Teaching Religion in Schools

comparative_religion.jpgGrowing up where I did, singing hymns and listening to theOur Father, Who Art in Heaven prayer were a daily occurrence. There was only one religion taught in my school. It was a point of discontent for those of us who followed otherfaiths and after years of students petitioning to be exempted from such morning meetings, my school reluctantly made exceptionsfor us. My school was a public school but it was also in Englandwhereseparation of church and state did not exist.

I don’t have a problem with teaching religion in schools, actually I think religion should be discussed at schoolbut practice should not enforced. I do recognize that this raises the questionof Sikh-based schoolswhere religious education is provided in accordance with the Sikh faith. However, I will emphasize that these faith-schools are private schools and children often have a choice to attend those institutions.

It seems that the concept of separation of state and church has in effect reduced the amount of time/effort which is spent on teaching religion in schools.A recent article discusses a school in Modesto, California which hasdecided that learning about world religions is an important subject and in fact, have evenmade it a graduation requirement.

Johansen High School in Modesto, California, sounds like any other, until the sacred Hindu sound – “ommmmmm” – vibrates from history teacher Yvonne Taylor’s classroom. Today, she’s talking about Hindu ideas of the cycle of death and rebirth. This nine-week course for ninth graders teaches the fundamental beliefs of Christians, Muslims and Confucianists, as well as Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jews – all tied in with the history of religious liberty in the United States. [link]

When the teachers first talked about developing this course eight years ago, they feared strong resistance from the local conservative Christian community. To avoid other conflicts with religious groups, the school board called in a mediator from Washington, D.C.’s First Amendment Center, a nonpartisan foundation that promotes free speech.

The result was the development of a world religions curriculum where the panel in charge went to lengths to ensure that one religion was not being favored over another. The solution was to count the number of pages which were dedicated to each tradition, and ensure they were equal. Theprogram was a success and was notedby several education experts around the country. Emile Lester recently co-authored a study of 400 students who took the course. He reports that the course strengthened their commitment to their own faith and moral values.

[A] student reacted positively to discovering that long-time friends or acquaintances belonged to minority religious groups, and prided himself on his increased
knowledge about their religions.

Interviewer: Do you think having taken this course you’re a little bit more aware of other religions?

Student: Yeah, I think I am because I didn’t really know the signs of a person’s religion, but after the course I totally [know] these people do this and this, and wear that and that. I walk up to one of my friends. I’ve known him for years. I had no idea he was a Sikh. When I see the bracelet, I say “Oh, you’re a Sikh.” I know that and things I can tell about people now that I couldn’t tell three months ago.

The effort’s made by this school district are unique, even today. Many secular and religious groups insist there’s no role for any form of religion in public education, that even a survey course violates the Constitution. If teaching religion in a public school is so controversial,is it worth the trouble? Yvonne Taylor, the history teacher who teaches this course, says her students will graduate with a better understanding of our increasingly multicultural society.

“They’re taking a greater world view of the faiths, of their friends, and their neighbors and the United States. But also the idea of respect of differences.” If other school districts want to start their own course, she says, they need to involve religious and secular community leaders from the very beginning. And, she adds, select teachers who will teach, not preach.

What do you think? Is there a place for religion in schools?


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4 Responses to “Teaching Religion in Schools”

  1. Nicole Abold says:

    Religion in schools should not be taught at all. I believe that if you have a strong opinion on something it will show through whether they mean to or not. So through teaching it even if it is intended on being something that is not opinionated it ends up having that effect. I am a high school student who doesn't know what she feels on religion. A lot of time in high school people are at a crossroad in there life. Do they believe one thing or another. I was raised by my christian grandmother but a lot of things that certain religions believe are unbelievable to me. We were learning different cultures in school and when the bible came up our teacher took her view on religion and incorporated into the teachings. I felt uncomfortable on much of what we learned but due to the disrespect factor I felt I couldn't speak my opinion which is not the case. Then when i brought it up i was shot down on my views by the school because it wasn't being inforced but i should have been able to decide another assignment or something but i felt like i had no hope and that i was a bad person for feeling a certain way. There is a lot of pressure on students that some people don't realize

  2. Nicole Abold says:

    Religion in schools should not be taught at all. I believe that if you have a strong opinion on something it will show through whether they mean to or not. So through teaching it even if it is intended on being something that is not opinionated it ends up having that effect. I am a high school student who doesn't know what she feels on religion. A lot of time in high school people are at a crossroad in there life. Do they believe one thing or another. I was raised by my christian grandmother but a lot of things that certain religions believe are unbelievable to me. We were learning different cultures in school and when the bible came up our teacher took her view on religion and incorporated into the teachings. I felt uncomfortable on much of what we learned but due to the disrespect factor I felt I couldn't speak my opinion which is not the case. Then when i brought it up i was shot down on my views by the school because it wasn't being inforced but i should have been able to decide another assignment or something but i felt like i had no hope and that i was a bad person for feeling a certain way. There is a lot of pressure on students that some people don't realize

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  4. JacobDvis says:

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