliefs," she said.

She believes God placed her at Austin for a specific reason. She feels that her students need God's touch in their young lives more now than ever, because they come from homes split by divorce, shattered by drugs and alcohol, set adrift by parents sent to prison.

Several teachers and parents meet in Matthews' classroom early Wednesday mornings to pray for needs in the children's lives; in their own lives; and in the community.

"If we were to join together in unity and prayer for one another, we would all be blessed, I believe," she said, quoting 1 Chronicles 7:14: "If my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."

Parents whose children experienced Matthews' teaching and love during that all-important first school year come and talk to her about their children; what they were taught; things Matthews did to enhance, not just their education, but their lives.

"I don't want to deny these children that same opportunity, and I feel like we are moving in that direction," she said.

Although public schools may teach about religious holidays, including their religious aspects, and may celebrate the secular aspects of holidays, schools may not observe holidays as religious events or promote such observance by students, according to federal guidelines.

Matthews said her class used to go to the nursing home to perform a Christmas pageant. "We can't do that anymore, because that's about the Lord," she said. She has also had her celebrations of Black History Month and Cinco de Mayo curtailed because she taught not only about their music, culture, food and dress, but also about their religion.

"I was told if I say the word, "God," I have to talk about the other religions too," she said.

Despite what she sees as oppression, Matthews said she feels blessed within the school system. "I just want to make a difference in the lives of the children that are placed in my care," she said. "If I can't tell them the truth, I am not going to lie to them. They ask me a question and I answer them."

Her reward is seeing her students on the right track, making use of the things she taught them. Parents have not complained about Matthews' Christian teachings, at least not to her face. And many send her encouraging notes and gifts to show their appreciation.

It was her own first grade teacher who inspired Matthews to choose a teaching career. "She was a firm disciplinarian, but full of love and cheer, and she drew a line between the time to be serious and the time to play. She was more like a parent. Since that time everything I have done is to be the best teacher I could be. Not to gain a lot of honor, but just to touch lives," she said.

Matthews also touches lives through her church, Harvest Fellowship in Monahans, and she can envision herself in the full-time ministry should her career path take a turn. Wherever she goes, she plans to remain faithful, because:

"If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you." Joshua 24:20, NIV

Editor's Note: Peggy McCracken is the Enterprise business manager and webmaster. Contact her at .

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