Should public schools teach lessons about religions?

My friend called me last week all bent out of shape because she got a note that some moms wanted to come into her child’s kindergarten class and teach the children about Passover and the Seder meal.

She is a Christian and doesn’t actually have a problem with her child learning about Jewish traditions because she feels the two religions are interconnected. However, she feels that it is setting a precedent where people of other religions could also come in and talk to the class about their holidays.

She says she feels young children, especially in kindergarten, first and second, are very impressionable and she doesn’t want them confused by facts about religions other than their own.

She would prefer them not to talk about religion at the public school at all, and she didn’t think they legally could.

I told her that I thought they could teach about traditions of different religion if they didn’t really talk about what they believed per se and also if they taught about many and didn’t just emphasize one.

I told her that I remembered in other kindergarten classes the teachers talking about Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. They had books about it in the classrooms and made little objects from the different traditions.

I can’t remember exactly how they described Easter to the class. I know we had an egg hunt, which the kids just adored. I think that was more like a spring celebration and not an Easter egg hunt. Somehow Easter seems much more controversial to teach about than Christmas.

What do you think? Would you be comfortable with your child’s teacher or parents from your class talking about a religion’s traditions? Would you be comfortable with them trying food from a Seder meal or from another religious celebration? Does that seem more like a culture sharing – like we took in Filipino food to Rose’s class this year and taught about the Philippines. Is there a difference?

How should this mom handle her discomfort with her child learning this information? She already spoke with the principal who is A-Ok with the lesson taking place. She has not spoken to the teacher or the other parents because she doesn’t want them to hold it against her or her child.

Should she:

A. attend the lesson to observe and pull her child if she feels it is inappropriate?

B. keep her child out of school for that particular lesson or that day?

C. insists she be allowed to teach the class about Easter traditions?

D. Don’t stress about it and only complain if a religion she has an issue with wants to speak to the class.

Are you OK with your children learning about some religions in school but not others?

146 comments Add your comment

motherjanegoose

March 23rd, 2010
7:02 am

Home from North Dakota and driving SLOW….LOL!

This is fascinating and we have tip toed around it before.

I remember, when I was student teaching in 1982, that we had latkes and talked all about Hanukkah. This was NO big deal. I also played the dreidel ( sp) game with my children on class, for many years….during the 1990’s.

There are parts of our country who still host a Christmas pageant or Easter parade in the public schools. There are other parts where this is strictly forbidden….as is anything about Halloween. Remember ( I have mentioned) that some Jehovah’s Witness parents complain about birthday parties and have asked teachers ( I know) not to allow them in school, conflicts with THEIR beliefs. .

I think children should be exposed to other customs/traditions and have opportunities to learn together. We all have fears and some parents fear for their children to know things they do not want them to know.

How would anyone decide which religion would be o.k. and which religions would not…I do not know.

dg

March 23rd, 2010
7:57 am

If done in good taste, and informative manner then the conversation would do the kids a world of good. The alternative is to live like a frog in a well. Just talking about other traditions and religions cannot be the end of the world. In my opinion we need more informed citizenry.

The young are remarkable resilient and contrary to the perception that it will be confusing to them, they will be more open and accepting than a a lot of adults we know. Most kids already are exposed to at least one child who follows a different tradition or religion from them. Why not help them make them sense of it. Kida accept diversity better than us enlightened adults.

fred

March 23rd, 2010
8:16 am

Of course they should teach about the religions, just don’t favor one above another (which is very difficult to do especially when teaching about your own religion) if you are teaching about the religion, its history and customs, then by all means go ahead. If you think that some exposure to another religion is going to trump all that you do at home…you might as well unplug the TV radio, Internet and cancel your subscription to the paper and enroll your child in whatever religious institution you favor. Not exposing your children to a variety of cultures is going to harm them in the long run.

