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Thread: Should Religion be taught in Schools?

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    Sassenach sherrilina's Avatar
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    I will just relay a conversation a friend had with a 6th grade student (so 11-12 years old) during a museum field trip:

    Child: This is kind of off topic, but I think we're going to go into another war. Right now we're at war with the Islams...
    Me: Just because we're at war with some countries where some people practice Islam doesn't mean that we're at war with the religion in general or that all people who practice Islam are bad.
    Child: Practice? Is Islam magic?
    Me: No. People practice any religion--Christianity, Judaism, Islam...
    Another child: What is Judaism?
    Me: The Jewish faith
    Child: So do they not believe in God?
    Me: They do believe in God.
    Child: Then how is it different from Christianity?
    Me: Jews believe that Jesus was a prophet instead of the son of God.
    Child: What's a prophet?
    Me: Someone who speaks with...why are we talking about religion? Thank you all so much for coming (etc.)
    This to me (with all of its scary ignorance), in a nutshell, is why teaching religion in public schools in an ACADEMIC fashion is so important and necessary. Having a basic understanding of the major world religions (and being aware that there are multiple religions?) is crucial to better understanding the world at large and current events. And religious references are often dropped in political speeches, come up in art and literature...kids need it for a well-rounded education. As long as the religion is taught in an academic, rather than a theological (aka believe this!) manner, and in an appropriate world religions class or in history and art classes where relevant (not though in say, science class, where only science belongs), then it is perfectly constitutional and alright.
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    I don't get wet Bittersweettwit's Avatar
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    I have a question guys...

    Is this thread discussing whether Religion should be taught in non-denominational state schools? Or whether schools which are designed to help develop a particular faith which as a Catholic church should be allowed to exist? To me the two are different questions and I want to know which is being discussed before I answer
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    ninja scientist Ehlwyen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bittersweettwit View Post
    I have a question guys...

    Is this thread discussing whether Religion should be taught in non-denominational state schools? Or whether schools which are designed to help develop a particular faith which as a Catholic church should be allowed to exist? To me the two are different questions and I want to know which is being discussed before I answer
    Option one.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sherrilina View Post
    I will just relay a conversation a friend had with a 6th grade student (so 11-12 years old) during a museum field trip:



    This to me (with all of its scary ignorance), in a nutshell, is why teaching religion in public schools in an ACADEMIC fashion is so important and necessary. Having a basic understanding of the major world religions (and being aware that there are multiple religions?) is crucial to better understanding the world at large and current events. And religious references are often dropped in political speeches, come up in art and literature...kids need it for a well-rounded education. As long as the religion is taught in an academic, rather than a theological (aka believe this!) manner, and in an appropriate world religions class or in history and art classes where relevant (not though in say, science class, where only science belongs), then it is perfectly constitutional and alright.
    Oddly enough, the same exchange makes me sort of recoil from government schools as a vehicle for teaching religions as an academic topic. Students in a school that they attend by mandate of law are the ultimate captive audience, and when I think of what they might be likely to be told about religion, especially in a comparative context, immediately makes me think of debacles like this one, where a teacher -- a geography teacher, which I think sort of reiterates the "captive audience" reality -- insisted students refer to the 9/11 hijackers as "freedom fighters", and was not, as one might imagine, summarily fired. I'm not entirely sure I want this person, or any such over whom a parent has no remedy other than to spend the better part of the evening defragging whatever was uploaded during the day, telling my kid about Catholicism, or for that matter Islam, or Judaism, or Buddhism, etc.

    The only instinct I have in favor of teaching religion (or intelligent design at least in a broad metaphysical sense) is because the flipside of it is that I know the same captive audience is subjected to a lot of metaphysical commentary, no matter what class they are in. Evolution is always an easy example because, it's funny, the vernacular terms used to explain evolution to people slip very quickly into implying some conscious, volitional component to it. When people say "species adapt to their environment", even, it makes it sound like they might have had a town hall and voted on longer beaks, rather than the simple fact that they end up with longer beaks because the ones with too short beaks die of starvation before they reproduce, so future iterations are of the longer-beaked reproducing sort. And when people engage physics, or biology, in the context of the "why" of the world, students are pretty much at the mercy of whatever pedantic whim an instructor has to fill that space. And the only thing that fills the space is, by virtue of the atrocious Lemon test, are things that will be agnostic/atheist/secular humanist. Give me establishment clause jurisprudence that applies Lemon to non-theistic ideologies, and I'd be a lot more relaxed about the whole thing.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bittersweettwit View Post
    I have a question guys...

