Girl Allowed To Write About Michael Jackson As Her Idol Because Teacher Said No To God

Girl Told She Can't Pick God As Her Idol By Teacher For AssignmentEvery parent of a grade school kid is all too familiar with this sort of assignment because if we are ever picked as our kid’s “idol” or “hero” over our partner we like to laud it over them and announce that we win everything, always. But this 10-year-old girl was told she would have to pick another idol to write about after she chose God as her subject. Laaaaaame. From

 Memphis mother Erica Shead said she was angry after her 10-year-old daughter Erin, told her Wednesday, she wasn’t allowed to write about God for a school assignment.

“It was so cute and innocent. She talked about how God created the earth and how she’s doing the best she can,” said Shead.

Erin is a student at Lucy Elementary.


When Erin was told she couldn’t write about admiring God she chose the next person on her list, Michael Jackson. Which was acceptable to her teacher. Now, not to get all MJ-shamey on anyone, because I am a HUGE Michael fan, and even though I am not sure he actually molested anyone because I think he was some sort of asexual robot child man who just had weird huge arrested development issues, BUT COME ON. We all know the allegations. Sheesh. For a teacher not to be cool with God but a-ok with Michael?


 Momma Shead became my best friend ever IN MY MIND when she asked the principal:

“I told the principal this morning, would it be better if she wrote about Ellen Degeneres? Of course there was no comment.”

The school had this to say about the incident:

“Shelby County Schools respects the moral and religious beliefs of all students and families. While teachers and staff are not permitted to promote religion in the classroom, no laws or district policies allow teachers to limit students’ expression of religious beliefs in their personal classwork. This was a regrettable misunderstanding, and we as educators must learn from it. The principal and teacher have had a positive and productive conversation with the family, and we are pleased this matter is being addressed at the school level. The district will not be discussing this matter further in the media.”

Oh yeah school, you go girl or whatever you call an institution of learning. This is the dumbest thing ever.

(Image: WREG)

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  • A. Levy

    This is fascinating, and I’m not sure how I would have handled this if I were the teacher. What would have been the response if the child still believed in Santa Claus and wanted to write about him? It’s not exactly religion, but it does promote her beliefs, which may or may not be shared by her classmates.

    • ChillMama

      But do her classmates have to share her beliefs? I mean, if this was some sort of presentation where she was telling all the other kids that if they don’t believe in God they are immoral aliens, then yes, absolutely, put a stop to it. However, isn’t this exercise exactly what “freedom of religion” is all about? People are free to believe, or not believe, as they choose.
      I think this could be a wonderful lesson for the kids. Look, one classmate believes one thing, one believes another, and that is fine. We all still respect eachother as human beings.
      Just my two cents.

    • Kheldarson

      Actually, with Santa there is a real religious person tied to the story. As a teacher, I may have directed the student to him (if the point was to learn how to write a biography). If the point is to write argumentatively (here’s my POV and why), then who cares?

  • kay

    There are ways she could’ve set up this assignment a lot better-do something like “you need to be able to find interviews of the person” or “they have to have physically lived in earth”-otherwise you’ll also get the kid who picks Spongebob.

    I work with kids, and my rule is always not to squelch reasonable expressions of religion (show and tell with your first communion pictures? Of course! Religious themed book for your book report? Why not. Telling other children they’re going to hell? Never!) but to keep my own views to myself, and keep kids who have different beliefs from feeling ostracized. Trying to hide from all religion isn’t going to work, the key is to make sure that kids learn how to express any views they have (or don’t have) in reasonable ways.

    • Sundaydrive00

      Based on that criteria she could have just picked Jesus, since according to her beliefs he “physically lived in earth.”

      And I’m not saying anything against her beliefs, I just know there are people who will claim he isn’t real and didn’t actually live on Earth.

  • Annona

    So was it the issue that the idol wasn’t a “real” person? I’m with other commenters in wondering what the response would have been had she picked Spongebob or Santa as her idol? Would the teacher still have made her change it? And if so, would anybody care? Is it possible that this little girl is “that kid” who comes to school every day to “witness” to her fellow students about the Lawrd? Because my own childhood was made fairly unpleasant by variations of “that kid” and they are out there. The mom’s comment about Ellen Degeneres does not seem cute or friendly. It seems like some pseudo-Christian “the gays are bad” snark to me. Maybe I’m just looking at it wrong.

    • Hibbie

      I was wondering about that, too. It seemed to me like she was saying “God forbid that Ellen DeGeneres be her idol.” Like it’s much preferable to idolize God than a gay celebrity. Although Eve’s reading of the situation makes sense, too.

    • Eve Vawter

      see, I thought she was saying it as a celeb.

    • Amanda

      I think if she was going for some random celeb (for the oooo, burn factor), she probably would have picked someone more polarizing like Miley Cyrus. Ellen’s pretty wholesome so I can only think it’s an anti-gay thing.

