Religion and Education

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The relationship between education and religion is something that has always been fraught with misunderstanding, hostility, tension, and confusion. For many, and may be considerably more so compared to other identity forms, religion triggers a strong sense of exclusivity. It is an identity that is based a belief in absolute truth (Dunn 198). Additionally, unlike cultural identity, it is in many cases exclusive in its fundamental assertions and claims. In general, religious faith matters are some of the highest stake issues in any society. However, the treatment of the matter in schools is mostly scant. This is partly caused by uncertainty among the educators regarding what is permeated in law and partly because of uncertainty regarding its rightful place within the pluralistic democratic schools. There is a lot of confusion regarding the role of religion in American schools. On one hand, there is the issue of separation of state and church. This is an often misunderstood concept, but it guides many educators’ thinking who hold that principle is a reason for avoiding the topic of religion entirely. Most educators, on the other hand, appreciate the fact that religious education is crucial for the understanding social studies content. It is an aspect that can be termed ass instrumental in realizing one of the major goals of the American schooling system; the development of active citizens (Zinn 10). Without religious study there is no way for students to understand certain topics such as religious-based persecution; the John F. Kennedy’s election as the first Catholic president of America; Crusades; the formation of Pakistan and India and even more recent occurrences such as the Israeli-Palestinian dispute; 9/11; the Christian standpoint on right regarding stem cell research, abortion, and gay rights.

The power of the above issues can explain why the majority of school district curriculum and states make reference to increasing the world regions knowledge among the students. The main challenge here is not necessarily including the content into the school curriculum, considering that it is already available, the problem is how to make sure the teachers actually teach the content. Religion is not absent from the schools considering that the majority of the teachers are used to transitional approach to school and community celebration, religion subtext usually arise (Dunn 198).  Schools and teachers alike engage in various activities such as reciting sectarian Prayers, singing traditional songs which have some religious connotations and Christmas decorations. For the nation to effectively address the issue of teaching religion with no proselytization, it is crucial for the system to explore causes and assumptions underlying every set of factors in the country’s confusion regarding the role played by religion in schools. Even though it might be disruptive, there is a way out. It is crucial and even necessary to teach religion if the nation is to maintain religious tolerance among the citizens.

When it comes to the constitutional matters surrounding the issue of religion in schools, the First Amendment holds that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” (Passe & Lara 102). The constitutional clause does not address the issue of teaching religion but only states that the government might not endorse or promote a religion and it cannot also stop individuals from practicing their religion freely. As such, the state is supposed to remain a neutral party when it comes to religious matter in schools. When President Thomas Jefferson in 1802 referred to a “wall of separation” between state and church and when the Bill of Rights was written, there was no state-authorized schools (Zinn 10). At that time, education was basically the province of the church which had the responsibility of designating education on religion as the most significant aim. Public schools never started until the late 1800s, ironically when Massachusetts Protestants felt that they were under threat after an upsurge of Irish immigrants children to the streets of Boston thus aiming at Americanizing them via a public structure of education which in turn avoided the likely growth of the Roman Catholic schools.

Religious instructions were included in the very first public school’s curriculum. The instructions were specifically designed to support the Protestant approaches to life. Several Supreme Court verdicts over time used the Establishment Clause to schooling system and thus prohibited schools from participating in the celebration of certain religions or even supporting religion over the secular belief system. Many schools opted to discontinue public prayer practice, religious-themed day celebration and took matters to the extreme altogether teaching about religion. Meanwhile, churches today continue to offer parochial religious education. A lot of children went to school churches with the purpose of learning more about their religions after school or on Sundays (Vickers 247). A lot of others had to learn about religion from their families. This is a learning pattern that has remained fairly constant over the years.  The majority of parents who wanted their children to be exposed to more intense religious teachings often opt for non-governmental schools. Many have objected the lack of instruction in their preferred religious views. Many are quite comfortable with their children being taught about their religion without venturing into the practices or beliefs of others. After all, the goal is often indoctrination. The majority want their children to follow in their footsteps.

Conflicts about religion in schools are something that has been there and continues to be a controversial issue. For instance, as back as the 19th century, Catholics and Protestants were often at odds over prayer and Bible reading in public schools. The most dominant disagreements then were over which prayers and which Bible should be used in the classrooms. Some Catholics worried that the schools would include the King James Version which was the favorite among the Protestants. Fighting broke in 1844 between Catholics and Protestants in Philadelphia where several lives were lost and several Catholic churches also destroyed. During the 1850s, several other similar conflicts erupted in Boston as well as other sections of New England. Liberal Protestants in collaboration with their secular allies in the 20th century fought religious conservatives on the issue of whether biology class students should be taught the evolution theory by Charles Darwin (Vickers 247).  The court has since then stressed that the constitution does not allow children’s indoctrination in religion particularly in public schools. However, the confusion arises when it comes to determining what exactly constitutes indoctrination of religious activities. For instance, the question of whether a class that is on Bible as literature be taught with zero bias against or for the ideas that it is the religious truth. Another controversial issue is whether a student can be compelled to take part in Christian-themed music programs. Other constitutional guarantees father complicates this issue. For example, the constitution through the First Amendment protects freedom of association and freedom of speech. Many religious groups have in the past cited the guarantees when supporting the religious speech by a student or when trying to get school sponsorship as well as resources for student religious clubs.

Religion plays a crucial role when it comes to social studies contents, and thus it is hard to ignore particularly considering the contemporary world order. In the current global societies, it is essential to understand and know the religious belief held by other and more so in the school environment. Even though the social studies curriculum has been infused with religious education, teachers often circumvent the matter and end up wrongly citing the separation of state and church as the main obstacle to their failure to teach. Many social educators have over the years played a very important role in adapting the curriculum to fit the changing societal needs. However, they should plan a campaign towards the reintroduction of religion into the school system curriculums. This can aid the country in adjusting to the current issues which have accompanied globalization. Properly organized and resourced efforts might result in stronger societies, where religious variations and appreciated, comprehended and even celebrated as part of society. The other option is the more destruction of the very bonds which hold this nation together. Even though this is a topic that can prove quite disruptive both in schools and in society at large, it is important to talk about the issues responsibly. Teachers can act as the leaders towards educating students how to do this successfully.

Work Cited

Dunn, Jeffery W. Democratic Education, and the Teacher-As-Prophet: Exploring the Religious Work of Schools. Routledge, 2018. 190-234.

Passe, Jeff, and Lara Willox. "Teaching religion in America's public schools: A necessary disruption." The Social Studies100.3 (2009): 102-106.

Vickers, Lucy. "New issues for negotiation: schools and religious freedom." Negotiating Religion. Routledge, 2016. 247-264.

Zinn, Howard. A people's history of the United States: 1492-present. Routledge, 2015. 3-78.

August 14, 2023

Education Religion



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