    Is this thread discussing whether Religion should be taught in non-denominational state schools? Or whether schools which are designed to help develop a particular faith which as a Catholic church should be allowed to exist? To me the two are different questions and I want to know which is being discussed before I answer
    I'd be quite worried if the latter was actually a topic subject to discussion in a free society, but I'd show up to the thread if someone starts one.

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    ninja scientist Ehlwyen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KingofCretins View Post
    Oddly enough, the same exchange makes me sort of recoil from government schools as a vehicle for teaching religions as an academic topic. Students in a school that they attend by mandate of law are the ultimate captive audience, and when I think of what they might be likely to be told about religion, especially in a comparative context, immediately makes me think of debacles like this one, where a teacher -- a geography teacher, which I think sort of reiterates the "captive audience" reality -- insisted students refer to the 9/11 hijackers as "freedom fighters", and was not, as one might imagine, summarily fired. I'm not entirely sure I want this person, or any such over whom a parent has no remedy other than to spend the better part of the evening defragging whatever was uploaded during the day, telling my kid about Catholicism, or for that matter Islam, or Judaism, or Buddhism, etc.
    Uh, i clicked on that link. It wasnt about the teacher being radical, it was the Texas school curriculum that provided the lesson. So, disturbing for another reason.

    In my experience there are about as many crap humans as teachers as there are awesome ones. So if you are sending your children out into the world they are going to be exposed to stuff you disagree with. It is your job as a parent to discuss with your child what they are learning (and experiencing) and how you view it. Public schools are meant to supplement not replace parenting.

    This type of discourse at home also teaches children the ability to question and the realization there is more than one perspective to matters.

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    Sassenach sherrilina's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KingofCretins View Post
    Oddly enough, the same exchange makes me sort of recoil from government schools as a vehicle for teaching religions as an academic topic. Students in a school that they attend by mandate of law are the ultimate captive audience
    Sorry but they are NOT a captive audience--if you have kids and feel that strongly about the public school they would be attending, you are within your rights to send them to a charter or private/parrochial school, or to homeschool them. The legal mandate is not about children attending specific schools (public or otherwise), but that they receive some kind of basic education, period--because like it or not, our system of government is based in democracy, which requires "an informed citizenry".

    Now yes, there are issues in our educational system, and there are many schools that do not perform well (plenty of them charter schools, not just public ones), but that doesn't mean the mandate for everyone to have some kind of education in order to sustain our democratic system of government isn't crucial and necessary.

    I'm not entirely sure I want this person, or any such over whom a parent has no remedy other than to spend the better part of the evening defragging whatever was uploaded during the day, telling my kid about Catholicism, or for that matter Islam, or Judaism, or Buddhism, etc.
    No other remedy? Believe me, if a teacher is that bad and the parents hear about it, they can certainly complain, and do so, and if the teacher was actively badmouthing or advocating certain religious beliefs (e.g. teaching religion one way or another in a non-academic manner, but a theological/evangelical one), then parents can certainly sue, and do so. There are checks and remedies by parents, and of course government on the local, state, and federal level could always step in too--that is why we have some regulation and standards and statutes so it's not people saying whatever the hell they want in the classroom.

    But honestly, where are kids supposed to learn about this stuff, if not through their schooling? Their parents? I'm pretty sure in the case of this student I cited it sounds like he is hearing a lot of ignorant nonsense at home, if you want to talk about what needs to be "defragged."

    It's really not too difficult to share the basics of what each religion is about in an academic matter--enough that a kid knows what Islam and Judiasm is and what differentiates them from Christianity, or what the basic difference between say Protestantism and Catholicism is--it is literally impossible to actually study 16th and 17th century European history without knowing that latter bit, for instance. And so it is with current events and recent history and Islam. If the people talking about invading Iraq had had a better understanding of the Sunni and Shiite factions of Islam, they might have realized or predicted the strife that was going to break out after the fall of Saddam.

