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lightsourcetrickster's avatar

Your thoughts on religion and it's place in education?

Asked by lightsourcetrickster (1902 points ) December 28th, 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen I present to you a piece of homework if you will – set by me for you. The details of this question are perhaps more important than the question title, even though your answers will still be your thoughts on religion and it’s place in education.

I’ve just seen Life of Pi. A very good thought provoking film that I would recommend to anyone who likes a film that makes you think. There is something that is said in the film’s early scenes, which made me think of something from my own personal experience.

When I was a child, up until I was 14, Religious Studies was called Religious Education, and it was only concerned with teaching Christianity. Enter multiculturalism and a mass number of immigrants, and the curriculum is eventually changed, whereby almost every conceivable religion is thrust upon schoolchildren leading up to their GCSEs (for those not sure, GCSEs are effectively the final exams a schoolchild will take in the UK before leaving school and typically end up going to college thereafter).

I’ve changed the thing I heard and put it in to more or less my own words;

Faith is a bungalow of many rooms, school is the hallway of confusion.

Is it right that children having grown up on one faith should be essentially forced by the curriculum to learn of many faiths?
Do you think it is right that a child should have their faith tested regardless of what religious and cultural background they come from?
Does it teach more tolerance of other faiths, or is it likely to confuse a child who may eventually become more concerned with their spiritual well-being?

Heads up! Due to the nature of the question and the issue it addresses, please do be mindful of how you answer this question. We don’t want to upset the moderators or lose members of the community!

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38 Answers

Michael_Huntington's avatar

Is it right that children having grown up on one faith should be essentially forced by the curriculum to learn of many faiths?
I don’t see anything wrong with that unless the teacher is shoving down his/her beliefs or they’re making a certain religion come off as some sort of empirical “fact” (e.g. the nefarious teachings of creationism).

ragingloli's avatar

If you want to teach religion, every religion must be taught, past and present. And it is best to teach about the religion the child has already been indoctrinated with the last, so the view is coloured by all the other religions it learned about.

JenniferP's avatar

I wouldn’t want some teacher trying to teach my child religion. Why would I want them pushing their own views. The teaching should be done at home and the parents should first of all teach themselves and be sure that they know what they are talking about.

It would be all right if they taught other religions like a comparative religion class, but not to teach religion to influence the kids. The way they teach my religion in college is off base, btw. I have people tell me my beliefs because of what they heard in college and they are always a little off. Still, they know more than those who get their views elsewhere.

JLeslie's avatar

I’m in the US.

I think in public schools religion should not be taught grades k-8 and can be offered as an elective in high school. Preferbly a comparative religion class if offered, but I even would be ok with a class on a specific religion as long as it is not mandatory.

I do not think it is the schools place at all to test a child’s faith in any way. I don’t think it is the states place to interfere with the religious upbringing of a child. Sometimes there has been conflict with school requirements and religion. For instance school uniforms might conflict with rules of modesty or gym class might be co-ed when a strict religion might have a problem with that. In those cases I feel the children should conform to the school rules.

starsofeight's avatar

Religion is a good thing to understand. If it is presented well, children will see that the good parts of one religion are also the good parts of every other religion. Love, peace, integrity, etc. will do their own work; education need only deal with the fundamentals. Children are bright enough to take the information and figure out where they will go with it.

cazzie's avatar

My child learns about all faiths at school and cultures starting from grade 1. The one they get sort of preachy about is Christianity, which bothers me, but it is part of the culture were I live. He knows why Jewish and Muslim people don’t eat pork. He has seen pictures of Buddhist temples in Japan. You can not learn about the world around you and ignore religion. Husband and I are atheist but Little Man can make up his own mind. We encourage him to think about his beliefs and what makes sense to him.

JLeslie's avatar

@cazzie Do the children study the religious books in school as well? The bible, Quran, torah, etc. Or, just are given general knowledge about the places of worship, religious traditions, things like that.

PhiNotPi's avatar

The mods are watching you (plural).

I am against the teaching of a religion in school, as in trying to force students to adhere to a single religion, or teaching them to believe in a certain religion. I am against having the state be in support of a single religion above all. A person’s religion is personal business.

