What to Teach Our Children About Religion
The Texas Board of Education, the nation's second largest purchaser of public school textbooks, is revising its K-12 social studies curriculum and deciding how to characterize religion's influence on American history. Three consultants have recommended emphasizing the roles of the Bible, Christianity and civic virtue of religion. As America's children go back to school, how would you advise the Texas board? How should religion be taught in public schools?
What would I like to see our schools teach about religion? Respect for diversity would top my list. Teach our children about the wide variety of faiths and systems of value that our diverse population hold, and to respect other beliefs and non-beliefs. Let them read a variety of religious texts, for poetry and beauty rather than dogma.
Teach them about the history of religious prejudice, and how to debunk its lies. Let them know that Pagans and Wiccans exist, that Witches are not just fairy-tale ogres but real people who practice a religious tradition rooted in the love of nature and as valid as any other. Teach them that many people believe they and they alone have a lock on truth--but nobody knows for sure or has a right to compel others to share their beliefs. Let them meet Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Witches, Native American elders, atheists, and hear directly what these traditions value and practice.
And while we're at it, teach them about the horrors of religious persecution and the devastation of religious wars. Let them learn why freedom of religion was written into our Constitution, and how protecting the rights of others also protects us.
Teach them that religion can bring out the best in us--or the worst. Encourage them to explore what is sacred to them--what they most deeply value and care about, what goes beyond comfort and convenience and profit, what they want to protect and cherish, what they would take a stand for, work for, live for.
Above all, in this age of the internet, teach critical thinking, not just about religion but about everything. Teach them how to know that everything you read or see or hear about is not necessarily valid, how to weigh evidence and evaluate gossip, how to recognize a lie and how to check sources to confirm a truth.
Then they will have the tools to make their own choices and find their own values.
September 1, 2009; 5:36 PM ET
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