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Public schools shouldn’t


preach. But they should
teach kids about religion.
If we want kids to understand their world, they
need to know the basics about different faith traditions.

By Linda K. Wertheimer September 8, 2015


Linda K. Wertheimer, a journalism lecturer at Boston University and a former
education editor for the Boston Globe, is the author of "Faith Ed.: Teaching About Religion in
an Age of Intolerance."
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First-grade teacher Deborah Fagg giving a lesson on world religions at the Minneha Core
Knowledge Magnet Elementary School in Wichita, Kansas during fall semester 2013. (Linda K.
Wertheimer/Courtesy of Linda K. Wertheimer)

The day Jesus entered my fourth-grade classroom, my childhood


forever changed.
It was 1974, and my family had just moved from western New
York state to rural Ohio. I was the new kid, and all I wanted was to fit
in. But one afternoon that first week, a woman hired by local churches
walked into my public-school classroom and my regular teacher left.
She stuck figures of Jesus Christ and his disciples on a flannel board,
told us how Jesus could solve people’s problems and, a little while
later, asked us all to sing the hymn, “Jesus Loves Me.”
Here’s the thing: I’m Jewish.
I didn’t know the song and I didn’t believe in Jesus. I told my
parents and they complained to the school, but the agreed-upon
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resolution was excusing me from this weekly religious instruction. My


brothers and I were the only Jewish kids in the school system, and
every week when it came time for religion class, my 11-year-old
brother and I were, effectively, banished by our classroom teachers.
That was roughly 40 years ago, and if this sort of proselytizing
were the norm today, I’d certainly understand why many parents
remain skittish about outsourcing the teaching of basics about
different religions to the public schools. But if anything, when
disputes arise over teaching about religion as part of public school
curriculum, educators wind up getting the message that they might be
better off playing it safe and shying away from the subject, even at a
moment when it’s critical that children are equipped with an
understanding of various religions and the role they play in today’s
world — particularly the religion that’s so often misunderstood: Islam.
Take the example of Wellesley Middle School in suburban
Boston. In the fall of 2010, a parent chaperone, concerned about a
sixth-grade field trip to a local mosque, videotaped a handful of
students who appeared to kneel and pray in a line of male worshippers.
The kids were only copying what they saw, but critics said the kids
were effectively learning to “pray to Allah.”
The idea of children praying in a mosque on a school-sponsored
trip raised fears that the program was forcing religion on unsuspecting
children. And the school system rightly acknowledged that the boys
shouldn’t have wound up participating in the prayer — they should
have only observed. But for more than a decade, Wellesley has been
getting it right when it comes to teaching about religion, and the
school’s detractors have come primarily from outside of the district.
Most Wellesley parents I interviewed around the time of the incident
appreciated that their 11- and 12-year-olds spent a semester learning
about Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism.
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Every year at Minneha Core Knowledge Magnet Elementary


School in Wichita, Kansas, first graders learn about Judaism,
Christianity and Islam over the course of several weeks — a
curriculum the school has stood by, in spite of a misunderstanding two
years ago about a bulletin board that illustrated the Five Pillars of
Islam.
On occasion, yes, schools get into public messes over where the
line is drawn between church and state — like recent reports of a
“mass baptism” taking place on campus prior to a Georgia high
school’s football practice.
But in my travels around the country reporting for my book,
“Faith Ed.: Teaching About Religion in An Age of Intolerance,” I
didn’t see teachers trying to preach Christianity — or any — faith. I
saw educators trying to provide kids with facts about the histories and
practices of world religions, including faiths about which few
students knew anything.
And the takeaway isn’t that there’s a danger our schools will
veer toward religious indoctrination. It’s that schools should do more
to give religion a firm place in the curriculum, beginning as early as
the elementary grades. That way, kids will be prepared, as they grow,
to evaluate what they see every night on cable TV based on real
information, rather than a set of stereotypes.
They should know the difference between Shi’a and Sunni Islam
— not as a perfunctory nod to diversity, but because they’ll be able to
better form opinions about the Middle East conflicts that dominate the
news. They should know the difference between Sikhism and
Hinduism, considering that those are the respective religions of the
last two prime ministers of India — the world’s largest democracy.
They should have a historical perspective on the differences between
Catholicism and Protestant denominations when the pope visits their
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country, as he’s doing this month. It’s problematic, as Texas State


