The Tacet Underground

What if He didn't exist? At all. What if long ago, visiting ETs decided that the easiest way to keep these creatures (us) complacent was to chisel out some stony rules and promise a heaven and a hell, much like a kindergarten teacher promises stickers for good behavior and time out for bad behavior? Sure - it's crazy. But just for a minute, what if?

What if the bible is not the 'word of God' as it is so flippantly called while held up and venerated? What if you discover that it is a collection of stories jotted down by the fallible and earthly predecessors of Aesop and the Brothers Grimm, later bastardized and edited and tilted to meet the selfish needs of a corrupt church hierarchy?

What if you woke up tomorrow and none of it made sense anymore? 'Why would an all-seeing and all-knowing god be vengeful?' 'Why revere a book that promotes misogyny, revenge, slavery and killing?' 'Am I a thinking person, or was I indoctrinated before I had a chance to make a choice?' What if it all seems so remote and unbelievable that when someone brings it up, your brain has to click into gear: "Oh yeah! - I forgot that people still believe in that!"

Imagine how truly looney it would then seem if you heard the DOJ's very own Imp of Darkness justifying the cruel and inhumane treatment of emigrating children by quoting a bible verse. Imagine how genuinely frightening it would be to hear former White House aide Omorosa Manigault Newman report that Vice President Pence thinks Jesus tells him to say things. For the almost one out of four Americans that do not believe in God, it is chilling.

The Founders were very clear about the need for separation of church and state:

"The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries."

In this, one of the most fatherly-feeling quotes from our Founders, James Madison and the other framers are looking out for us in the way that parents try to impart hard-learned wisdom upon their children. How many times have we wished our kids would listen to us?

There is a musical term, tacet. This tells the musician to do nothing - still pay attention to what's going on, but do nothing. To make a sweeping and reckless generalization, atheists know how to tacet. It is simply easier to nod and smile and say nothing than it is to get into it. Sure, there are atheists at every turn that have no problem declaring their non-belief, but they didn't get there without also learning how to deal with feelings of disenfranchisement, ostracization and condemnation.

It isn't always easy to say, "I don't believe in god" when those around you do and when the indoctrination you've received makes you feel many emotions - but primarily guilt - just for entertaining the idea. Even for the loud proclaimers, it is usually easier, quicker and less trouble to tacet.

The approximately 25% of Americans that make up this Tacet Underground form a much larger subset of the population than the 1% that are Muslim, the 2% that are Jewish, the 2% that are Mormon, the 4% that are either LGBT or Q, the 12% that are Black or the 19% that are Hispanics/Latino, yet these other groups are constantly protesting, demanding and making themselves the news while atheists are mostly content to tacet and pay attention.

In 1795 John Adams said, "The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion."  Atheists take this seriously and are deeply offended when ignorant people like Donald Trump pretend that it is.

The Vice President's proclamation that he is a Christian first, a conservative second and a Republican third is deeply offensive to the (at least) eighty-some million Americans that do not believe in his god and consider that statement alone to be grounds for him to be removed from office. On the other hand, even nonbelievers may sometimes hope that hell exists, comforted by visions of Jeff Sessions roasting marshmallows with Beelzebub.

As has happened over a long period of years with the LGBTQ community, 'coming out' as an atheist carries less of a social stigma with each passing day, although small town folk and conservative communities may still find a way to disparage anything out of the norm. Time passes and the number of people that distinguish themselves as atheist will increase as the stigma lessens and the dark side of religion is continually revealed by people like Jeff Sessions, Dana Rohrabacher and Donald Trump who insist on evoking the Bible and Jesus for evil.

By 2020 the Tacet Underground could include not one in four citizens as it does now, but one in three. That would be over a hundred million Americans that don't want to hear religious dribble or quotes from the bible, but instead want logical and well thought-through plans based on research, testing and evaluation. At some point our politicians are going to have to grapple with the fact that one out of three Americans think the bible-thumpers and scripture-quoters and evil-doers are more than a little nutty and start giving us more than the incessant stale rhetoric about abortion, guns, gays and God.

Leaders in School

The bell rings and twenty-nine angelic faces look to her for guidance. In that moment she realizes that while as Governor overseeing the statistical lives of her state's almost four million citizens is a huge responsibility - one she takes seriously, being entrusted with the actual lives of these twenty-nine cherubs is a grander burden.

Initially an eager participant in the new 'Leaders in School' program, the Governor is becoming increasingly dismayed as the reality of spending an entire day working as an educator in the public school system is becoming clear. It was bad enough that she had to make her own coffee and breakfast this morning and then actually drive herself to school, but facing a day without her personal assistants seems like cruel and unusual punishment. The day is only forty seconds old, and she is already looking for a light at the end of an awfully long tunnel.

