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A Miscellany 192
A Letter to Concerned Parents
Who Have Searched my Name on Google

by: Will Petillo

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As of now, I am training for a job in middle/high school teaching. On a number of occasions, I have been told by education professors that it is a very bad idea to have anything about oneself posted on the internet that could cause concern among parents or community members because some of them will find it. Anything expressing one’s political and religious views has been described to me as particularly dangerous because parents who disagree with a teacher’s opinions may become suspicious that the teacher is indoctrinating or corrupting their children either explicitly (preaching) or implicitly (expressing values associated with a particular belief system). I have been posting essays on this website on a semi-regular basis for a few years now—well before I had any aspirations to teaching. At this point, any attempt to remove the essays would be futile—apart from creating large amounts of unnecessary work for the administrator of this site, I know that at least one of my agnostic-themed works has been extensively quoted at least once on an unrelated message board, which I stumbled upon randomly, so I don’t know how much I would have to hunt down. Even if it were possible, I would not want to remove anything I have posted here and I know enough about educational law to be close to certain that I don’t have to. I don’t believe anything I have written has been particularly inflammatory, but just for the sake of preventing potential angry telephone calls—and if you are going to call, please call me first, not the principal—I write the following letter to defend myself and to show that I am not a threat.

Rest assured, any concerned parents out there who are reading this, just because I have opinions about religion does not mean that I will be preaching those beliefs to your kids. Although I am firm in my beliefs, I am not militant about them in the slightest—in other words, I take my agnosticism sincerely, but not seriously. It does not bother me when I hear kids express their religious faith, it does not bother me when they say that all other religions are false, it would not even bother me to the point where I would feel a need to react if I heard a student make disparaging remarks about atheists or agnostics. To say that I am absolutely neutral about everything, however, would be dishonest. The following are two ideas relating to religion that I will defend. If you have no objections to these two ideas, then you should have no objections to me.

  1. Tolerate people with different beliefs. Although some communities are relatively homogenous, the U.S. is very pluralistic with regards to religion. The observable fact that many people believe different things does not necessarily mean that no one can claim to know the Truth, but it does mean that, if we are going to get along, we need to know how to disagree without being disagreeable. I believe that it is crucially important that we get along in part because I have studied times of persecution and am aware of the terrible and pointless suffering that intolerance can bring. Even if I did not believe in tolerance, I work for the government and since it is in any government’s interest that its own people get along (though it is sometimes advantageous if they don’t get along with people in other countries), it is therefore also in my interest.
  2. Maintain a respect for evidence. I believe that it is important for all students to learn the importance of and gain an ability to make informed arguments. Not only is gaining a respect for evidence valuable for personal enrichment, it is also necessary in all legitimate academic disciplines—and a college education in one of these is necessary for most high-paying lines of work. For those who wish to know what I mean by “a respect for evidence,” look up my Philosophic Method (on this site, as well as a few other places), it is the strongest political statement I have ever made by far. But even if I did not personally believe in any of this, I point out once again that I work for the government. The ability to effectively draw conclusions from data and make reasonable arguments comes up frequently in the State Standards for any state (I hope), so I am required to teach these skills.

Although my feelings regarding both of the above stances have been informed by my involvement in the UCTAA, they also happen to opinions that I am basically required by law to have, so there is nothing inherently agnostic about them. There may, however, be some moments in my social studies classes that could cause problems for some students and I will try to be tactful whenever they come up. I am speaking, in particular, about lessons relating to religion, the history of Christianity, and so on. I recognize that the aspects of history one chooses to present as important has an effect on one’s audience. For example, if I were to only present Christianity’s darkest moments from its beginnings to the present day, I might give the impression that it has been unambiguously bad and imply that we would be better off without it. Some people—on this site, for example—might say this is the case, but that does not mean that I necessarily share this view. I have not stated such judgments yet one way or the other and I do not intend to start. In any case, you may rest assured that I am not out to preach a thoroughly revisionist view of the history of Christianity, Islam, or any other religion—though if presenting well-established historical facts that happen to run contrary to popular belief serves a state-mandated educational objective I will not ignore them.

Of course, like any other teacher, I am human. I will make mistakes sometimes, particularly during my first years. So if your child comes home and tells you that I taught them something you think I really shouldn’t have, feel free to tell me about it in person, by telephone, or by email. Most of the time, I will apologize and admit to any unfair statements I have made to the student or the class as a whole at the next available opportunity. Sometimes, I will defend my lesson and explain my objectives. In the former case, the lesson will not have been a case of my true character showing through a façade of neutrality; it will merely have been a slip-up resulting from human error. In the latter case, I will ask you to reconsider whether your beliefs are really so incompatible with mine.

Notes to fellow agnostics reading this (which will almost certainly be the bulk of my audience).

-If you would like to use a modified version of this letter for your own purposes, you have my permission. Though I would appreciate it if you gave me credit for the original template, it won’t bother me if you don’t.

-Do me a favor and search for my name on Google and then click on the link to this essay (so that it becomes a near-top hit…there won’t be much competition for “Will Petillo”). Thanks!