District Administration November 2017 - 40

TEACHING, not PREACHING
Why guidelines are needed
Kentucky's law is not unique, says Linda
K. Wertheimer, former Boston Globe
education editor and author of Faith Ed:
Teaching About Religion In An Age of Intolerance (Beacon Press, 2015).
"Five or six states have passed laws
urging school systems to create electives about the Bible," Wertheimer says.
"It's perfectly legal for a school to offer
a course about-key word: about-the
Bible's history or the Bible as literature."
What many people don't realize, she
says, is that many school districts require
students to learn about the world's religions, which is why NCSS clarified the
academic aspect.
The guidelines emphasize that schools
should make students aware of religion
but not press them to accept any particular faith.
Aside from the NCSS clarification,
the question of how to teach religion
may have largely been settled on its own
over the years by teachers themselves.
"I did not see teachers trying to preach
a particular way of thinking or particular beliefs," says Wertheimer, who visited
schools across the country in researching
her book.
"Whether it was in the Bible Belt or
the very secular state of Massachusetts,
teachers were very clear in saying, 'We're
going to teach you about the core beliefs
of Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and

Islam, but we're not going to say you
should follow them.' "
That doesn't mean the schools she visited were wholly secular.
"I did see examples of what I would
call crossing the line in separation of
church and state, but it was mostly at,
say, a football game, where they had
cheerleaders running through a prayer
banner," she says. "There was one school
district that had a prayer at kindergarten
graduation, and they didn't understand
why that was wrong."
No classroom conversions
Elsewhere, some schools and districts
have been teaching about religion for
years with no problems. In a decade of
teaching the world religion class at Brighton High School near Salt Lake City, Jodi
Ide says she has never had a parent call to
complain or question what she is doing.
Although Brighton, part of the Canyons School District, is home to a large
Mormon population, Ide says she doesn't
know how many of her students practice
that faith-or any other. "I really have
no idea. That's not important," she says.
"When we meet for the first time, all I ask
is their names and what they hope to get
out of the class."
The course begins with an in-depth
study of the First Amendment ("Congress shall make no law respecting an
establishment of religion, or prohibiting

Can they pray?
Perhaps one of the more confusing
aspects of teaching about religion is
the question of whether students can
pray in public schools. The answer
is yes, within established guidelines.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union:
* Students have the right to pray
individually or in groups, or to discuss their religious views with peers
so long as they are not disruptive.
* Because the Establishment
Clause does not apply to purely
private speech, students can read
Bibles or other scriptures, say grace

before meals, pray before tests and
discuss religion with other willing
students.
* Students can pray quietly in the
classroom except when required to
be engaged in school activities.
* In informal settings, such as the
cafeteria or in the halls, students
may pray audibly or silently, subject
to the same rules that apply to other
speech in these locations.
* The right to pray does not
include the right to have a captive
audience or to compel other students
to participate.

the free exercise thereof,") so the students
clearly understand the religious liberty
clauses. "We set the stage to have a really
safe environment where we can talk
about religion, and the kids know what is
appropriate," Ide says.
Since the class is an elective, it draws
many students who are curious about
religion's place in the modern world. The
curriculum begins with an examination
of Hinduism and Buddhism, then moves
on to Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Students also read and discuss articles
about religion.
"That provides kids with a good
opportunity to dialog and express themselves in a controlled classroom setting,
even if they have differences," Ide says. "I
believe it's important to learn to do that
because I don't think our political and
social world are always the best at modeling that for kids."
Unlike the recent Kentucky law,
which focuses on just a few faiths, Utah
encourages a broad-based religious curriculum. "I don't think you can do a complete study of religion without including
the Eastern religions or even Islam," says
Ide. "With the issues we have today with
radical Islam, I don't understand why
anyone wouldn't want students to understand what Islam really stands for."
The key to teaching about religion is
having a strong foundation of not just
the various faiths, but of how they are
perceived in the country and around the
world today. Even though her course covers a wide spectrum of beliefs, there's little
danger of "indoctrination," which is what
often sends up alarm bells when people
hear that schools teach religion, she says.
"I've never had a student convert or
change their beliefs as a result of my class,"
Ide says. "In fact, it's really the opposite.
The kids who tend to already be religious
do enjoy learning about other faiths, but
for the most part it really solidifies their
own beliefs." DA
MORE ONLINE

Religion sources
DAmag.me/religion

40 November 2017

District Administration


http://www.DAmag.me/religion

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of District Administration November 2017

District Administration November 2017 - Cover1
District Administration November 2017 - Cover2
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