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sparrowfeed's avatar

Teaching Religion in a classroom?

Asked by sparrowfeed (734 points ) October 23rd, 2012

I am a student teacher and I am being placed in a religion classroom in a Catholic school because there is a shortage of other subjects and people generally don’t want to teach religion (i.e. this is a publicly funded Catholic system but I don’t want to give out too many details because I am worried about anonymity).

I feel dumb, honestly, saying ‘jesus loves you’ or preaching things from the Bible to teenagers who are beginning their journeys to critical thinking. I see it as more of a formative experience and getting kids to be in touch with their spiritual and moral selves. However, I do not know how this will go through with my actual role as a religion teacher.

Has anyone who isn’t paricularly ‘preachy’ ever taught religion? is it safe to kind of encourage individual and independent thought for kids?

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34 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

Surely the school has a perscribed curriculum and a syllabus for the age-appropriate course? Can they simply throw you to the wolves? Do they expect you to invent the course whole-cloth?

Can you discuss this with your advisor?

The RC church has doctrine and dogma down pretty pat. I would be very surprised if creativity and independent thinking are encouraged.

tom_g's avatar

Sounds like you need to find out what the school expects from you. As much as I loathe religion, if someone is sending their kid to a Catholic school, I think they probably expect that their kid will be exposed to the expected school curriculum in the religion classroom.

gailcalled's avatar

edit; ”...prescrobed”

laineybug's avatar

I’m in an AP world history class this year and we had a religions unit. My teachers tried to be as balanced as possible and definitely didn’t share his views on religion with us because that would make it biased. None of the students were upset by it, but some of the parents get mad about it every year, this year being a little worse than others. Some parents think he’s trying to “change their religion”. That’s not what it is at all. He says he wants to teach it right until he can’t teach it at all. So it’s safe to teach kids about all different religions, but just know that some parents might not be too happy with it.

gailcalled's avatar

@laineybug: Do you attend a Roman Catholic school?

Judi's avatar

Do you have control of the curriculum? Can you make it more about history of the church?
I wasn’t raised Catholic, I was raised in a liberal leaning Lutheran Church and confirmation was more about history and why we believed what we did. We also respectfully studied other religions and denominations.
Before you make to many judgments or have to many expectations, look at the curriculum.
If you control the curriculum you might even consider teaching Bible as Literature.

gailcalled's avatar

Aargh; Edit; ”...prescribed”

bkcunningham's avatar

Are you in Canada, @sparrowfeed?

Rarebear's avatar

I have. I am an atheist and I have taught Jewish religious school. I concentrated on Jewish history and culture.

laineybug's avatar

@gailcalled I don’t go to a roman catholic school but many parents of students at my school are very strict about their religions.

Earthgirl's avatar

Teaching isn’t exactly preaching. It could be, but doesn’t have to be. First, you have to know what their expectations and requirements are. Do they want you to cover bible interpretation? history of the church? religious philosophy? dogma? all of the above? Your approach will depend on what they require. If you aren’t religious and don’t feel comfortable espousing views you disagree with or even elucidating what others believe and practice I would say decline to teach the class. Sometimes sticking to the courage of your convictions is costly. Otherwise, maybe you can accomodate the school curriculum requirements in a way that doesn’t compromise your beliefs. No matter what, like anything else, you need to know your subject. Teaching religion isn’t about just spouting off phrases like “Jesus loves you!”(at least not beyond 2nd grade )It’s much, much more than that.

JLeslie's avatar

If I were teaching in a Catholic school and wound up teaching religion, I would follow the curriculum expected by the school. I am an atheist Jew, but if I am teaching Catholic children who am I to interfere with what their family and religion teaches? I will say that most of my friends are Catholics and they often speak of how open their Priests are to questions and understanding regarding other beliefs. But, this is religion class for Catholicism, so it should be taught within the parameters expected. I would say ask the people in charge some questions regarding your worries. Maybe ask how you should address a student asking about your beliefs, or if you can teach the bible more as a book the students need to know and test on, and not have to say things like Jesus lives you.

