A Religion Class Done Right September 17, 2014

A Religion Class Done Right

We often hear about Bible classes in public schools and how many of them (like the one created by Hobby Lobby President Steve Green) are just ways to proselytize in the classroom.

But in California, the Modesto Public Schools are receiving some well-deserved appreciation for their mandatory World Religions course.

The teachers there have figured out how to teach about religion in a comprehensive, effective, and neutral way:

Board member Steve Grenbeaux said his daughter took the course. “She was raised in a Christian home, so divergent religious thought was new to her. It made for some interesting dinner conservations,” Grenbeaux said.

Johansen High junior Arianna Sibaja said the course helped her get past stereotypes of other religions and have a more informed view of events unfolding in the Middle East. “It helps us understand why it’s going on and what their motives are,” Sibaja said.

In an introductory lecture, McIntyre stressed the importance of respecting all views, even those that reject religion. “We’re not talking about agreement. We’re talking about honoring the right,” she said. Gesturing around the class, she said, “We are not a cookie-cutter-looking room in here, neither is the state, neither is the world.”

They invited religious leaders from the community to weigh in. “That was instrumental,” she said. The First Amendment Center and Anti-Defamation League gave assistance in teaching sensitive subjects without controversy.

Teachers visited the Islamic Center of Modesto, Congregation Beth Shalom Synagogue, the Greek Orthodox Church and other religious centers. But teacher training was done by professors of California State University, Stanislaus — purposely removed from faith practitioners, she said.

It all seems so obvious. Yet so many school districts do it poorly because there’s an agenda at play that has little to do with educating children. (In Modesto, students have the ability to opt-out of the class for personal reasons, but only a handful of them choose that option.)

This is a curriculum that needs to spread. It’s a wonderful way to not only inform children about various religious beliefs and traditions, but also prevent bullying that’s steeped in religious ignorance. It could pay huge dividends down the road.

(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Brian for the link.)

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