PILOT EDITORIAL - School 'reflections'

Tuesday, March 5, 2002

Local schools and teachers could provide students with a minute of silence for individual reflection, an Iowa House committee decided recently.

The move is a neat way around the sticky issues of religion in the schools, and takes care not to bring up the term "prayer."

Of course, schools don't need the legislature to authorize silence for them, but lawmakers said some were nervous about doing it without some express approval.

The Iowa proposal easily approved by the House Education committee is patterned after a law in Virginia that has apparently survived legal challenge.

Under such a law, each teacher could decide to call for a minute of silent reflection, or the local school board could pass a policy calling for such a minute districtwide.

There was some debate over whether lawmakers should allow for a "minute" or a "moment" - kind of a silly hair to split in itself. We suppose if a junior high kid's introspection lasts only 45 seconds, there may be time for a commercial.

If lawmakers want to open the "prayer in the schools" can of worms yet again, they should stand up and do so, not try to circle around it. If this isn't about prayer, what kind of deep thought do they expect from a kid on a daily basis - at least 180 minutes a year.

No one is knocking prayer here. It's happening in school whether lawmakers authorize it or not. If not out of religious motivation, there's plenty of mental prayer rattling around those halls for a trig test to be passed, two-a-day sports practices to be survived, wedgies from upperclassmen to be avoided, salisbury steak not to be served in the lunchroom again, nervous prom date offers to be accepted, and so on. We've all been there.

A minute of silence might not do any of us any harm, but we're not so sure it's the legislature's business to prescribe it, especially when there are pressing learning issues that a committee like this should be attending to just now.

When our school buildings aren't crumbling, we aren't struggling with budgets and curriculum and testing and ESL needs and more, there can be time to worry about silence.

We like what Rep. Greg Stevens, who happens to be a teacher at Milford, has to say:

"I have 47 minutes to get everything done in the classroom. I value every minute."

So should we all. We send our children to school to be taught. There is time at home and in church for all the prescribed moments of introspection was care to demand.

Minutes get pared down enough by other distractions, trips, celebrations and demands on a kid's time and a teacher's time.

It is in no way a knock on prayer - oh sorry, "silent individual reflection" is the politically correct term around the Iowa Statehouse this season - to suggest that if there is a spare minute, it could be used for another purpose. Every one of those minutes costs the taxpayer a pretty penny. Do they really want to buy silence?

How about Math? Science. Reading. Writing. Music or art. Career education.

It seems a certain legislative committee has some extra time on its hands to be discussing such a thing. We aren't so sure the same is true for our schoolchildren.