Alecia

March 23rd, 2010
8:17 am

I would love for my daughter to have the opportunity to learn about different religions. It’s educational and opens her mind to the world. Her school is predominantly the same race and religion. At Christmas it was okay to discuss Christion traditions. It would have been nice to see a parent discuss Jewish traditions. However, if the parent started preaching in class, that would be different.

cld

March 23rd, 2010
8:22 am

I remember learning about Passover and the Seder in my Catholic CCD classes. We even held a mock-Seder as part of the lesson. Many of the Jewish traditions are the foundations of Christianity as well. So I think we (as Christians) may feel more comfortable with someone teaching those traditions to our children, than teaching – say – Hindu beliefs to our children. I think knowledge (true knowledge) leads to better acceptance – and thus we should be open to knowing about others’ beliefs. At the same time . . . could you imagine if every religious sect was covered in each class? The kids would never learn about anything else!

I personally think it’s great to have a lesson on Passover . . . I hope my children learn about others’ beliefs as they grow older. However, I would be afraid of opening the flood gate . . .

Lori

March 23rd, 2010
8:38 am

I absolutely think it is a good idea to teach children that others have different beliefs if we are ever truly going to co-exist with others in a peaceful and respectful manner. If she feels uncomfortable with the idea, or isn’t sure how her child will react, then she should attend the lesson. Then she will hear first hand the information given to her child and can guide her child on the topic at home later.

I can see it’s treading a fine line though. How do you teach traditions without teaching your religion as well. I can understand her concern, especially with a young child. I think it would be a great idea for schools to host a “culture day” or something of the like, where students and parents together can come and speak with others about their cultures and religions. Make a festival out of it where different groups can bring items and set up displays that best represent their cultures. That would be a fun and engaging way for yound children to see different cultures but in a controlled way and with the guidance of their parents by their sides.

lmno

March 23rd, 2010
8:55 am

Tell your friend to stop complaining. No one is going to brainwash her child. The kid isn’t going to pray towards Mecca three times a day, start wearing a yamakah, grow out dreads and worship Emperor Salasie, start raising barns in Pennsylvania in old time clothes, meditate in the Tibet, or change her name back to her original african ancestry.

It might be good for your friend to go and learn something about other religions too. Sure couldn’t hurt.

Unimpressed

March 23rd, 2010
9:11 am

Religion has no place in public schools unless Christians are willing to give equal time to Buddhism, Hinduism, Wiccan, etc. I am betting they will not.

Van Jones

March 23rd, 2010
9:16 am

If someone can sway my child more in 1 hr than I can in years then I have failed as a parent. I say bring on the teaching of all major religions… no reason to hide something I might not agree with.

cc

March 23rd, 2010
9:16 am

Learning about one anothers traditions is a great way to make children understand that we are all different and should be tolerant of others beliefs. If you would not want your child to be part of it then have them go to the library while the rest of the class participates.

Teacher

March 23rd, 2010
9:21 am

Students in 7th grade learn about Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, Confucianism, Christianity, Islam and Judaism throughout the year. It’s in the SS standards.

People who think that students should not be exposed to this need to home school their children. Learning about religious beliefs of others promotes tolerance, which helps prevent the ignorance that is prevalent in the adults around society.

its sad...

March 23rd, 2010
9:23 am

On money it says IN GOD WE TRUST, now they have taken Bibles out of the schools and shoved the Koran down their throats….

Dboy

March 23rd, 2010
9:29 am

Heaven forbid we should teach diversity of anything.

If you want your child to learn only what you want them to and be exposed to only to those things you think they should see and hear, then home school them.

Parents who are insecure about their kids learning about other religions must have doubts about their own religious view point. Because if they were confident about the religious up bring they were giving their kids they would have no issue.

Do you not want to raise children that think for themselves?

mrs.w

March 23rd, 2010
9:31 am

I hate it when I can’t make up my mind about a subject, like this one. On one hand, I don’t believe in any kind of organized religion for various reasons but on the other hand I feel it is a good thing for kids to learn all they can about any subject including religion. So, I am open to them learning about other religions I just don’t want them to get too interested and decide to join one. For the mother in the story-I would sit in the class and observe.

