A reader writes:
I am new to Buddhism, and have recently found your website and podcasts. I am an art teacher in a public school, and am finding it hard not to share this newfound aspect of my life with my students. I know that because it is a public school, I cannot preach or impose any religious beliefs on my students, however I find the teachings of Buddha and the lineage I’ve decided to follow very important to life situations – for example, being present in the moment. I try to say things simply, but do not want to get in trouble for passing along any religious message to students. Obviously I find my spirituality something of great importance, and cannot help but exist within my own practice.
As a teacher myself, I understand your dilemma. Mentioning religious ideas in school can be the quickest and easiest way to learn what it’s like to be unemployed. Even mainstream Christian ideas often are rejected, so something as “alien” as Buddhism is sure to meet with resistance.
I ran into this myself just recently. I teach College English, and my students are all adults. I generally keep my beliefs as much to myself as my sex life; it’s just not something I want to deal with in school. It’s not really the place. Just a couple of days ago, a student overheard me taking a phone call from someone who wanted to interview me about the book I had just gotten published. She asked me, in class, what I had written. I had to answer, so I told the class what it was, and the looks of incredulity surprised me. “Why THAT?” “Buddhists aren’t real,” and quite a few raised eyebrows. The discussion for the next ten minutes was about suffering, grasping, and non-attachment. A few of those “Buddhism isn’t Real” people walked away having learned something. A student caught me after class asking where to buy the book, so I must have made some impression. That being said, this is a COLLEGE environment, not a public school. There’s a big difference.
In all honesty, I think with the current educational environment, I’d just keep my mouth closed. Some closed-minded parent is likely to hear half a story from their child and accuse you of indoctrination into some unholy cult. You and I know that Buddhism is a great way of life, and someday, someone out in the real world might ask you to teach them about Buddhism On the other hand, as a public school teacher, it’s your job to follow the rules and stick to the appropriate topic, in your case, art.