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It’s not that I’m spoiling for a fight. Like I said, I’m not about to start shooting my mouth off about church-state boundaries here in the dawning months of our entry to the Deep South unless my kids come home from school with John 3:16 tattooed to their foreheads. In permanent ink. A little temporary kiddy gospel tatt…well, where’s the harm in that.

When in Romans, I always say.

But my trigger finger flinched just a wee bit at my son’s middle school curriculum night tonight as I sat in his Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS) class, listening to the teacher as she explained her fascinating grading rubric.

My eyes drifted around the room, coming to rest at last on a sign taped in the upper left corner of the blackboard: CHARACTER BUILDERS!, it said, with a bunch of tiny cartoon construction workers crawling all over the big cartoon balloon letters.

Running across the top of the board to the right of the sign were twelve more laminated signs, each with a character word in colorful cartoon balloon letters, each crawling with adorable little hardhatters from Animated Workers Local 382:


Corner-tacked to a strip of cork above the far right end of the board was a lone piece of paper dangling lazily over the twelfth and final character word, obscuring all but the first two letters:


Uh oh.

The voice at the front of the classroom had become Charlie Brown’s teacher — wah waaaah wah, wa-wa-wa-waah — when I suddenly noticed that the wafting breeze of the air conditioning vent was lifting at the corner of the paper, ever so slightly, teasing me with the hope of the third letter. One gust, slightly stronger than the rest, lifted the paper enough to reveal that letter:


Oh crap. I broke out in a cold sweat. This is one of the exact scenarios Stu Tanquist described in PBB, an explicit endorsement in a public school of FAITH as a necessary component of character. In choosing his battles, that was one Stu rightly chose to fight.

Dammit! I don’t wanna. I really don’t.

I took the measure of my mettle and a deep breath. By the time I exhaled, I had decided. If FAITH is listed in my son’s classroom as a “CHARACTER BUILDER!”, I have to address it. Somehow. Delicately, judiciously, I would have to address it.


Suddenly the parents around me rose from their seats and began filing out of the room. The wah-wah had ended, the session was over. I let them file past me, then followed the last schlumpy dad toward the door.

As I passed the dangling sheet of paper, I glanced furtively from side to side, then lifted it to see the word beneath:


Oh. Well okay then.

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Dale McGowan is chief content officer of OnlySky, author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies, and founder of Foundation Beyond Belief (now GO Humanity). He holds a...