We are supposed to be living in a time where there is freedom of expression and religion. However, the reality is that as a parent raising children in an African Traditional Religion (ATR) I know that my children will be treated differently if I openly would have said during the enrollment interview in their non secular school, “Oh yes, by the way, one of my children is an Olosha and the other one is preparing to become a Palero.”
I can see the polite smiles and the colors dancing on their faces as they try disguise surprise, contempt and a way to reject a perfectly good check of a few thousand dollars for their tuition. The first reaction for most teachers and school directors is to jump to their own religious roots and to snap quick judgments based on their religious programming, it is a natural reaction. What is not natural is to let that religious programming obscure the fact that all families have the right to religious self-determination and that not always parents are Christians, Jewish or Muslims to name three mainstream religions.
This issue however, goes beyond tolerance. The existence and persistence of African Traditional Religions spits on the face of those who have been programmed to see us as evil heathens who worship the devil. We are not evil, we are not heathens and certainly we do not worship the devil. Nonetheless, our existence challenges their narrow understanding of good and evil because quite frankly, we do not fit the mold of with God and against the devil.
Most private schools, even if they are non-secular, will have some form of ‘values’ included in their curriculum and those as I have seen unequivocally are modeled after Christian values. There is nothing wrong with Christian values, if your child is a Christian. Mine happen not to be, they are Lukumí and they have the right to not be exposed to values contrary to their own, at least during the formative years when they are more impressionable and prone to confusion.
How do we as parents manage to obtain a good education for our children be it in public or private schools, and still keep them away from the religious goody two shoes that believe that proselytizing is their divine right and that our children are a great target to ‘convert’? Here is what I have found to work for my family.
It takes a village to raise a child.
The very foundations of the Lukumí practices are centered on community, and so are the roots of literally any other ATR I can think of. It is crucial for children to learn by example to see their practices at many different levels, to be surrounded by grandparents, aunties and uncles. In my religious family elders are seen by my children as aunts and uncles, unless they are much older and seen as grandparents. Children need the stability of family and in our days where we are so mobile, it is much more important to be able to provide this foundation.
It takes prudence to raise a child
I would like to say that our children are truly free to say who they are wherever they are, but face it, if they do so, they will be misunderstood, mistreated and ostracized because being children they will not be able to articulate their religious believes properly. It can even get uglier than that, you can come across a meddler that would like to report you to Child Protective Services because in your religion chickens are sacrificed. These sorts of meddlers will not care to research that we don’t sacrifice chickens at the drop of a hat and that there are guidelines of when and why to use a life force in our religious context. No, they will only care about their own understanding of how the world should be. Take for example the case of the New Jersey mother who currently battles in a court because she initiated her daughter into Palo and the girl had no prudence and spoke to an outsider of their family practices.
I want neither of my children to suffer discrimination, therefore I am prudent in the level of knowledge they acquire. This knowledge is imparted to them as I see they can manage to exercise good judgment and know when to speak and when to be quiet about their religion. I truly hate the fact that my children need to learn the value of secrecy. But on the other hand, I remember that the pillars of Western Magic are fairly wise: “To will, to know, to dare and to keep silence.” Yes, there is stuff we can learn from our Western brothers.
It takes preparation to raise a child
One of the main obstacles my husband and I have faced is the lack of educational materials to support a homeschooled based curriculum. I have had to get very organized and resourceful both in the creation of materials as well as in structuring our teachings to compliment their own school curriculum. We are not trained in pedagogy, but we are both professionals and the combined knowledge of our respective fields has greatly helped to develop a curriculum. To that we add the support of our godfather who has placed in our hands a wealth of written resources from the ilé. We have in turn re-worked the material into lessons at the level of our children’s age and capacity, and there we have it, a system to teach in an organized and systematic ways the fundamentals of the Orishas.
However, children not only learn from lessons, they also need supplementary materials, toys and tools to learn. We have been also working on these elements and finding ways to integrate lessons in every day actions. For example, a walk in the park is for my husband and I an opportunity to teach about the importance of Osain, to point out trees, shrubs and herbs and their importance. A day at the beach can become a lab practice in how to do a cleansing with Yemayá or how to pray to this wonderful orisha. It is all a matter of creativity and organization we are surrounded with opportunities to teach.
Effective teachers practice active listening
Active listening is a great tool because it allows parents to gage the level of engagement our children as we convey religious teachings, it lets you see if the material is being assimilated properly and if you need to increase or decrease the complexity of the material being presented. I would suggest parents to become familiar with this technique and to practice it with his/her spouse first so it becomes second nature in your conversation and not a forced technique.
At large there are three degrees in active listening: Repeating, paraphrasing and reflecting.
When teaching a concept, ask your student to repeat what they understood and then let them hear it from you again using exactly their same words. In paraphrasing, you render back the message to the student using similar words and structure to what they expressed, and in reflecting, simply render a final summation of the concept being conveyed using your own words and concepts thus reinforcing a lesson.
By all means, this is a subject worth exploring from more angles and certainly with the input of parents who are actually professional educators. As the expression goes; it takes a village to raise a child. Share your own experiences and techniques and help to raise our village’s knowledge.
Oní Yemayá Achagbá