Cherokee

March 23rd, 2010
9:32 am

We learned about traditions and history of most all religions in school just 10-15 years ago. There seems to be an oversensitivity to the issue. Van Jones is right, if a single lesson can sway, there are bigger problems to be had. A nice courtesy would be to notify parents when the lessons are occurring and that way parents can be parents and discuss things at home as well.

To another point, I think that making the broad generalization about Christian intolerance as Unimpressed did is detrimental to the conversation. I am a Christian and I’m more than happy to have my boys learn about other religions — the diversity in thought is good. I’m not the only Christian parent that feels that way, either.

I beleive

March 23rd, 2010
9:35 am

in Christmas so will NOT say happy holidays! I believe in Easter and I believe in Good Friday. If you want to take Christianity out of our schools then do NOT put others in their place!

Avery

March 23rd, 2010
9:36 am

My guess is that the friend in question would be completely opposed if the subject were, say, Ramadan instead of Passover. Either teach all religions or none of them, anything else is hypocritical.

The fact that kindergarten-2nd are able to be “confused” about the differences in religions at least demonstrates that they are more open-minded than many adults.

Becky

March 23rd, 2010
9:37 am

I’m in agreement with most on here..I have no problem with the learning about other religions..

cc and Van said pretty much what needs to be said..Isn’t this the reason that we send our kids to school, to learn? As someone else said, there are so many different cultures and religions in schools now, let them be exposed to all of them on some levels..

lmno

March 23rd, 2010
9:37 am

“its sad…

March 23rd, 2010
9:23 am
On money it says IN GOD WE TRUST, now they have taken Bibles out of the schools and shoved the Koran down their throats….”

Are you kidding? The Quaran isn’t shoved down your kid’s throat. They also didn’t take bibles out of the schools. All they did was stop reciting the Lord’s Prayer every morning. If you moved to a country that was predominantly Muslim, you would probably appreciate a school system that didn’t stop to make children pray towards Mecca.

By the way, I notice that there are certain expressions like “Shoved down our throats” that seem to be getting used more and more these days. When you hear someone use an expression that is becoming more popular (drink the koolaid) it is a good indication that the person writing/speaking does not have an original thought on the subject but rather is repeating someone else’s idea.

A

March 23rd, 2010
9:39 am

What better way to foster world peace than to learn about all religions in a fair and balanced way. From the age of 3, my son was exposed to different religious and cultural traditions at school. We are not Jewish, but he still has a dreidel from when a mom came to his class to talk about Hanukkah, and he still loves playing the dreidel game. I see nothing wrong with this. And what better time to show that there are many religions in the world than at a young age when kids are open to hearing about different ideas and points of view. It’s the parents who are the problem when they think just hearing about something other than your own religions will harm your child. We’d be better off if we all read each other’s holy books and studied other traditions.

j rev

March 23rd, 2010
9:39 am

Ha! “Facts” about religion.

lmno

March 23rd, 2010
9:40 am

I watched an interesting program on PBS last night on Dr. Freeman, the man responsible for the mass introduction of Lobotomies. Although I learned a lot about Mental Illness Treatment history, I am not a Mental Illness Doctor. Some may find it odd that a person can learn about a subject and it doesn’t change who they are.

I have studied lots of religions, at least on a surface level, and it didn’t shake my beliefs.

@lmno

March 23rd, 2010
9:43 am

yes bibles are taken out of the library of schools, I have 3 children one in grade school, one in middle school and one in high school. All three have said even last year the bible was removed. OH and by the way, the Muslim children are dismissed out of the class to go pray… Really..??

nolarw

March 23rd, 2010
9:46 am

Amen to “I believe”

lmno

March 23rd, 2010
9:48 am

“yes bibles are taken out of the library of schools, I have 3 children one in grade school, one in middle school and one in high school. All three have said even last year the bible was removed. ”

Are there other religious texts in the library?

