Theresa Rodriguez Farrisi, working as a substitute teacher in a Pennsylvania elementary school, last week, indignant that the lesson plan required her to read Clement C. Moore’s 1822 poem The Night Before Christmas to six and seven year olds, responded to what she viewed as the intrusion of religious expression into public education by delivering a diatribe debunking Santa Claus, which sent children home in tears.
She later explained:
Last week I substituted at a local elementary school in Lebanon County. The lesson plan required me to read the 1882 (sic) poem “The Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore to two classes of students. While I can appreciate the poem for its literary value, the subject matter is offensive to me, and the reading of this poem to the children imposed values upon me which are against my deeply held religious beliefs. I could not in good conscience present the notion of Santa Claus as a truth to the children, and stated so.
No public-school teacher should be required to teach a belief, custom or religion that he or she believes to be false, or be required to pass those purported falsehoods onto impressionable children, without the right to state a disclaimer. Furthermore, freedom of speech and religion, no matter how unpopular the speech or against cultural norms the religion, are protected rights.
A secular public school should not be propagating any kind of religion. The belief in Santa Claus as a divine, magical, omniscient, powerful, giving, loving father-figure, to whom children are taught to make supplications and requests, is a religion indeed — a distorted substitute for the Judeo-Christian God.
The misfortune is that the modest exposure to higher education this woman had in the course of her professional preparation failed to make her a more humane, a more broad-minded person. It simply left her, as contemporary education leaves so many, overly supplied with opinion, and poorly equipped with judgement.