A few thoughts comes to mind when thinking about prayers in school: how can the act of putting your hands together, closing your eyes and praying to a higher source help you keep your emotions and behavior in check at school? How will this simple act of conversing with God help you calm yourself and get through the trials and tribulation of being a student? And how can this act sway troubled teens or students with behavioral disorders to be apt pupils with charity to all when they are at school?
For some, the answer is always going to be yes. These true-believers will claim that this simple act of talking to God will solve every little problem they’ve had in life; they will also believe that the lack of prayer time in schools (public schools in general) are the reason for the numerous accounts of behavioral problems that currently plague the nation’s learning institutions. This belief, however, misses the point completely. For one thing, belief doesn’t always coincide with reality. Despite the prayers one can make, it doesn’t change bad behaviors or the social and personal problems that may cause it. Instead, it deflects from the real reasons problems in pubic schools.
Broken homes, drug addiction, overcrowded and deplorable classrooms and schools, gang-infested neighborhoods and poverty are some of the triggers that can set a student’s behavior in the wrong direction. Along with socio-economic impacts, biological and psychological matters are factors as well. Even something like language and cultural differences can cause trouble. Usually, there’s more than one factor; some or all these things listed can push a student’s behavior in an inappropriate matter. Often behavioral problems happen for different reasons. For some students, acting out is the only way to get attention. For others, it’s a reflection of their upbringing; being violent or combative are learned behaviors for many students who come from the lower socio-economic neighborhoods. Then, there are those who simply can’t control themselves due to a chemical imbalance or behavioral disorder.
The belief that banning prayers from school has caused a rise in behavioral troubles has many problems. First, it’s based on misleading information. One may watch the evening news and see several Columbine High School and Virginia Tech massacres play out on their TV screens. Or they may open the newspapers or a web news site and be exposed to stories of teens running amuck on campus, causing gang fights, riots or the occasional shootings. Proponents for prayer see this happening at the public schools where attempts to separate church from state has been rampant. To them, they see this as proof that taking away prayers from schools have had negative consequences. However, the problem with this argument is that schools have actually become safer in the last twenty years. According to many reports, incidences of violence on campus have decreased . The incidents at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech were actually rare occurrences. The top news stories, outside of politics, sports and entertainment are usually about things that don’t usually happen on regular basis. Disasters, crimes and shootings at schools fall under this category. Sure, these were tragedies, but the reason they made news was for how tragically unusual they were.
Second, proponents want you to believe that the problem with today’s youth in schools is that they don’t have God. This term indicates that students with no belief system in a religion or a higher being are rudderless on the empty sea of life. This particular argument seems to indicate that students with behavior problems act out for this reason. And, they feel, through prayer, they will be able to find a meaning in life or to put it bluntly, a relationship with God, and all that come with that relationship. This argument goes beyond school and behavior problems. This is a belief that a theological society is better than a secular one and is less violent. However, a 2005 research article published in Journal of Religion and Society, indicated the opposite. The study, reported in the Times Online (U.K. Time’s online newspaper), was made from an international survey of Gallop poll responses from citizens, government officials, crime data, and surveys of political and religious policies. The study found that countries (including the United States) who indicated they were more religious were plagued with higher crime rates than those whose citizens indicated they were more secular (such the European countries and Japan).
Finally, a problem with this belief is that it ignores the individual student’s physical, social and emotional conditions. There are a lot of students in dire need of psychological help. Students with special needs tend to be impulsive and act out when given the opportunity. Most of these students can control themselves; however, there are those who suffer from behavior disorders. Often, these students are in self-contained classes and are medicated to keep their behavior in check. Still, that’s not enough. In many cases, these kids will act out, impulsively. ADD or ADHD students are known to be impulsive, as well. Students with bi-polar disorders are unpredictable. No amount of prayers will calm these students.
Prayers might be a great way to meditate or practice one’s belief. However, its absence from public schools has nothing to do with behavioral problems among students. In fact, the argument does little to help these particular students and doesn’t stress more importance on improving school procedures, practices and security to quell unruly students. Prayers are merely a band-aid placed on a severed limb. It will not stop behavioral problems, despite its intentions. It will not make public schools better.