Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Priest, a Rabbi, and a Buddhist Walk Into a…

For the past several years, the intermediate public school in my town has hosted a World Religions Day for the 6th graders. For an entire day, sixth grade classes move with their teachers from classroom to classroom every 40 minutes or so to learn about different religions and cultures. Each presentation is led by either a local religious leader or a practicing member (usually a parent) of a particular faith. There is absolutely no proselytizing, “recruitment” efforts, or one-upmanship regarding the speakers’ personal faiths in relation to other faiths. Rather, the sessions are warm, informational, and meant to educate the students on the various religions in our region. The presentations highlight the commonalities and differences among various religions, as well as the history and cultural influences behind each respective religion’s specific beliefs. Students are strongly encouraged to ask questions, and after a few brief moments of hesitation, a barrage of questions invariably flows from the kids. Parents and town residents are welcome to attend the sessions, and a healthy number do. This past year, sessions were hosted by a Catholic priest, a rabbi, a Buddhist monk, a Presbyterian minister, a Congregational pastor, an imam, and a parent who practices Hinduism. Follow-up surveys to the students indicate that the overwhelming majority find the experience interesting and valuable (much to their surprise). They appreciate the exposure to the religions of some of their peers, and the opportunity to ask questions that they normally would be too embarrassed or too shy to ask in another environment. Against some fairly substantial odds, the event has been a success each year.

The topic of religion in public schools has a long and highly controversial history in the United States, and remains the cause of much conflict. Religion is certainly a “hot button” subject in many regions, and many schools understandably decide to distance themselves from the topic as much as possible. There are fears of possible indoctrination, the belief that any mention of religion in public school is unconstitutional, and the concern that introducing discussion about religion in the classroom could provoke clashes between students of different faiths. Some schools, however, have decided to tackle the subject head-on by incorporating lessons about world religions into the curriculum.

Some decades ago, schools adopted materials on multiculturalism and diversity education in order to foster better student understanding of racial and cultural differences, and to promote tolerance. Lessons on world religions may be viewed in a similar vein, with many of the same goals. By law, public schools in the U.S. may not provide religious instruction, but they may teach about religion. There’s a vital difference, and it’s critical to distinguish between teaching religion, and teaching about religion. Teachers and outside guests must remain neutral when teaching about religion in public schools, and embrace the idea that at its heart, education is about broadening students’ horizons, and teaching them to develop the necessary critical thinking and reasoning skills that will prepare them for a thoughtful and well-informed life ahead.

My picks this week focus on lessons that teach students about various world religions and how they influence the local and global cultures. I will also be featuring many more lessons and educational resources on world religions on our Facebook and Twitter pages, so be sure to give those a look.

The Golden Rule of Reciprocity

Subjects: World Religions, Social Studies, English Language Arts

Grade: 4-6

The Silk Roads encompassed a diversity of cultures embracing numerous religions and worldviews from Venice, Italy to Heian, Japan. Between these two ends, belief systems that are represented are Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Shinto, and Daoism. In this lesson, students will review, compare and contrast The Golden Rule of Reciprocity from different religious teachings, and will analyze primary texts of sacred and philosophical writings. This lesson was produced by the Asia Society, a global non-profit organization that seeks to strengthen relationships and promote education in the fields of arts and culture, policy and business in the U.S. and Asia.

Five Major World Religions

Subjects: World Religions, Research Skills

Grade: 7

This activity allows students to research and identify various aspects of five major world religions including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism. Students will use the World Wide Web to conduct research, recording their findings in tables. This lesson is a product of C·R·E·A·T·E for Mississippi at Mississippi State University. C·R·E·A·T·E for Mississippi provides on-site, on-going technology professional development, "just-in-time" support for technology use, and technology-infused curriculum modules.

An Approach to Teaching Religious Tolerance

Subjects: World Religions, Social Studies, English, Character Education

Grade: 9-12

The United States of America is a nation founded upon freedom. Our Founding Fathers attempted to frame a flexible document to live through the ages which would protect and promote freedom. It is the responsibility of the people in a democratic society to educate their children to understand our freedom, but also the responsibility that goes with it. The primary focus of this lesson will be that of religious freedom. It is a sensitive subject area, but a critical one to developing an understanding of our rights as United States citizens. Students should learn to be open-minded, independent thinkers in this area so that freedom may be guaranteed throughout the ages. This lesson is a product of the Academy Curricular Exchange at the Organization for Community Networks (OFCN). The Curriculum Exchange offers a variety of lesson plans by teachers attending the Columbia Education Center's Summer Workshops, as well teachers nationwide.

~Joann's Picks - July 21, 2011~

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