University’s Joseph Laycock notes, to wait for college to teach
religion as a subject, because “many Americans never have the
opportunity to go to college.”
There are parents and educators who consider first grade too
early to teach about religion in school, but as the parent of a 7-year-
old, I believe it’s the ideal time to start increasing children’s
awareness about our pluralistic society. Consider that in a Pew survey
a few years ago, just 45 percent of Americans could identify Friday as
the start of the Jewish Sabbath. That’s the sort of rudimentary
knowledge that can, and should, be explained in elementary school.
No, we can’t expect kids to grasp all the nuances of the major
world religions and the controversies surrounding them, but if we’re
preparing kids to be thoughtful citizens of the world, they should
know something about people in their community who may be
different from themselves. My son has been attending religious school
since kindergarten. He knows the major figures in Judaism as well as
the holidays. But ask him what Easter is about — other than bunnies
and colorful eggs — and he really has no idea. I’m happy that he
knows his own religious heritage, but I also want him to know more
about his peers’ different traditions.
In my conversations with students about world religion courses,
young people told me about their experiences being bullied because of
their faiths. A 24-year-old Sikh man recalled the humiliation he felt at
age 5 when fellow kindergartners made fun of his patka, his traditional
religious head covering. A Muslim sixth-grader remembered a
classmate’s taunt from a few years before: “Do you have a bomb in
your locker?” Muslims talk about being stigmatized every time a news
story breaks about a terrorist who has a connection to Islam.
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Unfortunately, there’s no consensus about developing best


practices for teaching about religion in public schools. At best,
America’s schools, which have long had a tumultuous relationship
with religion, largely because of prayer-in-school battles, are in flux.
The country has only one school system, Modesto, Calif., that requires
a world religions course for graduation. Minneha, in Wichita, goes in
a different direction, among roughly 1,200 private and public schools
that utilize Core Knowledge, a well-known, but not widely adopted
curriculum.
The First Amendment proscribes “establishment” of religion, but
clearly leaves room for schools to teach about religion. And while 70
percent of Americans still identify as Christian and we still debate
whether we’re “a Christian nation,” those who argue for the
installation of religious values in public schools are on
Constitutionally shaky ground — as are those who say instruction that
explains religion has to be banned.
Educators and religion scholars of today generally agree that
Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark did the most to elevate religion’s
place as an academic subject in the 1963 Abington v. Schempp case,
banning teacher-led prayer, in which he wrote: “It might 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.” Yet many middle and high school
teachers spend only a few days discussing religion as the topic comes
up in social studies. It’s unusual to do much of anything at the
elementary level.
Despite efforts over the last several decades, moves to develop
courses and training for teaching religion have begun and often fizzled,
even though most states now have standards that call for a religion
component in social studies and geography.
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We need to resurrect those efforts, because the time to become a


more religiously literate people is overdue.
After 9/11, wrote John Seigenthaler, founder of the First
Amendment Center, “It is no longer a question of whether schools
should teach children about Islam. They must teach them — about
other religions as well. It is a responsibility, a duty.” Nationally, we
need to renew dialogue about the best way to teach about religion,
how to better train teachers and how early the lessons should begin.
We need an understanding that it’s not only okay to teach about
religion in schools, but vital. Too often, knee-jerk reactions to lessons
on religion come from adults who harbor misconceptions they
otherwise might not have if they, themselves, had a broader base of
knowledge about different religions.
Education can’t eliminate ignorance, but it can reduce it. The
same Muslim boy who was teased in elementary school described how
peers stood up for him in a later incident and chided a substitute
teacher for claiming that all Muslims were terrorists. The students had
remembered the lesson from sixth grade that it was wrong to
stereotype based on religion.
Education is essential if we hope to facilitate a broader
conversation. We can’t effectively debate whether Islam is a religion
of peace — as its defenders say — or if it is inherently bellicose — as
its critics suggest — until we first have a body politic that knows the
basics.
Education might have prevented what happened to me as a kid. I
returned to my alma mater in 2013 to find my school system teaching
about religion as part of social studies and teens respectful of other
faiths even though few personally knew a non-Christian. The
difference? In the ’70s and ’80s, my peers and I lacked what all
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schools should have today: teachers who can guide students through a
healthier discussion about religious differences and similarities.

