I understand and completely agree with the notion that we should not be teaching religious theories in our science classrooms. But what about religion classrooms? Oh, that’s right we don’t have any… Well, a few in the parochial or other religious based schools. In which case, they are teaching the beliefs of that particular religion not a general understanding of the different religions of the world.
I’m floored when I meet adults who are amazingly ignorant to the very basics of religion – even their own. I’m not immune to this either mind you, I am often amazed and embarrassed at what I don’t know. Our religious knowledge is limited because unless you majored in religion in college most of us didn’t take a general course on the subject. And although there are opportunities to learn more about the particular religion each one of us has signed up for, where does the person who isn’t sure go for more information.
And more importantly, how can we teach our children early on the differences between religious groups so that they can grow up with more understanding and hopefully compassion than the generations before them? How can we offer a broader more universal understanding of what Religion is? There’s really no where to turn.
In my opinion, religion is one of those things that if you think it’s easy, you’re probably doing it wrong. [I have the same philosophy on parenting by the way.] My children are just now at the age where they ask questions about what they hear and learn in church or at the religious schools they attend. I was frustrated by how best to give them a balanced, yet solid answer. Of course that’s impossible, and it was muddled by the fact that I’m still in my own learning path. These were not questions that I had “right” answers too.
What I came to realize was that by helping them understand how difficult these questions are to answer I am paving the way for them to feel more free to ask and question what they learn. When they enter their own path to faith I want them to do it with eyes open and with a better understanding than I had growing up of what Religion is and how different people’s beliefs can be. And that ultimately there is not one “right” answer for everyone.
I would love to see a History of Religion course to be taught in middle school or high school or even as a required undergraduate college course. This would not be a course proposing validity of any one religion. It would simply relate what scholars of different religious philosophies believe and why. Provide a history of how different religions have evolved. To give kids a basic understanding of the principles of what different religions believe would be invaluable.
Considering that religion one of the most controversial and bloody subjects throughout history I would hope we would want to avoid that by educating our children more comprehensively.
I can guess some of the arguments that would be made against this. How could you ensure that it would be presented in a balanced light? How much time would you focus on each religion to be fair? Would you have to cover EVERY religion and wouldn’t that be impossible? Could you even give enough information to develop a good understanding without simply offering a very shallow glimpse? Yes, these are all factors to consider. But every subject has a depth that is never fully covered. That doesn’t mean we shy away from giving children some basic understanding. This is not a subject that we can ignore.
I think one fear is that kids will no longer believe what their parents are trying to instill in them or that they will become confused. Probably in some instances this would happen. But if someone claims to be a certain religion only because they don’t know anything else is it really based on faith? Why not teach our children to ask questions, to seek out more answers? I turned away from religion until I started asking. It strengthened rather than weakened my beliefs – and no one was more surprised than me. We might actually be doing more harm than good by keeping too quiet on a topic that demands understanding in this day and age. Understanding in the sense of where seeing where someone else is coming from. You don’t have to agree, but you have to ask the questions.