    • Eve Vawter

      see, I didn’t get that vibe at alll.. it felt more like a super famous wholesome celeb. I think a LOT of moms watch ellen.

    • Annona

      “I told the principal ‘Would it be better if she wrote about Ellen Degeneres?’ Of course there was no comment.” I took that to mean “would it be better if she wrote about one of the gays, you godless heathen?” But, then, she wrote about MJ even after all the allegations against him, so I could have my head completely up my ass about it all. I grew up in the South with an atheist father. I was a redneck goth kid in a tiiiiiiny small town. It might completely be my perception and my mistake, assuming that this kid and her mother are “those people” who just HAVE to bring god to school with them every single day and be both super “sweet” and horribly pushy about it at the same time. My subjective experience is not everyone’s reality, I admit. I’ve had my peers following me around offering to “pray” for me as a form of bullying since I was 6 years old and obsessed with Wednesday Addams.

    • Annona

      OR..Mom could have instructed the little girl to write about MJ as her idol instead of God because MJ was the most horrible degenerate Mom could think of and she was trying to make a point! Oh, man, now I’m just way over thinking it in a cray cray fashion.

    • Sundaydrive00

      I was wondering that too. It seemed like an odd choice of a celebrity to bring up in a religious debate. I’ll just choose to believe that her daughter is a big fan of Finding Nemo, and is looking forward to the Finding Dory movie.

    • NicknamesAreDull

      That’s what I was thinking. My mom was pretty ignorant on pop culture unless it was something my brothers or I liked. So, she could be the same way.

  • Hibbie

    The real problem would have been if the assignment were titled “Tell me why God is your idol.” That would be completely out of bounds. The only real issue as it occurred would be if the kid gave a presentation about her idol and used it as a platform to preach. I’ve found (especially with kids) that when religion comes up, it is a good opportunity to instill the value of respectful communication. I’ve worked with both kids and adults, and I’ve always found that children have a much easier time grasping the idea that people have different beliefs and that’s okay.

    • ChillMama

      Ha, I see you beat me to it! Exactly what I was trying to say too.

  • NicknamesAreDull

    For me, I think I’d okay a presentation about God as long as it wasn’t like:

    “God is good because he sends people I don’t like to hell. THAT MEANS YOU JIMMY. YOU TOOK THE WRONG GIRL’S CRAYON. If you don’t believe in God, that’s okay.. you can either meet me by the tether ball court at recess for a surprise Baptism, or go to Hell with crayon-stealing Jimmy.”

    or anything too preachy. I also agree that Michael Jackson wasn’t exactly the best substitute.

    • Annona

      Pumpkin beer all up in my keyboard now. Thanks.

  • Angela

    I also wonder if there were more to this as well. When I was that age my teacher gave us a similar assignment where we had to research the person and write a short biography of them. In that case using God may not be the best subject (though I suppose you could research the life of Jesus).

    And like others have already mentioned I don’t see any other way to interpret the comment about Ellen Degeneres as anything other than a slam on gays. It was obviously a sarcastic comment denoting that Ellen couldn’t possibly be considered an appropriate role model, like she’d be more upset about that even than Michael Jackson. I can see not elevating Ellen to the same status as God but I also feel she’s done a lot of pretty great things (even aside from her efforts in the LGBT community) and would actually be pretty impressed with a kid that chose her as a role model.

    • Eve Vawter

      OMG I soooo did not at all, IT DID cross my mind that maybe she mentioned Ellen because she knows ellen has cute kids on her show and maybe she was hoping ellen would see it and invite her on.

    • Annona

      Eve, you’re like an innocent baby lamb eating rainbow cookies and seeing the good in people over here. :) Here’s hoping that the rest of us are just crusty cynical old fucks.

    • Eve Vawter

      Oh man I could totally be that way. I think I would just hate to see a mom being all gay-hatey like that. I really assumed she said Ellen because it’s such a housewifery thing. It would make me have a big sad if she was being a bigot

    • Frances Locke

      I figured that too. Ellen is so housewifey (in the best possible way).

    • Eve Vawter

      Things the housewives like:
      Goldfish crackers
      Yoga pants

  • Kheldarson

    I wonder what the purpose of the assignment was. Beyond writing about heroes. Was it to write a biography? Or to argue a position? Because I can understand the objection in the former case, but not the latter.

  • Jessica

    When I was a kindergarten teacher in Florida the school chose a short animated movie that was streamed to the TV’s in each of the classrooms about MLK. It was a cartoon that was cute and fairly well done, but a little above the heads of my 5 yr olds as far as teaching anything about his story or learning any lesson in particular. When we were done watching it I led a discussion asking the students what they learned. One little girl from a very religious family raised her hand and solemnly answered, “I learned that Martin Luther King Jr. died for our sins. Amen.”

