Religion in San Francisco public schools

My son Derek jr. goes to a public elementary school in San Francisco
that is about 70pct Asian (and those almost all Chinese). As far as
government schools go, it's pretty good, mostly because of the
discipline of the parents in forcing their kids to study.

Today I found the following in his backpack:

"Alamo Elementary School is participating in the 2010 Chinese New Year
Parade. The Alamo contingent will be led by Buddhist Monk (Dai Tao
Fut), escorted by a dragon and two baby lions. There will be ribbon
dancers, lantern holders and baby tigers. Space is limited so please
return completed form no later than Wednesday January 20, 2010 to your
child's teacher. You will be notified if your child is a

Imagine the following instead, and then picture the uproar in this town:

"Alamo Elementary School is participating in the 2010 Easter Parade.
The Alamo contingent will be led by Jerry Falwell, escorted by a
several parishioners. Space is limited so please return completed form no later than Wednesday January 20, 2010 to your child's teacher. You will be notified if your child is a participant."

I don't like the whole Chinese Parade thing to begin with, but having
a Buddhist Monk lead the school's contingent seems a bit over the top.


Hi Derek,

Always nice to hear from you! Your e-mail makes me feel so old! since I go back to the days when kids did participate in Easter Parades, which were huge! Plus the even huger Columbus Day Parades, replete with religious traditions! The reason for that was that public schools were 90% Christian Caucasian. Well, now they are 90% Chinese. However, as you intimate, it is important to keep religion a prerogative of the home (unless we are talking about age-appropriate study of all religions); so were I in your shoes, I would ask for a conference with the school principal and make some positive suggestions of teaching the kids about different cultures and opportunities for community events, but keep monks, priests, and other religious representatives out of the picture.

BTW, the subject of schools focusing on the three R's, especially given fiscal challenges, is important to me!



Hello San Franciscans,

From down here on the Peninsula, the Chinese New Year is a great tradition of your city we look forward to.

I see no comparison between Easter and Chinese New Year, nor between Jerry Falwell and a Buddhist monk. Chinese New Year is not a religious holiday, Easter is. Chinese New Year is no different than January 1. Sure, some people go to Mass on that day, but that does not make it into a religious holiday. Should parents object if the school holds a New Year or a Spring Festival?

Even if we presume that the holiday really celebrates Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism, this parade still would not offend the First Amendment like the hypothetical Jerry Falwell Easter Parade. The Falwell religion is intolerant by nature and government recognition of it would inherently disenfranchise others. The Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, require strict monotheism and rest on the principle of a "jealous god" who proclaims himself above all others. Some churches carry this doctrine to extreme intolerance. The Taoist religions only claim to show you "the way"; nobody condemns you to Hell for deviating from their path.

happy lunar new year

Harland Harrison
LP of San Mateo County CA

----- Message d'origine ----

LOL. You know that's not a real monk, right? "Dai Tao Fut" (a.k.a. Big Buddha Head) is just a person in a mask. So the equivalent would be a parade led by someone in a big Jerry Falwell mask. :slight_smile:
"If requested, the comical "Dai Tao fut" or Big Headed Buddha is also used for the added entertainment value and blessings."

Here's a video:
In the last several seconds of the clip, you see the guy in the Dai Tao Fut mask on the far right.

It's like a team mascot costume. The person inside can only make gestures, basically miming silently. I don't think the kids will be receiving any indoctrination. As religious icons go, Dai Tao Fut is closer to Santa Claus than to Jerry Falwell. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

But since you mentioned it, the hypothetical letter would have never happened at my government school in Tennessee in the 1980s. Jerry Falwell would simply have led the parade contingent, and no warning would have been given, nor permission necessary. Probably half of my schoolteachers were also Sunday School teachers, my vice-principal was the deacon of his church (even funnier when you consider he also taught 4th grade science -- I don't recall if evolution was in the curriculum), and no permission slips were sent to parents when any of them led school events. It's surreal to be living in a place where what I grew up with is basically the totally absurd hypothetical argument offered in a listserv discussion. :slight_smile:

Good for the school giving the parents fair warning that a "religious" symbol (more like caricature) would be leading the contingent. Though after a few decades of having Christians go uber-politically-correct on them, I guess it's not surprising.

And what's wrong with the Lunar New Year Parade? I quite like it. I'll take San Francisco's parade over freezing my butt off in Toronto with the in-laws. I'm hoping next year we can convince them to come down and visit us instead of vice-versa like we did this year. The niece will be almost 4, so I think she'd love it.

BTW, isn't that permission slip a bit late?


Rob, after a tough day at the computer, I appreciated your post!! And I don't feel so old now, since you are also recalling days when religion did figure into the curriculum big time. I had the same experience in middle school in the South!! But, I believe your post reiterates what I said in my post regarding the need to acquaint children with diverse cultural opportunities (in moderation, giving priority to the three R's!); but hopefully, via communication a lot more effective than the letter Derek received. Had I as a parent received such a letter, I also would have been ready to have a talk with the School Board!!



Thanks for explaining the part about the monk. It makes a lot more sense now.

The permission slip is late because I never signed it in the first place! I just found it in his bag again.

Demography is destiny.


Ah, the joys of parenting and schools! I remember finding all kinds of useful information when cleaning out backpacks filled with parent notes that should have been delivered weeks earlier. By the time my boys were in high school, Pam and I were on the United Parents governing board and established an email notification system to keep parents informed of such things; it was far more reliable than asking students to deliver messages like that.


Meet up with us once again in Lake Tahoe to enjoy a weekend of fun in the snow March 12-14, 2010. You need not be a skier to have a great time, as there are plenty of other activities to keep you busy in the mountains, but the weather this year has made for one of the best snow seasons in decades, so those of you who enjoy skiing and snowboarding are in for a real treat. As before, the base cost is $125 per person for the entire weekend's lodging, and if you wish to share a ride with us, we plan to rent a spacious SUV with snow tires, so the more people we can pack in, the lower the overall cost of transportation. This is the best option if you aren't comfortable driving in the mountains, or don't own a set of chains. Leave the driving to someone else!

Please RSVP to Peter Schoewe by March 1 at y79908@... to reserve your space.