Sunday, April 24, 2011

Teaching Religion in Public Schools

I'll never forget one day as a teenager teaching several good friends of mine who happened to be Christian about the meanings of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The thing that surprised me was that I was (am) Jewish. How was it possible that I, as a Jew, could teach my Christian friends the meanings of their holidays?

Even more interesting, I was a student at a Jewish prep school. My world history and American history teachers spent considerable time teaching about Christianity and the nature of Christian beliefs. My classmates and I were Jewish - we knew that. But, we did not live within a vacuum in the world. We did not live within a Jewish "bubble."

My friends, on the other hand, went to a public high school - one of the highest regarded high schools in the United States. But, they still did not study any kind of religion in their school. They knew very little about their own religion and almost nothing about Judaism.

I can't help but wonder how many American adults truly understand the meanings of Good Friday, Easter, and Passover. (Obviously, I am just mentioning the holidays that are currently occurring. There are so many others from a variety of religions that could also be mentioned.) How many Christian (Protestant, Catholic, Episcopalian, etc.) and Jewish adults understand the interconnections between these two religions?

Unfortunately, many public high schools tend to be afraid to teach about religion.

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

It is only fear that limits the teaching of religion. Many educators interpret this amendment as mandating that religion should not be taught in public schools. But, of course, this is not accurate. There is a significant difference between establishing a religion as the central religion of the United States and teaching the essence of religious ideology. Too many educators are afraid that they'll run into trouble if they teach the beliefs of various religions. But, the Constitution does not prohibit any kind of teaching. Indeed, enlightened people should not be afraid to learn anything, or teach anything.

The teachers in my Jewish prep school understood that teaching is not the same thing as indoctrinating. It is time for teachers in all schools to understand the same.

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