However, I am in support of teaching about what the various religions are. If a person is to understand many of the current global conflicts, they must be aware as to the existence of the various religions. How could someone understand why people are fighting over Gaza without knowing about the various religions, or about the conflict between India and Pakistan, or the events of the Balkan region?

cazzie's avatar

At this stage, @JLeslie it is just part of general knowledge and traditions, sort of like part of what we would have called ‘social studies’. He is only in 3rd grade. They learn things like what holidays other cultures celebrate and why. It is all very age-appropriate. The kids talk about their own religions with each other. I think (and hope) it is teaching them respect. Ignorance simply breeds hate and bigotry.

chyna's avatar

I think different beliefs should be presented in school along with Darwin’s theory. Give children a general background in all things and let them choose. I am a christian but I still think that kids need to know what is going on in the world and why.

janbb's avatar

I think the correct use of apostrophes is a more important part of education.

cazzie's avatar

@chyna Evolution doesn’t belong in social studies. It is for science class.

JLeslie's avatar

@cazzie I have no problem with that at all. The magnet elementary school my neice and nephew went to in FL did the same thing. Parents would come in and talk about the celebrations in their cultures. Sometimes it was a religious celebration, sometime a country type celebration. In fact my husband and I did it at a nursery school here in Memohis for Chanukah and he did the Posadas for Christmas in his home country Mexico.

But, I don’t completely trust it across the bible belt of the US. Where I live they teach the Christian bible in literature class, and where a friend of mine lives in NC they changed the name of religion class to ancient history, and still teach the same Christian subject matter. That all is ilegal in my opinion.

poisonedantidote's avatar

For me… here is all the religious education students should get:

Hello class, today we are going to talk about the mental illness and virus that is religion. First you need to understand there are many different strains, and they all have different symptoms, however telling lies and being a hypocrite tend to be common signs.

Buddhists believe blah,
Christians believe blah,
Muslims believe blah,
Jews believe blah,
and a few million other ones believe blah.

Make sure you all know and understand this, as 90% of the planet is infected with this thing, and chances are you will end up working for someone who believes this retarded stuff some point in the future.

Class dismissed.

Judi's avatar

I think I need to see the movie before I fully understand your question.

DominicX's avatar

The fact that several examples of religious education in public schools includes a bias toward Christianity is exactly the problem with religion in public schools. I don’t mind a religious studies class with religion being taught academically, but seriously, no damn bias toward one religion.

Teaching religion academically of course means that you teach about the beliefs, about the holy texts, about the practices. It doesn’t mean teaching any beliefs as fact, just as the beliefs that they are. We had an Islam unit in my 7th grade social studies class and we read parts of the Bible for my English class in 9th grade. That was the only religious education I got in public school; I later took religious studies courses in college. I’m not sure how necessary religious studies is in public education, to be honest. It seems like it’s only going to cause trouble and people can study religion on their own or in college if they want to.

cazzie's avatar

School isn’t there to teach you what to think, it is meant to teach you HOW to think. I like to think that math and science can teach you how brilliant people can be as you learn to stand on the shoulders of giants, as the quote goes, and learning about psychology and sociology and other social studies (including those facts around religious practices around the world) should be humbling and teach us how stupid, flawed and irrational people can be, but that is just me personally.

burntbonez's avatar

There’s a difference between studying religion as an anthropologist, historian, sociologist or literary theorist might, and teaching it as faith. In the US, public schools have no business teaching faith. They may however teach religion in all those other ways.

Faith is considered a personal matter in the US. It is up to parents and churches to teach it. Not the schools. In the UK, there is an official state religion. It is interesting to hear that they are now teaching about other religions, but surely they are not teaching the faith? If they teach the other religions, it is in an academic way, because those other religions are not the state religion.

ETpro's avatar

I didn’t study the history of religions and comparative religion till I was in college. To me, this makes sense. If parents find it important to teach their children fairy-tales from a time when humanity had no idea where the Sun went at night, and made up fantastic tales to explain such puzzles, fine and dandy. Public schools have no business indoctrinating people today in such idiocy, though.

Pandora's avatar

I’ve always believed that you should not draw conclusions on limited knowledge. Anything that broadens the minds of young people can only be a plus. I’m sure there are those out there who worry that it will confuse or mislead the minds of their young children, but then that is why they have parents.

I find that most people who object are often those not strong in their own beliefs or disbelief and feel they cannot persuade their children, or they are too lazy or too busy to answer thier children questions.

