Saturday, September 12, 2009

Would this make me "militant"?

My son attends public school through funding for special education preschoolers (Hooray for the one thing NCLB got right - paraprofessionals and speech therapists!) His teacher is fantastic, and he'll be with her for all of this year and next year. The staff even put together a big birthday present for him, because they know I'm unemployed and struggling financially. I love my kid's school.

So here's the problem. They sent home a big catalog for fundraising. It's like all the fundraisers rolled into one - chocolates, infomercial-type kitchen gadgets, ugly costume jewelry, and of course, wrapping paper. Here's where things get sticky. In this 39 page catalog, 13 pages offer Christmas items, 1 page offers CHRISTIAN Christmas items (Bible verses and nativity scene wrapping paper; angel tree ornaments; books of "Bible Verses for Kids"), 1 page with 2 items for Hanukkah (1 dreidel wrapping paper, 1 dreidel book - Jews only get a half page, because the rest is filled with secular chocolate). There is nothing for Kwanzaa, Ramadan, Yule, or Festivus. There is no neutrality, by sticking with secular themes like winter. (There's some gift bags on one of the not-Christmas pages that just feature snowmen on them.)

So, essentially, the school just asked my kid to sell Christmas and Christian knickknacks, to raise money for his public secular government-run school. And that bothers me. It bothers me because Hanukkah isn't the only "other" winter holiday. It bothers me because I know for a fact some of the kids in his class have Muslim parents (or an atheist parent). It bothers me because I don't want to make a fuss, but I don't want my kid selling religious paraphernalia. (I would rather he smokes pot in high school than experiment with youth groups.)

It bothers me, because I feel like I'm going to risk jeapordizing my son's excellent education, by asking his school to uphold the Constitution. It bothers me that the one way to contribute that the school has asked of me is so exclusive. It bothers me because Christian products shouldn't be sold in public school fundraisers, and religious companies shouldn't get a cut of what my son makes raising money for PUBLIC school. (I went to Christian school and we never sold this stuff - We just did World's Finest Chocolate. If my son had brought those home, I would have bought a case and the whole thing would have been a non-issue. Plus then I'd have chocolate.)

So, rather than posting a link for people to contribute to my kid's school by purchasing fundraiser items, like I originally planned to do (before reviewing the products), I'm going to call the principal on Monday. I'm going to explain the issue I have with the fundraiser they've chosen (or the School Board has chosen) and then ask what specific items the classrooms need. Once I have that list from her, I'll set up an account for his school on Donors Choose. That way if anyone's interested in helping out (and able to - I do *know* about the recession) they can directly contribute, instead of going through a third-party middle man.

The magazine is put out by American Fundraising Services, Inc. which is apparently a LOCAL group. I'm going to be calling them, too. And the School Board. I'm not going to demand that they discontinue this year's fundraiser (it wouldn't work). I actually do want these schools to be fully funded. I wish that happened through taxes instead of turning our kids into salesmen to pay for their own educations, but that's not the school's fault. I understand that they have to pick A fundraiser - I just don't want them using this one again once whatever contract they have expires.

Would you call me a militant atheist?
Do you think his principal will?
How bad could this turn out for my kid?
What would you do?
Should I just shut up, say nothing, buy nothing, and not rock the boat (because my special needs 4 year old is in that boat)?

UPDATE: I talked with the school social worker this morning. (She's awesome-nice and already knows I'm an atheist.) She helped me work on exactly what to say and then I contacted the principal. Then SHE told me that the PTA picks the fundraisers, but that there will be incentives/prizes and that I can contact them if I'm concerned. (She turned down my Donors Choose option, saying that I can just ignore this one and give to another fundraiser later. Sort of missing my point that I can't donate to the school without endorsing religious indoctrination creeping into school.) The entire school district website is down today, so I haven't been able to contact the PTA yet, but I'll keep posting updates as I know more. So far, two out of two have been respectful, nice, and understanding (even if the principal missed the whole "unconstitutional" angle.)