Shippy's avatar

I would imagine your function is to discuss all types of religion in an unbiased view. With a detachment. Also I would imagine too, that they have prepared a curriculum for you?

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

I attended 11 years of Catholic school. As a Catholic student, I was required to attend the one hour religion class. Some kids went to the library during that hour. Sister Immaculata told us stories out of the old testament, mostly. Abraham sacrificing his son, Moses’ trek to the promised land, etc. I remember a few stories out of the New testament, the sermon on the mount, the marriage at Cana, the money changers in the temple, the arrest, trial, and execution of Jesus. We were asked why we should not condemn the Synod of the temple or Pontius Pilate; she explained it all very well to us, impassionately. But she was a great story teller and kept us all at the edge of our seats. At the end of each story she would ask us about what we thought the moral of the story was and guide us in this respect. She used these stories to demonstrate what I later learned were morals which are quite universal. There was no hellfire and brimstone and I don’t remember any real hard doctrine, just what we would call today basic humanism. There was always a lot of talk about the poor and oppressed of other countries and, if there was any negativity at all, it was that we were quite rich and spoiled little Americans and we needed to know that everyone didn’t have it so good.

This was on the west coast. Later I learned from kids that went to schools in the northeast that there was a lot of official Catholic doctrine taught to them, a lot of hellfire and these people, especially the girls, ended up resenting and rebelling against it. In light of this, I’ve always said I was taught Catholic-lite. The stories were great and I used to go home and recite them word for word to my mom. The morals were universal.

Later, we had Jesuits. One was a practitioner of yoga and and an interpreter of Sanskrit. One of his best friends was Alan Watts. He taught both the religion class and comparative religion in my Junior year. Great classes. The hardline indoctrination was saved for Catechism, which was taught separately as an extra class during the years of first communion or confirmation, and on Sundays after mass.

Throughout my late primary and secondary years, critical thinking was emphasized. We had logic and the sciences, and the teachers went into Darwin thoroughly. Sometime in the sixties or seventies the church had accepted the theory of evolution and was able to integrate it into their religion. I think it odd that they would take a new lay teacher and throw them into a religion class, but I think also that’ like Sister Immaculata demonstrated, it can be taught effectively without the negative indoctrination that many people associate with the church.

I later ran into one of my fellow elementary school students as an adult. She was one of the people that went to the library during religion class. She said it was because they were Jewish and their parents sent them to the school, not to be good Catholics, but to get a decent education. I never knew they were Jewish, nothing was ever said. I don’t even remember other students questioning it. But there were a lot of things that were discussed one-on-one with individual students who had certain questions. This may have been one of those questions.

Most Catholics I knew who had gone through the Catholic school system were not associated with Catholicism later on and many were either agnostic or atheist, but many were very good at donating time and money to charitable causes, especially the poor. And they seemed to have an awareness of the larger world that others didn’t. So, to the detriment of the church itself, all that critical thinking may have hurt them, but they turned out pretty good people for the most part and because of that, I think the church succeeded more than it may realize.

JLeslie's avatar

@Shippy Why would a class about religion in a Catholic school be teaching about other religions? It isn’t a comparative religion class. If the OP is talking about saying “Jesus loves you,” the class can’t be comparative.

Shippy's avatar

@JLeslie. Ugh! Didn’t read the question correctly it was the ‘Jesus Loves you’ bit. Threw me never heard a teacher teach that.

rooeytoo's avatar

@Espiritus_Corvus – I was taught from the negative aspect, but even at that, I think it did more good than harm.

Judi's avatar

@JLeslie , My Confirmation class (albeit Lutheran) taught about other religions. My brother who was Christian Scientist looked at the curriculum I was being taught about his faith and he said that what was being taught was fair, truthful, and factual. Not slanted at all. Religious education doesn’t have to equal religious evangelism.

JLeslie's avatar

@Judi I don’t assume it has to be, but Jesus loves you doesn’t sound very Jewish or Buddhist to me. However, as I think it through, in Catholic school they have rituals of prayer scheduled into the day, so it is reasonable that possible they pray or the teacher says some sort of thing about Jesus, and then they mightt move on to learning about a variety of religions. But, I doubt it honestly. I think religion class means Catholicism class in this case. But, I could be wrong. Since it is high school it might not. In elementary school they are getting ready for communion and confirmation.