It's a grueling day for the Gov. She does her best to follow the scribbled lesson plans with outdated textbooks, only enough computers for half the students, a white board with a couple dried-out markers and some antiquated pull-down maps. Keeping the class on task and moving forward becomes increasingly difficult as seven of the twenty-nine students speak Spanish as their lengua materna.

When lunchtime mercifully arrives she is finally able to relieve herself before rushing out to work playground duty for the first lunch, and then be amazed to discover that teachers have to pay $4 for a piece of cafeteria pan pizza and some tots. She tries to pay, but has to borrow a dollar - as teachers often do.

By 2:30 a dim light is beginning to shine, and as the students gather their things and line up at the door, she spots a set of parents - obviously upset - waiting outside the classroom. The parents enter as the children leave, and the (presumed) husband begins to complain in a slow, simmering Spanglish from which the Gov gleans that one of the Caucasian children said a Spanish curse word to their child, and that he had texted the parents about the affront. How can you let this happen? Don't you know what is going on in the classroom? How can you let children say such things? ¿Qué pasa?

While employing her very best diplomatic skills and struggling to remember anything from tenth grade clasé de español, a loud yet muffled, hollow POP rings out … heartbeat, heartbeat … POP, another. "Get on the ground, and do not move!", she whispers very authoritatively. heartbeat, heartbeat   …

"Sorry everybody!", Skip the Custodian chuckles and yells simultaneously from the corridor, "I just dropped a couple florescent bulbs is all."

"Holy shit", she thought, realizing that she'd now have to deal with the parents again, wondering if she might be better off just staying on the floor. "We gotta make this better."
  1. Let's get serious about funding education.
  2. The U.S. ranks squarely in the middle of worldwide achievement in Science, Math and Reading. No one likes taxes, but are we really so cheap as to purposefully provide our children - the children we fuss over and helicopter above and protect against all odds - a merely mediocre education?
    School districts consistently make a classic business mistake by trying to operate undercapitalized. Each new tax levy pleads for a slight increase, leaving our kids in the role of polite beggars and faculty rooms filled with teachers fretting about how many of them will still have jobs on the 'morrow. If you need a ten percent increase, don't ask for a two percent increase - stand up and ask for the ten! But first …

  3. Show us what it looks like.
  4. Somewhere in some school district in America there must be a forward-looking superintendent that is willing to put his eggs in one basket, and build the perfect classroom. Just one - it will expensive. It might include upgradable tablets built into each desk, ergonomic study stations and teaching stations, interconnectivity with schools across the world for interactive second and third language conversations with peers learning English, and digital teaching aides and apps that offer optional methods for instructing and evaluating students' progress. Put some smart kids in it and take it for a test drive.
    Then hire a marketing firm to show it to us. Pay for national TV ads. Wow us! Convince us that it will help give our kids a much better education. Let us see our students converse in Chinese or Spanish with students continents away, and cooperatively solve calculus equations with students miles away. Let us see what our exceptional youngsters can create when given an opportunity, and let our minds be blown … and we will pay for it.

  5. Take a stand.
  6. It is difficult to consider places where killers somewhat routinely massacre kids to be a safe work environment. OSHA regulations indicate that employers must: ensure worker safety and health through worksite enforcement, education and compliance assistance, and cooperative and voluntary programs. Generally speaking schools are not in compliance with this, nor do they pass the Department of Labor's Workplace Violence Checklist.

    Surely the NEA's lawyers are capable of reminding Congress that teachers (and students) are not being provided a safe work environment, and inform them that the nation's proud educators will not return to work until and unless they are provided a safe work environment - one predicated upon a national ban on assault weapons, as they serve no positive purpose in our society and have proven to be the casual assassin's weapon of choice.

    Striking teachers will create a sort of chaos that will force lawmakers to pay attention, and short of a group of anti-NRA lobbyists drastically outspending and attacking the NRA, it doesn't appear as if another group in the nation has near enough power to make a difference. A non-violent protest to an extremely violent issue. An idea that we have heard before, and that has worked before. One that will work again.
Perhaps 'Leaders in School' isn't a bad idea either - maybe something worth thinking about. It sure was an eye-opening experience for the Governor in our story!

Please look for the second installment of this piece, entitled Curves, Tests and Grades.

A graduate of Portland State University, Steve (Reeno) Kloser is the author of Beginning Band - A Guide to Success and Let's Make Music - Classroom Recorder Course. He is also an accomplished teacher, conductor and composer, having penned numerous pieces including La Vida and Fly With Me.

Teacher, cook, Packers fan and proud American, Reeno's usually slanted outlook often presents an unlikely perspective on issues old and new.

Reeno currently lives in Portland, OR.

Follow Reeno on Twitter

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