@lmno

March 23rd, 2010
9:50 am

yes the Koran!

Get It Right

March 23rd, 2010
9:52 am

Teach ABOUT religions – that’s OK. Teach religions – not OK. Like it or not, we will have to be careful about Islam. There is a state-funded school in MN the teaching and practice of Islam to all students. You are required to participate. That is the muslim way.

RJ

March 23rd, 2010
9:52 am

My son’s 6th grade social studies textbook teaches about various religions around the world. He hasn’t come home once and asked to convert to another religion. He found the practices interesting.

As a choral music teacher I deal with this a lot. It is not against the law to teach a religious song. So, when I teach the “Hallelujah Chorus” to introduce young kids to this wonderful work, I’m not teaching them what to believe. It’s nearly impossible to teach music history without teaching religious songs. One year my principal nearly died when we sang the spiritual, “Jesus, Oh What a Wonderful Child”. We sang the word Jesus in a spiritual! Only he complained, the parents thought nothing of it. Again, it’s history, not doctrine.

Theresa, Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday. It continues to be lumped together with Christmas and Hannukah. It is a celebration of family and community. Any relgion is welcome to participate.

Praying in Public Places...

March 23rd, 2010
9:53 am

I guess all you haters picket NASCAR then right?!

Good News

March 23rd, 2010
9:54 am

Easter is the essence of Christanity, so the enemy doesn’t want this message spread. The story of Christmas easily translates to messages of hope, giving, and generosity. But the story of Easter is that humans need to accept Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for the forgiveness of their sins and the subsequent redemtion of their souls. Easter is the story of the triumph of God’s power of life over death. This is a much more direct message than the story of Christmas. It’s easier to talk about giving and generosity in public schools than humans’ need for forgiveness of their sins and the role Jesus’ death and resurection plays in this process.

VaLady

March 23rd, 2010
9:57 am

There is nothing wrong with teaching children about other religions, as long as the instruction is done in a fashion not geared toward conversion. The teacher and principal should preview the instruction material to ensure that it is appropriate.

Parents should be given a heads up so that they can decide whether or not they want their child exposed to another religion. Just like other “controversial” instruction (i.e., sex education), there should be a form for the parents to approve their child’s attendance in the instruction. If the parent doesn’t approve, he or she can keep the student home for the day so that there is no embarrassment of removing the student from the classroom for an alternate activity during the special instruction time.

This article reminds me of a sad story from my Girl Scout days. We had been meeting in the local Methodist church. On one of our meeting days, the minister walked in and said that we had to leave — no explanation – just leave ASAP. Our troop leader was Catholic so she called her priest to see if we could meet at the local Catholic school. Father said yes and we moved to our new location.

Sadly, half of the girls were pulled out of Scouting because the parents did not want their daughters exposed to the Catholic religion by attending Scouting meetings in a Catholic school. It seemed that the religious statuary, crosses on the walls, and nuns would be a bad experience.

gking

March 23rd, 2010
9:57 am

Teach them all. Separation of church and state was meant to keep the state from running religion, not keep religion out of affairs of state (including school). Then talk about it at home with the students.
By the way, why can an organ of the STATE (the courts) be relied upon to decide issues of separation. Seems they might be a bit prejudiced from the outset.

Jason

March 23rd, 2010
10:00 am

The best solution is to allow all religions to play or none at all.

MommyofIMD

March 23rd, 2010
10:01 am

@ Van Jones (9:16) – “If someone can sway my child more in 1 hr than I can in years then I have failed as a parent.”

I absolutely agree with you!! If I am doing my job as a parent, then I have nothing to fear. It is healthy for children to see outside of “bubble” that many of us put our children in.

lmno

March 23rd, 2010
10:03 am

Good News,

It would be fine to teach about Easter in schools. You could say, “Christians believe that Jesus was crucified, died, was buried, and on the third day rose from the dead. This resurection is what Christians believe…”

But you shouldn’t say, “Jesus was crucified, died,…”

Just like when theese ladies come talk about Jewish traditions, they should say that these are the things that Jewish people do and believe.

lmno

March 23rd, 2010
10:05 am

If we are a Christian nation, I think the Beatitudes would be better than the ten commandments for display in public places. “Blessed are the Merciful” in the court house. “Blessed are the peace keepers” at the Pentagon. “Blessed are the meek” at the VA Hospital. “Blessed are the poor in spirit” at DFACS.