Simple Highlights
Issue
Reasons
Conclusion
Article Website:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/09/08/schools-shouldnt-preach-but-
they-should-teach-about-religion/?utm_term=.f889bee4848e
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Jacci Sanchez

Professor Rodman

RS 204

8 October 2017

Summary

Author Linda K. Wertheimer claims that public schools shouldn't preach but rather they

should teach kids about religion. The argument is obvious in the title of the article. The issue is:

Should public schools teach kids about religion? This is the issue because throughout the article

Wertheimer explained how in 1974 in her first week of school a woman hired by local churches

walked into her public-school classroom and then her regular teacher left. She said that the

woman went on to struck figures of Jesus Christ and how Jesus could solve people's problems.

The woman asked the whole class to sing the hymn "Jesus Loves Me" but the thing is, she's

Jewish. Wertheimer then went on and told her parents about it. This is where reason number one

comes in because once Wertheimer told her parents about it, they went on to complain to the

school about the whole religion issue but then agreed upon a resolution where she was excused

from the weekly religious instruction. Every week when it came time for religion class her 11-

year-old brother and herself were removed from the class immediately. This is reason number

one because if parents have complaints about their children being taught the multiple religions

they're exposed to there is a simple solution where students can be excused from the weekly

religious instructions so that there is no drama/chaos to be made. Anyway, Wertheimer then went

on to talking about how she interviewed a couple parents about how they feel their children

being taught about religion and they said they appreciated that their 11- and 12-year-olds spent a
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semester learning about Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. Every year at an elementary

school in Kansas first graders learn about Judaism, Christianity and Islam over the course of

several weeks. Wertheimer then said that schools should do more to give religion a firm place in

the curriculum which then leads to reason number 2 because she said that so in that way kids will

be prepared as they grow to evaluate what they see every night on cable TV based on real

information rather than a set of stereotypes. In other words, this means that kids will be prepared

to see from their own point of view rather than being manipulated to see from anybody else's

point of view. Wertheimer also made a connection to reason number two through saying that she

can't expect kids to grasp all the nuances of the major religions and the controversies surrounding

them but they're preparing kids to be thoughtful citizens of the world, that they should know

something about people in their community who may be different from themselves. This means

that the kids would know that there are people who are different from them and that it's okay.

This also means that kids would have an opportunity to get out of their comfort zones.

Furthermore, Wertheimer then went on to quote John Seigenthaler, founder of the First

Amendment Center where he says "It is no longer a question of whether schools should teach

children about Islam. They must teach them- about other religions as well. It is a responsibility, a

duty." Which leads to her saying that we need an understanding that it's not only okay to teach

about religion in schools but vital which means that it is important to understand that it's okay.

Wertheimer then went on to the third reason which she says how the same Muslim boy who was

teased in elementary school described how peers stood up for him in a later incident and chided a

substitute teacher for claiming that all Muslims were terrorists. The students had remembered a

lesson from 6th grade that it was wrong to stereotype based on religion which means that

teaching religion is actually beneficial because there is more understanding than ignorance which
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leads to our conclusion that public schools should teach kids about religion because yeah

education can't eliminate ignorance but it can reduce it.

• Issue: Should Public Schools teach kids about religion?

• Reasons: 1. “I told my parents and they complained to the school, but agreed-upon

resolution was excusing me from this weekly religious instruction…… and every week

when it came time for religion class, my 11-year-old brother and I were, effectively,

banished by our classroom teachers” aka if parents complain about religious teachings

there could be resolutions such as excusing students from weekly religious instruction.

2. “.. kids will be prepared, as they grow, to evaluate what they see every night on cable

TV based on real information, rather than set of stereotypes.” Aka kids will be prepared

to see from their own point of view rather than being manipulated to see from anybody

else’s point of view.

“… we’re preparing kids to be thoughtful citizens of the world, they should know

something about people in their community who may be different from themselves.” Aka

they’ll be prepared to know that there are other people different from them and that it’s

okay. It also means that the kids would have an opportunity to get out of their comfort

zones.

3. “The same Muslim boy who was teased in elementary school described how peers

stood up for him in a later incident and chided a substitute teacher for claiming that all

Muslims were terrorists. The students had remembered the lesson from sixth grade that it

was wrong to stereotype based on religion.” Aka teaching religion is actually beneficial

because there is more understanding than ignorance


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• Conclusion: Public schools should teach kids about religion because yeah education can’t

eliminate ignorance, but it can reduce it.


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Works Cited

• https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/09/08/schools-shouldnt-preach-

but-they-should-teach-about-religion/?utm_term=.f889bee4848e