Religious Education in Schools

July 6, 2017

Faith Ed, Teaching About Religion in an Age of Intolerance, is one of those amazing lifechanging books that I think every American should read. It was written by Linda Wertheimer, a follower of the Jewish Faith, and it shines a light on American public schools and their view of teaching religions in schools, and frankly, a lack thereof.

As an educator in elementary schools, I confess that I have never taught one single lesson on any religious ideology in my years of teaching. I have worked in several school districts in California, and the subject has never come up. Actually, that’s not entirely true. Every now and again, a young child will raise their hand and offer something about religion and I admit that I uncomfortably change the subject. Although this book certainly raised my conciousness about the subject and my need to discuss religion in schools, it still doesn’t curb my honest fears about being fired for it. The truth is that religious discussions, even in a historical context, are not it any curriculum materials I have ever seen. But, this book has made me understand the need for it and the need for me to speak up about it to my administrators.

What is particularly compelling about this book is that it is written by a practicing Jew, and her perspectives from childhood not only broke my heart, but made me realize what children who belong to minority religions must face daily. It’s true that as a primary educator, we do in fact celebrate Christmas and Easter. True, we do not discuss the religious aspects of these holidays, but we absolutely decorate snowmen, Santa Clauses, Easter eggs, and the like. My current school is very diverse ethnically (mostly Vietnamese, Hispanic, and some white) – but I have only ever seen one student wearing a hijab and I have never seen anyone in a turban or sari. I have not had any complaints about our holiday celebrations, but neither have I heard any desire for any relgious discussion either. We recently celebrated “culture” in an all-school cultural assembly wherein every grade celebrated a different culture. There were presentations on many different cultures and their various dances, foods, cutsoms, etc. And, there was the briefest mention of religion in the presentations, but that is really and truly the only mention of relgion I have ever witnessed in this particular school system.

The author of the book discusses the fact that as a child, and practicing Jew, she was often uncomfortable during classtime because, incredibly, they actually had Christians come in and talk about Jesus during class time. As a resident of a “liberal” state I was, quite frankly, completely shocked to hear about it. But, what was really shocking was the fact that this kind of thing still goes on in schools across the nation! And, local pastors are actually permitted to roam around talking to students about religion during lunch times and so forth. As a Christian, I was completely shocked and appalled by these practices. I am a Christian by choice now, but it’s not like children have a choice. You are raised how you are raised. We don’t get to “pick” our religion until we are adults and subjecting children to outright proselytizing is appalling and insulting. I can’t imagine if this sort of thing happened on the opposite side. In other words, imagine the outrage communities would experience if the local Imam showed up during lunchtime at your local school.

And, speaking of outrage…..the stories the author detailed about outrage from the Evangelical community from schools who actually include curriculum about religion was horrifying. Apparently teaching facts about religion – keep in mind this is teaching not preaching, is so terrifying to the Evangelical community that they feel the need to protest and express their outrage on the national stage. It’s obscenely ridiculous. As a practicing Christian, I am most certainly not offended by the practices of another person’s relgion, nor would I be offended if my students were taught the facts about world religions. It’s absolutely unreal that Evangelicals behave in this way – and it’s embarrassing to me that people might “lump” me in with this crowd. (For the record, I am a practicing Methodist Christian and I belong to a reconciling congregation. So, please don’t lump me in with the Fox News crowd. They would tar and feather me in a heartbeat.)

I highly recommend this book, particularly because it will open your eyes to faith discussions in the public. Just as an example, I had absolutely no idea that a Jew would be uncomfortable with the fact that Christians view them as “chosen” people and almost revere them. I was raised on this kind of rhetoric, and I was stunned that a Jew would find that view offensive and irritating.

Thank you to Ms. Wertheimer for really and truly opening my eyes to the situation in education of religion in American schools. I found it eye-opening, educational, shocking, and food for thought. I also have a great many things to discuss with my elected officials and my local school administrators!

2 Corinthians 5:7 (NRSV): for we walk by faith, not by sight.

Serve all with love.

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