DB

March 23rd, 2010
10:12 am

Theresa, I think your friend is being too sensitive. If she has a strong faith-based family, and the kids have been going to church, etc., then a 20-minute talk about another religion, taught at their level, isn’t going to screw ‘em up. I am all in favor of “comparative religion” talks, as long as it is kept respectful of each religion. It’s not as though they are going to suddenly embrace a different religion.

What the heck is she going to do when they are teenagers and decide that religion is the perfect platform on which to rebel? Is she going to be equally upset if they choose a different faith when they are adults — will she feel that she has “failed” in bringing up her children?

She can certainly request that her child not attend this portion of the class — yeah, let’s make it obvious that she has NO tolerance whatsoever for anyone else’s religion. Similarly, attending and THEN pulling out in the middle of the program would be extraordinarily rude and judgemental. And since she is so hot about this, I’d question her ability to present an unbiased presentation on Easter traditions — it’s not as though there is a traditional Easter dinner menu, after all, and everything else skirts very, very close to faith doctrine.

My kids went to a private Christian school, but I was a big proponent of introducing a comparative religions class. Heck, I offered to teach it! You cannot be a citizen of the world and be ignorant of other people’s faiths. It was actually one of my favorite classes in college, one that sparked an interest in classes of other religions. We Christians are idiots if we don’t recognize that there are parts of the world where religion drives political thought, and don’t even make an attempt to understand that religion.

mom2alex&max

March 23rd, 2010
10:15 am

Lmno: I never thought about that!!!! How true!!!! It’s interesting that I had to memorize the Beatitudes as a child as well as the 10 Commandments. And somehow, I still remember the Commandments, but I will be hard pressed to recite the Beatitudes. And they are SO appropriate for such a variety of situations. Thank u for the reminder, I will go brush up again on them tonight during evening studies.

HB

March 23rd, 2010
10:24 am

I think part of the problem with teaching about Easter at the elementary school level is the lack of holiday-specific traditions to teach about as opposed to religious beliefs. The shared tradition for most in the U.S. is simply going to church. Maybe dinner with the extended family after. Then you have egg hunts and the bunny and could talk about Lent and fasting, but there’s just not really a rich source of interesting practices to teach about. No tree, no traditional holiday foods beyond candy and eggs. A good alternative might be to teach specifically about Greek Easter and its traditions — red eggs and Easter bread (can’t remember the Greek name), special candles for the Easter Mass and carrying the flame home from church, the Easter feast with roasted lamb, etc.

Aquagirl

March 23rd, 2010
10:24 am

There’s a difference between a teacher (State-paid employee) and an invited parent discussing their beliefs, though it may not be discernible by a 1st grader.

The problem is how you keep a parent from preaching instead of informing. I can totally see kids on the end of hellfire and damnation sermons if you have an open-door policy.

Polytron/E2M Sucks

March 23rd, 2010
10:27 am

I used to have a couple of albums by the Beatitudes. But unfortunately where can you find a record player any more? :)

Polytron/E2M Sucks

March 23rd, 2010
10:28 am

/* **** MAYBE WHAT THIS ‘BLOG’ NEEDS IS A NEW SUBJECT, NO OFFENSE! **** */

Good News

March 23rd, 2010
10:42 am

Imno:

Good points about how to teach what Easter is all about from a factual/religious doctrine/ objective position. Say “Christians believe…” instead of “Jesus is God’s son…was resurected…”

HB:

I think you are missing the point a bit; it’s okay to talk about traditions and pagentry associated with Easter, but it would be remiss to not talk directly about the heart of the holiday, namley Jesus’s death on the cross and his resurection. By the way, the dogwood tree is often associated with Easter, as it blooms around Easter every year. The symbolism of the dogwood tree’s petals and Jesus on the cross is very poetic. You should google it, or check it out somehow sometime.

