Religion and Morals in the Classroom

During my reading of Taking Religion Seriously Across the Curriculum, I was most interested in the portion of chapter two that discussed “natural inclusion” of religion into the regular curriculum, or in other words, discussing religion whenever it naturally comes up. Though the article pointed out many difficulties of this—namely that most people don’t see the connection between the subject they teach and religion, even if they are themselves religions—I think it is an important idea. Historically, religion played a big part in the development of our country and culture, and the world. Almost every single war had some sort of religious influence, for example (think Crusades or the Iraq war—two quick and obvious examples, one from history and one current). Our own pledge of allegiance contains the hotly debated phrase “under God” and is often spoken by teachers and students with no thought to what it actually means or why that phrase is in the pledge in the first place. The concept of zero comes from Muslim mathematician Al’Khwarizmi, whose name is where we get algorithm from, and who wrote the first book of algebra (called Al-Jabr). All of these are examples of places where religion comes up or is mentioned, and all are places where we as teachers could include religion in our normal curriculum. When teaching preschool, one of the things I tried to do was to include every major religious holiday in my curriculum, and we celebrated them all and learned about them. I also tried to use examples of multicultural people and dress types in the materials I created, which included traditional or religious garb for some of the images I used. This continuous exposure for the kids was intended to be a way to help them understand that there are many other cultures and religions out there aside from their own (and I had a pretty multicultural class, which helped with that understanding), and that regardless of someone else’s beliefs these differences are both normal and worthy of respect. I was in 6th grade when the 9/11 attacks occurred, and I’d had no idea that there was even another religion besides Christianity and Judaism. It was so far from my own cultural upbringing that I did not understand what Islam was, and I was fearful of the clothing worn by Muslims and contributed to the cultural fear and hatred that still prevails. I think that had I been given opportunities as a child to understand Islam (which I learned about later in middle school, at which point it was a little late in my opinion), or any other religion that I was not familiar with, I would have been far more accepting as a young adult and even now as a teacher-to-be. Because of this experience, I think that it is my job to find these instances of religion in the classroom whenever I can and explain the connection between my subject matter and its religious background (and though history isn’t the only place religion shows up, it’s the most obvious…I think it’s also my job to figure out how religion relates to current topics too!).

Another place religion shows up in education is the teaching of values, which we have discussed a lot in this course. Many values that are upheld by the US are also commonly thought of as religions values, such as honesty, kindness, respect for others, their lives, and their possessions, etc. These are also found in the Ten Commandments (thou shalt not steal, murder, covet) and in the Sermon on the Mount (Blessed are the humble, the pure in heart, the peacemakers). In Islam, generosity is valued, as is the preservation of life and family (among other things). When teaching these values in school—which many people agree is necessary, including myself—we can make these connections between the value, different religions they might be seen in or come from, and how it can affect ourselves and others. Having students discuss the why of the value might help them to understand the true value of practicing it in their lives.

Nord, W. A., Haynes, C. C. (1998). Taking religion seriously across the curriculum. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/198190.aspx

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Teaching Our Students About Religion

During our panel discussion in class this week, the question of a teacher’s responsibilities regarding the inclusion of religion education as a part of the curriculum, in the sense that it is an important topic to promote global citizenship. A subject of controversy, the idea of promoting either teaching values or teaching about religions in school brings up the “separation of church and state” argument. Although I am in support of this concept as a general rule, I think that the lengths we have gone to in order to keep religion out of our public schools are extreme. That’s not to say that one religion, even if it is the most predominant in our society, should be espoused, but neither should one belief. As put by McConnell (1995), “it is no more neutral to favor the secular over the religious than it is to favor the religious over the secular.” As the United States becomes increasingly diverse, the necessity for encouraging and teaching acceptance of all grows stronger. Pretending that religion isn’t a part of our world does no favors to those who will one day have to take their own place, and only encourages ignorance and a lack of acceptance that is needed. Knowing this, my belief is that a teacher’s responsibility is not to ensure that all thought or act of religion be removed from schools, but rather to ensure that students understand why it is that some people may act the way they do. On a smaller scale, helping students understand each other can reduce bullying and increase awareness of others’ feelings. On a larger scale, it helps students to see what is going on in the world, and what they can do to help. As an example, I was in 6th grade when the twin towers were hit by terrorists. Growing up in a predominantly white, Lutheran community, I’d never really heard of (or never paid attention to) this strange religion called Islam. All I knew was that Muslims hated Americans, and they thought we were bad people because we didn’t believe what they did. It was a narrow, uneducated belief, shared by many of my friends and peers, and one that could have been avoided had we been taught that Christianity wasn’t the only belief people had (this was something I knew vaguely, but did not quite grasp). The US was swept by Islamophobia after 9/11, and still is, causing mistrust, systemic racism, and acts of violence that are completely misplaced. This is why teachers need to be advocates for well-balanced, neutral education that lets students know that while there are different religions and cultures, and these can motivate us to certain behaviors, it doesn’t mean they are wrong. It is their responsibility to ensure that their own beliefs aren’t being force-fed to students, and that other religions and cultures are represented in their classroom as normal, routine examples. When I taught preschool, we had a “diversity” unit for helping students put words to the different cultures they saw, but diversity was something we taught year-round. Our art was inspired by different cultures, we held discussions about how (or what!) other people might eat during mealtimes, and our materials depicted people from all around the world. I think the same thing should be happening in elementary and secondary schools. In math, students learn that much of it came from Greece, but the Greeks were only a part of the history of mathematics. Medieval Europeans believed that math could explain the created order of nature, and that God had ordered all things by weight, measure, and number. Other cultures and religion helped shape what we know today, and our students should understand this in order to help them find their place in the world as responsible, global citizens.

McConnell, M. (1995). Testimony of Michael W. McConnell. Evans, D. (2005). Taking sides: Clashing views on controversial issues in teaching and educational practice. Dubuque, IA: McGraw-Hill/Dushkind.