Critical ThinkingCultureEducationReligionSecondary Education

High School Assemblies, Rife with Prayers and Other Assorted Woo?

I went to high school approximately two millennia ago, in the 1980s. Back then, I guess we didn’t think kids needed so much inspiring or guiding or straight-scaring or whatever, because I don’t remember anything like the number of all-school assemblies my son now has at his high school, at least not for anything other than football pep rallies. (It was Texas. We had priorities.)

It’s also possible that we had such events and I just don’t recall them because I am old and have a memory like moth-eaten cheesecloth. Either way, I think I would have remembered an assembly like the one at my son’s school this week, a pro-kindness, anti-bullying program named for Rachel Scott, the first victim of the Columbine school shooting.

The story is heartbreaking, of course, and I admire Rachel Scott’s family for working to make their horrible loss meaningful and useful to others. I worry somewhat that programs like this can’t help but veer toward either the ghoulish or the maudlin, and claims like “over 500 suicides prevented in the last 3 years” seem…difficult to demonstrate? It’s fine, though, I’m sure the program does help teens who feel like no one understands them, and Thor knows we can use more messages about being nice to each other in this world.

Here’s the hitch though: When I asked my son about the assembly, he revealed that this slick multimedia presentation included references to a drawing found in Rachel Scott’s journals after her death that has since been mythologized as some sort of premonition about the shootings:

The story as told in one source:

About a month after Rachel’s funeral, her father received a phone call from a stranger who told about a dream he had. As Darrell recalled it, “He dreamed about her eyes and a flow of tears that were watering something that he couldn’t quite see in the dream. He was adamant about the eyes and tears and wanted to know if that meant anything to me…He told me that the dream had haunted him for days, and he knew there was a reason for it.”

Her father had no idea what the dream could mean. Several days later he picked up Rachel’s backpack from the sheriff’s office. Inside were two journals, one with a bullet hole through it. He turned to the last page of her most recent diary and was dumbfounded to see a drawing of her eyes with a stream of thirteen tears watering a rose.

The tears appeared to turn into drops of blood as they touched the rose. The number of tears matched the number of victims at Columbine. It practically took his breath away to see in Rachel’s final diary exactly what the stranger had described to him a week earlier.

Looking in previous diaries, her parents discovered that same rose drawn a year before Rachel’s death. The earlier drawing simply showed the rose with the blood like drops, not her eyes or the clear tears, and it showed the rose growing up out of a columbine plant, the state flower from which Columbine High School got its name.

Hoo boy. Yikes. That is all manner of inappropriate for a school assembly. My son’s eyes were rolling out the back of his head as he was telling me about it, but he’s never been terribly susceptible to magical thinking; he’s a mathematical type who thinks he wants to major in astrophysics. He’s also been raised by atheists who don’t believe in ghosts or demons or psychic premonitions. So it’s not like I feel I have personal damages to complain about. But obviously that’s not the point. Other kids in the assembly may have been very confused by a story like this, and the only reason to tell it is to manufacture a mystical atmosphere and spook everyone into paying better attention. Not going to lie: I was pretty damn annoyed.

So I spent some time yesterday wondering if I should call someone at the school, if it was even worth it. (Unfortunately, that’s a question skeptical and nontheistic parents with children in public schools seem to ask ourselves a lot: Is this worth it?) One aspect of the situation that troubles me further is that I cannot find reference to the premonition drawing story on the program’s website–so no warning of some serious woobaggery–and the program is described as non-religious but includes, you guessed it, a request that everyone in the assembly pray together. Actually, my son didn’t even tell me about the praying until later that night, when I invited him to tell his dad about the assembly over a healthful family dinner of IHOP pancakes, so my day of wondering whether I should call and hassle the principal for making students listen to someone talk about artistic premonitions and psychic dreams was overwritten immediately by a new internal crisis over whether I should be madder about their being exhorted to public prayer in front of the entire school.

I haven’t decided yet. I asked my son if he wanted me to call and was surprised when he seemed amenable to the idea, as he usually prefers to stay as far under every radar as possible, so maybe I should do it just to show him that I really do take these issues I’m always carping about seriously. Then again, what kind of jackass complains about a little prayer in an assembly about a dead girl? You know that’s how it will end up being framed. Sigh. For now, remember this, as parents and teachers: When outside groups want time for in-school assemblies, look into them as much as you can and ask questions, because they often don’t tell you everything that’s going to be included up front. In this case, parents and community members are invited to view the Rachel’s Challenge presentation at the school…next Tuesday. The week AFTER the group presented to the students. I can’t even begin to articulate how much I do not want to attend, but perhaps I should go anyway.


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DrShell is an Associate Professor of English at a small liberal arts college. She teaches world literature, composition, popular culture, and speculative fiction and serves as faculty sponsor for the Secular Student Alliance. DrShell lives in tame suburbia with her husband and son and a pack of rescued pets, where she spends a lot of time running, taking Body Pump classes, and thinking about getting another tattoo.


  1. September 30, 2013 at 11:44 am —

    I think you took just the right tack, even if you haven’t decided what to do about the situation. You asked your son’s opinion about how he would like you to handle it. Which makes sense since he, more that you will have to live with the schools reaction.
    I would probably have said something to the principal/school (my kids going to be 19 next week, so I suppose its easy for me to say I would have) because the little “it’s just a little prayer” moments seen to just pile up over time.

    I guess it’s because I have become a complete cynic at this point in my life but, when ever an outside group wants access to speak to kids during school hours I am VERY suspicious. The kids in my town no longer have time for recess, have weeks every spring and fall taken up with teaching to various tests instead of having time for more in depth discussions of subjects like history/government/physical sciences/literature (our teachers are great, they do an outstanding job with what they are allowed to do).

    Yet there’s time for bringing in these questionable outside groups to take up valuable school time…
    I was one of those bullied, outcast kids for most of my school years. I doubt that outside groups swooping in talking about premonitions and magical thinking would have helped.(I realize Rachel’s parents are trying to find a constructive outlet for their grief but..) The bullying and cliques have to be addressed from within the school’s culture, there’s no magic, quick fix.

  2. September 30, 2013 at 2:47 pm —

    crone, you nail it. Kids at school are a captive audience, and I’m not comfortable with letting outside groups take advantage of that.

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