Judi's avatar

I hope she comes back and tells us what they end up expecting.

JLeslie's avatar

Me too.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

@JLeslie We went to a one hour mass every morning before school and that pretty much took care of all the prayers for the day. Our school day began with the pledge of allegiance. Only thrice in 11 years I remember we were asked to kneel by our desks and say the rosary. I don’t know what the Jewish kids did. Once was in October ‘62 during the missile crisis.

The second time was on Friday, November 22, 1963 about 1 or 2 O’clock. Man, I remember that day. The skies actually got dark with rain clouds at about the same time. We had just heard that President Kennedy had been shot in Texas. After the rosary we all went into mass, the Monsignor presiding. Then our parents picked us up and took us home. Our nuns were really upset, some were even crying. That really shook me up. Then there was a funeral mass for him that evening after his death was confirmed and another on Saturday. And a benediction for the new president and a Requiem, and another black mass on Sunday. It was a miserable weekend.

The third time was a few years later when the father of one of our classmates was killed in an auto accident on his way to work after dropping his son off at our school. The boy was taken out of class and we all were asked to kneel by our desks and say the rosary for his family. The only other praying I remember was on an individual basis, I imagine some of the kids on their way to the Dean Mother’s office for punishment might have said a few prayers. She was a pretty tough cookie and had a hell of an arm to go with that paddle. I knew one kid that prayed that he would win the top prize in the annual school raffle. But that was considered very uncool. You weren’t supposed to pray for things like that.

JLeslie's avatar

@Espiritus_Corvus That’s kind of what I meant, I think I made it sound like it was five times a day or something, so I am glad you responded so I can clarify. I think of Catholic school as having some morning thing, I was not even thinking of knealing or mass, but reciting something before the day starts. And, then maybe before religion class it might make sense. I think of religion class in Catholic school as being a Wednesday afternoon thing. Someone mentioned above they knew Jewish kids who simply did not go to religion class on Wednesday, I knew Jewish kids who did the same at their Catholic school. This was another reason I figured religion class in Catholic school is Catholic oriented, not comparative religion. But, the girls I knew were elementary age, and was not sure if high school is different.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Yes, you’re right. What I’ve been referring to as “religion class” is a one-hour Catholic religion class. Five days a week. Just like math or any other subject.. Comparative Religions was a totally separate thing.

Religion classes ended with 8th grade. In 9th grade, the Confirmation year, the Jesuits took over and religion class became Comparative Religions, then logic and philosophy in the following semesters. Debate was encouraged in every class and this often led to independent research papers which we would have to defend in argument if necessary.

JLeslie's avatar

@Espiritus_Corvus Interesting. Thanks for the info.

sparrowfeed's avatar

Guys this question is null and void. Lol. The teacher turned out to be super cool.

JLeslie's avatar

I thought you were the teacher.

bkcunningham's avatar

I loved @Rarebear‘s answer. It was one of those comments that made me go, ‘Oh, yeah…that’s cool. You are right man. Thanks for the reminder.’ Peace, bk

CWOTUS's avatar

Given the chance to invent the class from whole cloth, I would make it about “comparative religion”. That is, teach “about” religion, rather than the dogma of any one. Contrast and compare. All tests are essay questions.

When I studied religion many years ago, that was how I did it, and I appreciated it enormously. That helped me to become an atheist.

Which may not be your intended goal, but it’s not a bad one to have in a back pocket.

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sparrowfeed's avatar

I’m in Teachers College and that was my mentor.

I’m actually applying to work in an elementary school now, since I enjoy it more.

Judi's avatar

Thanks for the update!

sparrowfeed's avatar

Lol, No worries. I’m actually off on summer break right now, but will be applying for jobs in September. I have confidence in what I Will be doing

sparrowfeed's avatar

The elementary placement worked much better for me than the high school one. I was better able to connect with a younger age group.

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