To better understand human nature, a person should be educated about different cultures and religious practices. I remember in Catholic school being taught about Buddism and some rituals of different cultures. I did not feel confused about my faith even though I thought buddism cool. I even found some cultures interesting even if their beliefs where sometimes cruel. After all. Christiananity had many years of cruelty.

I found most religions turn out not to be just about religion but there is always something political behind them. Often its hard to tell where religion and politics begin and end.

JLeslie's avatar

I can tell you this, I much prefer bring gym and the arts back to schools than add in a religion class. Time is limited. You can get religion at your church. I don’t think it harms anyone to not know the ins and outs of a religion. The only people who really care about teaching it are probably religious people. We can just teach students to treat others as we would want to be treated, and that people believe and celebrate different things, and to not judge and boom, there you go, one sentence. No need for an entire text book. In geography and sociology they can learn about different lands and different customs.

PeppermintBiscuit's avatar

Better to tell you about other religions than to leave your mind limited to only one. Then you start that dangerous “my way is the only right way” type of thinking.

wundayatta's avatar

I had a very odd education, I think. I never read any Shakespeare in high school. I read very few of the American or English literature classics. And since I didn’t go to church, my only exposure to the Bible was in a “Bible as literature” class I took in 11th grade. I learned little from it because I had no desire to be in that class.

I have no problem teaching the Bible or Koran or any religious work of literature in English class, or philosophy or religion or sociology class. For atheists, it’s the only way you’ll ever get exposure to these works, if you don’t read them on your own. I tried to read them and generally could not get past the first paragraph. The language was too archaic for me to understand. Just like Shakespeare.

glacial's avatar

@JLeslie I tend to agree with you re. the arts (I’m unlikely to ever say anything pro-gym). However, I do see some benefit in teaching some form of comparative religion within high school (I don’t see why it would be taught in elementary), to counterbalance indoctrination by parents. I think it is a very good thing to give kids some perspective on faith that they’re really not likely to get at home.

lightsourcetrickster's avatar

@PeppermintBiscuit that way still exists regardless!

JLeslie's avatar

@glacial I guess maybe I can see it beung useful in paces that are 90% the same religion in a community. Where I grew up there was so much diversity it was impossible not to know people of other faiths were around and believed and celebrated different things and in the end they were just like me pretty much. What they cared about, their morals, etc.

On fluther I have seen people argue hard on things like people saying Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas at stores, and when I once pointed out to someone in NYC probably 1 in 3 people don’t celebrate Christmas (well they might celebrate with others, but it isn’t really their religious holiday) they all of a sudden understood better. Totally clueless how diverse some cities are in America. They just feel like the atheists are trying to secularize everything, instead of thinking Happy Holidays means including everyone. Because they are so Christian centric.

ucme's avatar

The only thing I recall from religious studies was when the teacher asked us all to sit & meditate for five minutes, she actually timed it too.
What a fucking long boring 5mins that bugger was…& someone farted which kinda ruined the moment.

Kropotkin's avatar

So much in school is already a complete waste of time. I think it would be a small, positive step, to at least cut out the superstition and fantasy, and stick to a reality based curriculum.

If these classes taught kids how to think better, how to scrutinise claims better, how to evaluate arguments better, then they’d be a good thing. I suspect that they do nothing of the sort.

cazzie's avatar

I know this site is quite ‘American-centric’ but just to give you an idea of how it is done in other places, my son and his counterparts not only get religion (once a week) as a subject in school, but also a second language (English), music and art class once a week, gym once a week, swimming every other week and ‘outside school’ which is not recess, but about being in nature and learning about the weather and nature around us and it is done all year around in all sorts of weather. His hours of school are 8.30 to 2.30 three days a week and 8.30 to 12.30 twice a week. He also gets math and science and reading and writing in his native language, Norwegian. He also has home work in 3 or 4 subjects that is assigned and must be completed on a two weekly basis and a reading book and reading homework that is done at home once a week. They don’t get hot lunches and the only food program the school runs is for milk or juice or yoghurt the parents pay for at the start of the year, if they want it. Every child is sent to school with a packed lunch.

