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Yoffee 1 Elicia Yoffee Ben Henderson Rhetoric and Civic Life II 4 April 2013 Introducing Policy for Comparative

Religious Education into Pennsylvania Public Schools One day, in ninth grade social studies class, we were doing a crossword puzzle about 19th century Europe in preparation for an upcoming test. After completing the puzzle, our teacher decided to call on students to answer the questions. One of the clues was this group of people was forced out of Russia because of pogroms and discrimination. Another student in the class volunteered the answer, which was Jews. This prompted a kid in front of me to raise his hand and inform the teacher that he did not think it was the right answer because, isnt Jews a discriminatory word? This could be chalked up to the mere ignorance of a 14 year old; however, lack of religious knowledge is not restricted to American teenagers. According to the Pew Forums religious knowledge survey in 2010, conducted on 3,412 people from ages 18 to 65+, the average respondent correctly answered only16 of the 32 questions. These included inquiries regarding the Bible, such as what is the first book of the Bible, elements of Christianity, including was Mother Teresa Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, or Mormon, and elements of Judaism, like when does the Jewish Sabbath begin? Friday, Saturday or Sunday? It also included questions relating to Mormonism, world religions (including Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism), atheism and agnosticism, and religion in public life (Who Knows). The results of this survey are

Yoffee 2 highly disconcerting as they highlight the lack of awareness Americans have about religions, including those prominent in America, despite the large percentage, 83.1%, of Americans who affiliate with a religion ("Report 1). While knowledge about other religious may not seem specifically important, especially if one is not a member of that religion, awareness of others beliefs can prevent unfair assumptions and anti-Semitism. For example, since 9/11, the ignorance that Americans in general have about Islam has led to mass discrimination against people of Middle Eastern descent. Because the terrorists involved in the hijackings were a part of AlQaeda, an Islamic extremist organization, Americans as a whole had a largely negative reaction to all who were Muslim or looked Muslim. The concept that all Muslims are not USA hating terrorists simply did not register because most Americans are not educated about Islamic beliefs. Ignorance, therefore, led to discriminatory actions toward American citizens and immigrants who positively contribute to our society (Bayoumi). Religious beliefs drive the decisions of countries all over the world. They can be the root of conflict and the reason for unity. Lack of understanding of these religions can lead to hasty generalizations, discrimination and stereotypes of religions based on extremist action or racist sentiment. The question therefore arises, as the world is becoming smaller with technological developments and greater travel availability, is it acceptable for Americans to continue the trend of religious unawareness? The answer is undoubtedly no. In order for the United States to remain a leader in the world while making positive contributions to human rights, the education system must start to emphasize world religions. An effective method for accomplishing this goal could be changing the standards for social studies education at a state level. The Pennsylvania Department of Education should update the social studies secondary education standards to

Yoffee 3 include greater emphasis on the teaching of comparative world religions in order to increase the global awareness and tolerance of the future leaders of America. Currently, the suggested Academic Standards for History for grades 9-12 by the Pennsylvania Department of Education have very little emphasis placed on religious studies. They are in the World History section, and are placed in the same bullet point as a bolded Belief systems. The concept of religion is only mentioned once in the standards for secondary civics and government, and that is in relation to the political motivations of religious organizations (United States). If religion is such a large factor in community, national, and international society, it would make sense for a larger part of the curriculum to include religion. In fact, while the Supreme Court has prohibited religious indoctrination in public schools, it has also stated that ones education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization (Haynes: Ch.15). There are multiple school districts across the country which have included policy on comparative religious teaching and religious liberty in their education policy. One of these school districts is the Davis County School District in Davis County, Utah. The policy enacted by this school district highlights purposefully the difference between indoctrination and education, as well as the necessity of being taught to understand a variety of beliefs, and to respect the rights of all people, including the rights of individuals or groups with whom the students may disagree (Haynes: Ch.15). Pennsylvania could adopt a successful policy of comparative religious education as long as it assures that these guidelines are followed. The benefits of providing students in Pennsylvania with religious education are very clear. As shown by the Pew Forum survey in 2010, average Americans lack knowledge on most religions, even those that are relatively common in our country, such as aspects of Christianity

Yoffee 4 and Judaism ("Who Knows). Providing students with even a basic education of the belief systems within these religions will not only make them more aware of their surroundings, but aware and more respectful of other peoples religions, people with whom they interact every day. This tolerance, if learned at a young age, will ideally stay with the student through their adolescence and into adulthood, ultimately creating a society of more understanding and aware individuals. Another major benefit of comparative religious education becomes apparent when one examines the myriad of religious conflicts around the world. From the Palestinian/Israeli conflict in Israel, to the Muslim/Hindu conflict in India and Pakistan, to Communist oppression of Buddhists in Tibet, religious differences drive human interactions. In order to understand the actions of the different parties in these disputes, one must first understand their motives, and therefore, the religious beliefs that drive their motives. Teaching comparative religion in public school would provide students with an understanding of these religions and help them grasp the reasons behind these conflicts and more objectively examine the actions of both sides. This will not only promote understanding of current events, but it will improve critical thinking skills necessary in all different professions. There are multiple arguments against the teaching about religion in public schools, one of which is that this education would be a violation of the Constitutions separation of church and state. However, if taught properly, there is a distinct difference between teaching about religion and the teaching of religion. Teaching about religion involves exposing students to the religious diversity that exists in the world and how it affects relationships between individuals and countries. This is very different from imposing, promoting and conforming students to a certain religion (Haynes: Ch 7). In elementary schools, students are taught the