    Whether religion is a very large part of a child’s life or it is absent completely, I don’t think they need to be held responsible for understanding “separation of church and state”. Most students were talking about the skateboarding kids and the time travel watch (like I said….it was a cartoon!!) So although she was clearly pulling her answer from an outside influence, it was essentially a more meaningful connection than many were able to make. I didn’t ask her to elaborate, but I certainly didn’t scoff at her response. (As an aside, in some ways perhaps she was not that far off!)

    • Eve Vawter

      That is soooo cute. And sadly what she said, in essence, is true :(

  • Rachel Sea

    It’s a pretty common misconception, that no one is allowed to talk about religion in schools, because people don’t learn enough about the Constitution before they become ignorant grown-ups.

  • Wendy

    See, I dunno. This can put the teacher in a bad situation either way. I’m guessing it was an assignment that was meant to be read aloud or hung up. Let’s say you let her write about God. She could do a fine job and keep it low key. OR she could go preachy as hell with it. You don’t know what she intends when she starts it. THEN, you get parents calling furious that you let a child proselytize in class and HOW DARE YOU! Or, you let her write it and if she goes preachy, now you can’t let her share (or even peer edit…which is huge!). Now, you either have to make up an excuse when she says, “But why isn’t it my turn?”, or no one shares/peer edits. So the teacher said no, and now the teacher is squelching her freedom of religion. Which, the teacher did only because she will get more angry calls the other way. This way, one angry parent. Preachy child=potentially multiple angry parents. It could have totally ended up a news article EITHER way.

    And, about Michael Jackson. It’s sad, but the kids only know the songs and that he died and was once an important famous person. They don’t know about the molesty stuff. I can assure you that. I have been teaching 11-12 year olds for a long time, and I’ve just noticed a few years ago that it’s changed in that regard. They’re too young to know now because they weren’t old enough to be aware during the trial. And when you hear his song on the radio with your little kid, you aren’t going to say “We can’t listen to it because he molested kids” because now you have to have THE TALK. So most kids, even around age 13 or less, don’t know any of the bad stuff about him anymore. So this little girl REALLY didn’t know, and the teacher wasn’t about to say no twice in a row. These kids also were babies when 9/11 happened, if that puts it in perspective.

    • Emmali Lucia

      The Michael Jackson trial happened in 1994, so even I didn’t really know about it until I was a few years older than this girl. My friend’s mom, on the other hand, idolized MJ, so my friend knew all about the trial and the evidence against him and the evidence against the accuser(s). It just really depends on what you’re taught and what you’ve been exposed to.

    • Wendy

      Good God, I just had a birthday anyway and now you’ve made me feel sooooo old because I actually remember this trial!

    • Abstract Sunflower

      There’s nothing sad about the kids only knowing the music. What’s sad is all of the people who only think of the molesty stuff when they think of Michael Jackson, instead of thinking about the things that we know to be true: his talent and his charitable contributions. I certainly hope that no one says to their child, “We can’t listen to it because he molested kids,” considering he was found innocent. Why do so many people insist on thinking only about the negative things they’ve HEARD about someone? That is what I consider to be sad.

  • Chrissy

    I don’t get why the teacher said it wasn’t okay to use God for this assignment. And I’m an atheist. The little girl, though, is obviously Christian and DOES look up to God a LOT. I actually think she’s more in tune with spirituality than a lot of adults in that she looks up to God that much. And that’s really cool. It was a little report, not a presentation where she was condemning the kid with the single mother or something.

    • Eve Vawter

      See, I feel how you do. I’m not religious but I see nothing wrong with kids who are and they should be allowed to be, as long as they aren’t damning anyone to hell. And I am always the one looking out for bigotry and I thought thew mom said Ellen because Ellen is famous especially amongst MOMS and people who watch daytime TV, and now soooo many of you said she was being all gay-hatey and now I may cry :(

  • Frances Locke

    I’m an atheist, as I’ve written about on this very site. I have pretty strong feelings about t too, But I think this is just ridiculous. What harm is going to come from a little girl writing about god being her idol? It isn’t promoting religion (at least by the school) and I think it was kinda sweet. And I don’t believe in god! Doesn’t make it less sweet in my eyes.

    I’m sure the teacher was worried about getting in trouble with the school though, or breaking the rules, so I have sympathy for that person as well.

    • Aldonza

      I know in my classes, and granted it’s through an arts school and not normal school, we’re told to just stay away from any and all religious/political things, at least in our younger classes. It’s mostly about covering our ass because anymore, you just never know what is going to set someone off. I’ve had the weirdest things come back at me, so something like this? I would have steered the child away from it because we just can’t take any chances.

  • CrazyFor Kate

    Yeah, if I was Teach I’d be scared of having my job on the line. I don’t blame her at all.