    Are you suggesting that we just leave kids ignorant about important issues that will help them understand what is happening in the world? Like seriously, what is the alternative?
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    What? KingofCretins's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sherrilina View Post
    Sorry but they are NOT a captive audience--if you have kids and feel that strongly about the public school they would be attending, you are within your rights to send them to a charter or private/parrochial school, or to homeschool them. The legal mandate is not about children attending specific schools (public or otherwise), but that they receive some kind of basic education, period--because like it or not, our system of government is based in democracy, which requires "an informed citizenry".
    They are unequivocally a captive audience. The alternatives are a) they skip class and face disciplinary action, b) they skip school and face judicial administration for both parent and child, or c) they could, yes, be homeschooled or private schooled, although only if their parents can or will pay the de facto fine that is paying for the government school as if they were going there on top of whatever their other educational costs are.

    But honestly, where are kids supposed to learn about this stuff, if not through their schooling?
    I'm willing to risk a children having to learn their comparative theology on the streets. Which is to say, if they want to learn it, they can seek it. That's what college electives are for, if they have any need or inclination to go to college. That's what an inquisitive mind and an inclination to use one's free time feeding it are for, for that matter (I have a cousin who has worked in tool and die most of his life, no higher education, a self-taught volunteer guide at a history museum). I'm very much a "three Rs" kind of guy, although I'd very much love a greater depth of economics and civics and at an earlier age. I'm not kidding about kids who don't know the difference between a profit and a profit margin. Or, for that matter, can't make change in their head -- forget calculating sales tax, I'm talking about "guy hands you a $20 to cover his $12.63 charge, make his change without a pen, paper, phone, or computer".

    Are you suggesting that we just leave kids ignorant about important issues that will help them understand what is happening in the world? Like seriously, what is the alternative?
    I don't think it's the state's business, problem, or prerogative to address the shocking gap in secular-perspective education on religions, the more I think about it. It's odd, since I started the thread (I think) pretty much in favor of class time being spent on this.

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    Scooby Gang sybil's Avatar
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    "Give me a child at an impressionable age, and they are mine forever." Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

    I remember learning when it was a sin for a Catholic to enter a protestant church, the sin (still) of mingling of the sexes (the humbling of oneself might make "head of household" arguable) yet the in worship of the same god, and yet the language itself as impossible to use without God liberally sprinkled in it, not to mention the addition of God put upon our "promise to pay" vouchers, when "silver certificates" went out of fashion, the call for "heavenly Fathers" before secular events, not to mention "God given human rights," and a host of other "street realities" that haven't always "been this way." I don't see how one can avoid God, even in a painting of pagan representations.

    The "problem" is that "leaving" in the face of "offense" is an act of rebellion "others" don't excuse. I have spent my (private) life studying "religions" and mythologies because it was the most organized rendering of "those crazy humans" trying to comprehend themselves and their place in the world that wasn't a boring list of wars called "HIS story."

    As for compartive education v street...when parents or "in parentis locus," won't; Google will--and guess what they learn about sex? Everything but how it feels.

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    Okay, I'm just jumping into the discussion here. I went to a public primary school, which means I had a little bit of "religion class", as it was referred to. I think this was just in one group. A little explanation here: the Dutch elimentary program excists of 8 years: group 1, group 2, group 3, etc. A public school means there is no religion attached to the school, for instance, there are also catholic or jewish schools. In about group 6 I got "religion class", which existed mainly of telling stories about Christianity and a little bit of Islam. My father is an atheist and my mother agnostic, so I didn't get any of that at home. I don't remember much about it, but I did find the stories interesting. Later in life I started to read Greek, Egyptian and Roman mythology. I've never read the Bible or Koran though. I do think that teaching about religion can be valuable, even if parents aren't raising their kids to be religious. The stories - most of them also can be found in ancient mythology, not just Egyptian but Scandivian mythology - all sorts, really - do matter, as they are mostly 'life lessons'. I do think that is important. I'd rather see 'religious education' as teaching children about mythology and values rather than sticking to one religious belief though.
    Of course, I don't really know how religious education is taught in the United States or other countries - I haven't read all of the discussion before, sorry! - but I think that children should be taught the stories that have some sort of moral value. However, I do not think children should be 'forced' into any kind of religion, because I think children should be free in 'choosing' religion, atheism, agnosticism - whatever they want, basically.
    So when do we destroy the world, already?

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