Yoffee 5 beliefs and ways of Native Americans. In high schools, they are taught the differences and aspects of American political parties. In no way, however, is this education about these cultures and parties intended to make these students follow the beliefs of Native American tribes or affiliate with a certain party. They are meant to encourage knowledge of American history and government. Teaching of world religions would provide the same type of knowledge base. Another major case argued by opponents of teaching about religion in public schools is that teachers are simply not properly educated or equipped to do so. Proponents of this argument agree that religious education might, under ideal conditions, serve the States interest in promoting tolerance in children but maintain that despite good intentions these teachers may teach religion courses badly( Bartkowiak). This is a legitimate concern. A teachers lack of understanding of a religion may result in the unintentional transfer of stereotypes and false information to a student, leading to increased ignorance rather than enlightenment. An even more detrimental scenario would occur if the teacher held certain prejudices regarding certain religions and beliefs and transferred these to their students rather than actual aspects of the respective religion. This would, again, have the complete opposite effect on a student and increase intolerance. Is this an excuse not to teach religion in schools? Well, if one examines the curriculum for Social Studies Secondary Education majors at Penn State, it is apparent that only one of the prescribed or additional courses directly addresses religion, Cultural Anthropology. If the education of teachers lacks global religion concepts, then of course they will not be prepared to teach global religions to their students. The solution, however, is not withholding an essential part of social studies from young Pennsylvanians, but is educating the teachers to teach these religions. Since the university bases its education programs on the requirements set by the state,

Yoffee 6 a change in state requirements would facilitate alterations to the curriculum for these teachers. Required teacher workshops on World Religion during teacher in-service days could speed up the implementation of this curriculum so that districts would not have to wait until prospective teachers get into the work force. As a whole, the American people are simply not well educated about religion, be they common religions in America, or world religions. A possible solution for this problem, a significant one considering that lack of awareness tends to lead to stereotyping, discrimination, and anti-Semitism, is educating high school students about comparative religions in order to create a more educated and tolerant generation. The Department of Education of Pennsylvania can spearhead the first statewide standard for comparative religion education in secondary public schools a program, possibly based on programs initiated by individual districts in other states such as the one in Davis County, Utah, that would create a more tolerant and aware generation of Pennsylvanians. This could set up Pennsylvanias youth to be the best candidates for leaders in politics, international relations, and any businesses or industries that require international cooperation (which as the world gets smaller, is becoming most of them). Ideally, other states would see the policy enacted by Pennsylvania and adapt similar programs. Education of public school secondary students in Pennsylvania can lead to a better, more aware America, improving relations between religious groups within the country, optimizing understanding of world religions, and developing our countrys global image.

Yoffee 7 Works Cited United States. Pennsylvania Department of Education. Standards Aligned Sydstem.Standards Download Pennsylvania Academic Standards. Pennsylvania Department of Education, 2013. Web. 08 Apr. 2013. Bartkowiak, Julia J. "Religious Education in the Public Schools." 20th WCP: Religious Education in the Public Schools. Paideia, 15 Aug. 1998. Web. 08 Apr. 2013. Bayoumi, Moustafa. "Between Acceptance and Rejection: Muslim Americans and the Legacies of September 11." Magazine of History 25.3 (2011): 15-9. ProQuest. Web. 8 Apr. 2013. Haynes, Charles C., and Oliver S. Thomas. "Chapter 7: Religion in the Public School Curriculum." Finding Common Ground: A Guide to Religious Liberty in Public Schools. Nashville, TN: First Amendment Center, 2001. N. pag. Print. Haynes, Charles C., and Oliver S. Thomas. "Chapter 15: Sample School District Policies." Finding Common Ground: A Guide to Religious Liberty in Public Schools. Nashville, TN: First Amendment Center, 2001. N. pag. Print. "Report 1: Religious Affliation: Summary of Key Findings." Statistics on Religion in America Report. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, Feb. 2008. Web. 08 Apr. 2013. United States. Pennsylvania Department of Education. Standards Aligned Sydstem.Standards Download Pennsylvania Academic Standards. Pennsylvania Department of Education, 2013. Web. 08 Apr. 2013. "Who Knows What About Religion." U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 28 Sept. 2010. Web. 08 Apr. 2013.