MomOf2Girls

March 23rd, 2010
10:47 am

I have to correct a misconception here. A seder is not a “traditional meal” in the way that the dinner following Easter services is. The word seder means “order”. Seder actually refers to the gathering at which a specific text that is recited in accordance with the Jewish law (Hagaddah). There are foods that are eaten as part of this, specifically the bitter herbs, charoset (mixture representing mortar), and matzoh. There is also a requirement to drink 4 cups of wine at specific times during the text. The meal itself is required, but there are no restrictions regarding what can be eaten as long as there is no roasted meat and it is Kosher :-)

The seder plate contains symbols of the story of the Exodus.

That’s it in a nutshell. I hope I didn’t offend any of you with this lesson, but I thought it was important to clarify what it is that you are all discussing.

@ it's sad

March 23rd, 2010
10:52 am

The God they speak of “In God We Trust” is the same God as that of the Jews, Christians, Muslims & Deists. Our founding fathers were a mixture of Christians & Deists. We were originally created by protestant settlers, but our government was not developed for any one religion. I don’t agree that Bibles should be removed from schools, but other religious books should be present as well. I teach and I have representative religious texts in my room from the Bible, Quran, Analects, etc. The study of history is impossible without discussing the single most important over-arching concept of all time: religion. You simply cannot understand a single culture or people without discussing their faith and religious customs.

David S

March 23rd, 2010
10:57 am

Or E. Band together with her fellow concerned parents and demand an end to government involvement in education. Work to allow only private and charity schools or homeschooling thus providing every parent with the ability to decide for themselves what their children will be taught from a religion standpoint without having to worry about other parents using the oppressive tool of government to impose their religious teachings on others through government run schools.

Or F. Roll over like a good lap dog of a citizen and realize that everything the government does for you it does in your best interest and that you have nothing to worry about. (I’m figuring most parents will pick this option).

JoeV

March 23rd, 2010
10:59 am

Good News,

Its a tree. Trees bloom in the spring.

Just sayin’

Atlanta Native

March 23rd, 2010
11:01 am

I attended a local Catholic school. I took a philosophy of religion course in high school. I was taught what the other major religions believed – in what I saw as a rather unbiased manner. When I was out in the world, it was great to be able to speak with people of other faiths and know about their belief system. From Mormons to Buddhists, they were often amazed I, a protestant from the South, was not completely ignorant of their religion, and they greatly appreciated it.

As long as certain believers in Christianity and atheism can keep their mouths shut and learn about other belief systems, this should be available everywhere.

I admit that Wiccans were given short shrift and covered under polytheism and paganism.

JoeV

March 23rd, 2010
11:04 am

David S,

You have a right to homeschool your kids. Just so you know, you sound like a paranoid lunatic.

RGB

March 23rd, 2010
11:08 am

Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, 29 had seminary degrees. The DoI is the foundation of our government. American Exceptionalism exists because our Founders were able to establish this country on a foundation that includes strong Biblical principles. Ours is not a Godless Constitution. We recognize Jefferson and Franklin as secular, but at least 29/56 were godly men.

The Congress printed the first English language Bible in the United States just one month after the Battle of Yorktown. 20,000 copies were printed. An original is in the Library of Congress. The record shows that Congress characterized this first English language Bible as “A neat edition of the Holy Scripture for use in our schools.” The Bible had an endorsement that read “Resolved that the United States in Congress assembled…recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States…”

The 1st Public Law School in America was “The Old Deluder Satan Act”. For the next 320 years the Bible was used regularly in public schools.

June 17, 1963 the Supreme Court removed the use of the Bible in schools in a double decision.

Morality and decency in this country have declined ever since.