Speaking Out on the Minute of Silence
By Laura Sessions Stepp
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 21, 2000; Page C04
Earlier this month, the Virginia legislature approved a mandatory minute of silence at the start of the day in public schools. The law, expected to take effect this fall after Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) signs it, allows students to meditate, reflect, sit or pray silently.
The law's supporters say it will help students calm down and thwart violent behavior. Opponents say it will do neither and that it is, in effect, a back door introduction to praying in school.
About half the states, including Maryland, allow public schools to set aside such a minute; few states require it. Public schools in the District and D.C. suburbs do not observe such a minute regularly.
We asked 13 area high school students to give their thoughts on this idea. All are juniors and aspiring journalists who were selected by their teachers to contribute ideas and articles to Style Plus.
Annandale High School, Annandale
Most people who object to a minute of silence consider it as just another attempt to bring religion into school. It should be given a chance.
A minute of silence may not give rise to comprehensive changes nor solve the problems that plague our schools today. However, it should be viewed as an attempt to solve a problem rather than be treated as the problem itself. The fact that it is voluntary removes any kind of religious connotation. Attempts to impose it should not be rigorous, nor should the line between mandatory and voluntary be crossed.
-- Rezaur Rahman
A minute of silence is one of several attempts recently to prevent incidents like that which occurred at Columbine High School. What is the one-on-one correlation between students being able to meditate or exhibit their religion and them becoming less violent?
How will teachers enforce it? Will it become like the Pledge of Allegiance, disrespected because of daily, forced recitation?
The minute paves the way for intrusion of religion into public schools. Although religion is not explicitly mentioned, it will be taken as religious by some, if not most, students.
If the minute achieves anything, it will be the opposite of what was intended in that it may alienate students who do not wish to go along with it. And wasn't alienation one of the causes of the Columbine incident?
-- Shant Shahrigian
The minute of silence is an infringement against Virginia's current law stating that students will "be subject to the least possible pressure from religious observation on school grounds."
Implementing it at the beginning of each school day will provoke religious confrontation. And it will not be taken seriously by a majority of the student body. In the past, Annandale High School has used a minute of silence to pay respect to a death or national tragedy. Enforcing such a policy every day will reduce the importance of such events. A minute of silence is not a panacea for crime or hate. It is instead a violation of student rights.
-- Katherine Lehr
Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Washington
I have mixed feelings about whether or not we should take a minute of silence in school to respect those who have died in shootings. To me, a minute of silence is an American tradition that is completely separate from religion. It is no more religious than putting the American flag at half-mast or saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Reflecting for a minute could be a deep emotional experience, clearing one's thoughts. Or, if one chose, a minute could provide time for a prayer. However, I fail to see how a minute of silence every day will help us stop violence. My peers have many opinions on the matter, but no one thinks that a minute of silence in schools will prevent violence.
-- Elsbeth Chirlin
I feel as though observing a minute of silence in the wake of a tragedy is not an attempt to bring religion into the schools, but an opportunity for people all over the country to reflect on what has happened. For me, the opportunity provides a chance to step out of the regular hustle and bustle of daily activities and to pay homage in my own way. In all of the times that I have been involved in such a minute, I have never felt that a religious connotation was associated with it. It is just a way of bringing this country together to pay its respects.
-- Lindsey Christian
I don't agree with the minute of silence. There are those students who will feel isolated and awkward when the minutes of silence are observed.
An example of the awkward isolation that a "different" student might feel occurred in my second grade year. One of my classmates, a Jehovah's Witness, couldn't, or wouldn't, stand to say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. "It's against my religion," she always said. All the kids made fun of her because she didn't stand. She was strong, and never showed tears, until I went into the bathroom one morning and she was crying. She said she hated being different.
-- Pam Jackson
A minute of silence is not prayer. Students can choose what they wish to do: Use the minute to prepare themselves for the day, make a silent prayer, dedicate themselves to be a better person, or just stand and wait. This is certainly less religious than praying before the big game. If a school chooses to honor Columbine High School in this way it should not be accused of putting religion in schools. The authorities should be commended for trying to teach respect.
-- Kahina Robinson
George Marshall High School, Falls Church
A minute of silence provides an insufficient amount of time to achieve notable results in the thoughts and actions of a teenager.
Freshman Ashley Nutter speaks for many of us when she says, "It doesn't allow [for] complete devotion to any thought, whether religious or anything else."
In my opinion, students have already allotted a time for certain activities to take place after school hours. An additional 60 seconds from valuable class time cannot be spent productively. As Nutter says, "Students who are not devout or fully faithful will need more than an extra minute to pray, and those who are devout enough find time to pray out of school."
-- Ava Kavyani
Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, Wheaton
Our administration gives the student body time to reflect on what we are thankful for, and time to pray for those who need our prayers. I believe all schools should have a minute of silence so that students, faculty, and staff can come together in a quiet way to start the day off right. I can see how some people feel they do not have to take part in this. They should just be quiet and use this time to plan out the rest of the day.
-- Douglas McKinney
Asking a student to respectfully observe a quiet minute is a far cry from asking him or her to verbally acknowledge any religious beliefs. If it promotes anything, the minute of silence advocates religious tolerance in that it encourages people to be respectful of different religions. Americans love their freedom to choose. So perhaps we should view the minute of silence as a choice: the choice to abide by this legislation with rational, peaceful acceptance or the choice to defy this bill in judgmental ignorance.
-- Maggie Thies
Sherwood High School, Sandy Spring
From my point of view, the minute of silence issue is one of religion. In this country, founded on freedom and separation of church and state, religion does not belong in public schools. If one believes religion is appropriate with education, he should send his children to a private, religious institution. School does not prevent someone from praying before arriving.
The world is a living history of religious conflict. Why bring that ugly, long-running feud to classrooms that have enough violence to overcome? A minute of prayer every day is not going to reverse someone bent on hurting people.
If one is of the mind that religion is the solution to this violence, check the source of those responsible for religious instruction: the parents.
-- Stephanie Frank
A minute of silence each morning during school hours to prevent school violence doesn't really seem like a solution. The idea seems to have good intentions, but I don't think the time will actually prevent violence in schools. It might raise awareness and remind students of problems, but I believe that the real issue is that parents should be more involved in student life.
Eventually, the minute is going to lose its meaning and it will just seem like a daily routine that must be done, and I imagine the awareness will wear off.
-- Allison Rager
To me, a minute of silence is religion, and I am utterly appalled that the Virginia House and Senate passed bills that would allow religion in public education.
Students already have the opportunity to pray privately on their own time while in school, and this bill would only force students who are unwilling to participate to watch others openly pray. Not only is this wrong, but it could be detrimental to those who are uncomfortable or uncertain of their own values. Virginia does not have the authority to impose religion upon impressionable youth or offer spiritual options to students, because organized religion is unacceptable in schools and forcing religion is unconstitutional.
-- Jeff Davis
© 2000 The Washington Post Company