JLeslie's avatar

@cazzie I seem to remember Norway has very little poverty, but maybe that is an old stat. I also think of the country as being quite homogeneous, but I know there has been quite a bit of immigration in the last 15 years. In America we tend to generalize that we can’t compare ourselves to small European countries that have a rather homogeneous populations and little poverty. Communities in America also have no special lunch programs for kids to have free lunches and get art and music plus even foreign language. In affluent communities generally. Ones that maybe compare to Norway? What do you think on the matter? And, feel free to correct any of my information of course. Do you think education for children works no matter what the income level? That we should not bend or alter our school programs to a community, but rather have the same expectations and the children will perform.

cazzie's avatar

(I had a better answer typed out and ended up closing the page because I am trying to type on my lap instead of the desk….)

The US spends a much larger amount of money on education than Norway does. It is a smaller percentage of its gdp, but it still works out at a huge amount.
http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/edu_edu_spe-education-spending-of-gdp
The gdp of Norway is 485.8 billion.
The gdp of the US is 15.09 trillion.
You say the difference is because we have little poverty and no ethnic diversity, but both of those claims, I assure you, are completely misinformed.

Education for children works no matter the income level of what? The household or the country? Why should kids in poor communities get less funding for education? Why should kids in lower income areas have lower expectations of themselves just as a matter of course? From what I remember, cities fund their schools in the US through property taxes. The more well to do communities collect more property taxes than the poorer communities. How can the intrinsic inequity of that system not be seen and fixed decades ago? I realise Federal funding comes into the system as well, but somehow, it has been so messed up to the point of simply not working any more.

JLeslie's avatar

@cazzie The stat I read was 9% of our school budgets are funded by the fed. Very small. I am not saying it, I am saying what is said. I am in favor of a federal system and equal funding for schools. Some urban schools with badly performing students probably get more funds than the average. A friend of mine sells computer software to school districs and she said the inner cities with badly performing children have the most money to spend in some states. I guess they are trying desperately to improve the scores. There are also many examples of poor income areas having very little money go to schools, both exist here. I do believe in equal expectations for all children, I can’t figure out where it all goes wrong exactly. Although, expectation might be the wrong word. A friend of mine just started teaching 7th grade math this year. Her school is in a lower income area. The school expects every student to take the same level math. I find that to be ridiculous. Of course many of the students do very poorly. Why not have a class that is below level? I find it horrific. Are all the schools like that in the district? Or, do the schools in better areas have more math options? It’s a big school, it isn’t like there is only one math teacher and only one or two periods of math taught. How can the education system be so bad? I just don’t understand. The teachers and administrators have degrees, are they really that stupid?

cazzie's avatar

@JLeslie yes… it certainly begs the question, doesn’t it? I know that your school sizes are enormous compared to ours. We have more smaller schools, but I don’t think that there is much difference in our teacher/student ratio, but I could be wrong.

burntbonez's avatar

The fact that Norway spends a higher portion of GDP on education shows that country values education more than the US does. Now the US has competing values, such as being the world’s policeman, and keeping any whiff of socialism out of the country, and this costs us a great deal. But we would rather spend on those things than on education, and I think we can see the result in the amount of crime and poverty we have in this country compared to a country like Norway.

cazzie's avatar

@burntbonez , I am assuming that the % figure given for education in Norway includes our Universities as well. It costs a fraction for a person to go to University here because most of the expenses of Universities are paid for by the State and the State also offers a fixed interest, long term loans for students and subsidised housing (which is always full in Trondheim and some places are getting pretty shabby looking.) There would never be a discussion here about leaving those loans to the private sector to make money from. Ever. So, yeah, I would say that Norway has a different attitude when it comes to education.

Paradox25's avatar

I have little problem teaching religion in schools, but only under the following conditions: kids should have a choice in the matter, they should be able to learn about various religious beliefs, learn about different beliefs of various denominations for a single religion, and these religions should be taught just as that: as religious philosophy and nothing else. Also, I don’t support teaching intelligent design in anyway either. Kids should have a choice in the matter too as to whether or not they want to take any religious courses up or not. I’m not sure if this is financially tenable though, but in a perfect world.

RareDenver's avatar

One of my neighbours is a Religious Education teacher at a secondary school here in England (high school to most) and she is an atheist. I think in a massively multicultural society like the one I live in then an education about the religions and traditions of the world are vital, and who better to teach them than an impartial atheist? I’m an atheist and the religions of the world have always fascinated me, I think they need to be taught as fully as is possible in the context of a fully rounded scholastic curriculum.

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