Religious Study: How it was taught and where it is going by Ashley Rhodes EDUC 6001 Spring 2010
“…it might as well be said that one’s education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization.” –Justice Clark remarking on the Schempp decision of 1963 (Romanowski, 137)
A Historical Look at Religious Studies Colonial times: The primary purpose of school besides learning the three R’s, was to teach the lessons of the Bible. 1800s: There were no state-authorized public schools and education was the job of the church.
Historical Look Cont’d Mid-to late 1800s: Public schools as we know them began. The “Establishment Clause” states that the government cannot “promote or endorse a religion, nor may it stop people from freely practicing their religion” (Passe, 103). Late 1800s: The state supreme courts in Ohio and Wisconsin take away mandatory Bible reading in public schools.
Historical Look Cont’d Mid-1900s: The U.S. Supreme Court rules that “the Bible may be studied for its literary and historical merits, but may not be used for daily religious exercises” (Manzo). Religious and educational organizations issue guidelines for teaching about religion in public schools. They recommend an approach that is academic, not devotional. Late 1900s: The Bible and Literacy Project and First Amendment Center issue a guide on how to teach using the Bible. Due to massive Asian immigration, a movement for “multicultural education” was endorsed.
Present Practices of Religious Studies in Our High Schools Students make comparison charts to see differences and similarities between various religions, which does not require religious belief from students Students examine religious texts’ literary structures and how ideas are taught through these literary works
Mandating a World Religions Course Since 2000, the Modesto, CA school district mandates for high school graduation a ninth grade semester-long course in world religions. It is the only district in the country that has this policy and is part of its “safe schools” policy intended to create a comfortable environment for its students.
How Modesto’s World Religions Course was Prepared and Taught Teacher-led committee created the curriculum with local community involvement in the process Teachers identified each religion they would cover and they worked in teams to research the different faiths Religious leaders and representatives were invited to attend meetings to get their input and to review the textbook, which dedicated equal number of pages to each religion
World Religions Course Preparation Cont’d Teachers participated in 30 hours of in-service training preparation Administrators applied stricter teaching guidelines for this course to prevent teacher bias An opt-out policy for parents uncomfortable with the curriculum was provided by the district
Modesto’s World Religions Course The semester-long course began with an overview of the First Amendment. Teachers stressed the importance of respectful questioning. Students studied an equal amount of time on units covering Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Sikhism. Each unit studied the history of each faith, the basic doctrines, and examples of each religion’s influence on society.
Modesto’s World Religions Course Cont’d Teachers were not allowed to share their personal faith backgrounds during the semester. Outside speakers were not allowed. Teachers followed a prescribed lesson plan where every class watched the same videos and read the same textbook, The Usborne Book of World Religions.
Modesto’s World Religions Course Effects (Lester, 27)
Benefits of Religious Study Students’ respect for the rights of other religions increases Students are more willing to protect the rights of people of other faiths After 9-11, Modesto did not have a single schoolyard harassment against Muslim students during the 2001-2002 school year Leads to a stronger society where the United States adjusts to the challenges that come with globalization Develops active citizens Kindles intellectual and moral thoughts regarding what is important in life and how what we believe shapes our lives
Challenges of Religious Study High-stakes, end-of-grade tests seldom include questions about religious knowledge and so emphasis on religion may be diminished Teachers lack the knowledge and skills to effectively teach about world religions Teachers are confused about the legality of teaching religion and fear personal and legal conflicts from students and their parents
Ways to Support Religious Studies Provide a comprehensive training program for teachers Administration must strongly support religious study Clearly communicate to parents and other community members that schools are teaching about religion and not what to believe Clearly state and reinforce the educational program’s objectives
Tips for Starting a World Religions Curriculum Involve the community. Engage diverse voices. Build trust. Be sensitive. Get district buy-in. (Kilman, 19)
Tips Cont’d Recognize that you can never have enough training. Opt-in for teachers. Communicate with parents. Lay the groundwork for respect. Maintain neutrality. (Kilman, 19)
Meaningful Ways to Integrate Religion into Social Studies Classes Teachers identify historical time periods or movements in which religious influences are key reasons Provide students opportunities to analyze the beliefs that support political and social positions of religious groups Critically examine how religion and faith have shaped the American culture and our daily lives
Meaningful Ways Cont’d Analyze how faith and beliefs of U.S. key figures have played a role in influencing their actions and decisions Allow students to compare and contrast their own religion and beliefs to those of historical figures
“Knowledge about religions is not only a characteristic of an educated person, but is also absolutely necessary for understanding and living in a world of diversity.” National Council for the Social Studies (Romanowski, 136)
Works Cited Diversity02_transparent image. (2010). Retrieved May 2, 2010, from http://blogs.freshminds.co.uk/talent/?p=794. DiversityConnects Logo. (2010). Retrieved May 2, 2010, from http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdelib/DiversitySummit/index.htm. Kilman, C. (2007, November). One Nation, Many Gods. Education Digest: Essential Readings Condensed for Quick Review, 73, 14-20. Retrieved May 2, 2010, from ERIC database. Lester, E., & Roberts, P. S. (2006). Learning About World Religions in Public Schools: The Impact of Student Attitudes and Community Acceptance in Modesto, Calif. Arlington, VA: First Amendment Center. Manzo, K. K. (2007, May). The Bible Makes a Comeback. Education Week, 26, 25-27. Retrieved May 2, 2010, from ERIC database.
Works Cited Cont’d Meredith, S. (2006). Usborne Book of World Religions. London, England: Usborne Books. Modesto City Schools. (2009). Retrieved May 2, 2010, from http://mcs.monet.k12.ca.us/default.aspx. Nobles, S. (2009, September). Head Scarves and Stocking Feet: Pushing Boundaries through Literature. Phi Delta Kappan, 91, 65-67. Retrieved May 2, 2010, from ERIC database. Passe, J. (2009, May). Teaching Religion in America’s Public Schools: A Necessary Disruption. Social Studies, 100 , 102-106. Retrieved May 2, 2010, from ERIC database. Pur17 Image. Retrieved May 2, 2010, from http://www.nd.edu/~rbarger/www7/pur17.jpg. Romanowski, M. H. (2000, January). Addressing the Influence of Religion and Faith in American History. Clearing House, 73, 134-137. Retrieved May 2, 2010, from ERIC database. Wikimedia Image. (2008). Religion symbol. Retrieved May 2, 2010, from http://www.jameslogancourier.org/index.php?itemid=3390.
“This project work is original and I have not submitted it for credit in any other course at ECU or any other higher education institution.”