Major Issues Essay (Draft 1)

Trevor White

Major Issue Essay

R C 2001

Brett Zawilski

Teaching Religion In Public Schools

            Religion is something that echoes throughout society; college campuses are polluted with preachers yelling about sin and hell, religious studies are now in general education, and the ongoing debate of what should or shouldn’t be taught. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment “prohibits the government from making any law ‘respecting an establishment of religion.’,” (law.cornell.edu).  On June 25th, 1962, the supreme court ruled on the case Engle vs. Vitale that addressed the issue of “Whether school-sponsored nondenominational prayer in public schools violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” (uscourts.gov). Since that decision there have been rules and restrictions placed on the education of religion within public schools. Because of this, students have been handed the short end of the stick in their education. Religion is something that is, and will always be, present in society forever and the ability for students to speak on the topic intellectually is necessary now more than ever. All the major world religions contain themes and information useful to the education of students nearing adulthood. Incorporating the study of religion in public high schools will assist students in understanding and forming moral complexes while preparing them for their future lives with necessary information.

The CIA’s “World Factbook” contains statistics on the population of the world, being a reliable source such as the CIA users are safe knowing the statistics are accurate. In the “World Factbook” the CIA reveals a meer 16.4 % of the world’s population claims to follow no religion. Put that 16.4% next to the 68.6% of people that identify with just the top 3 religions; Christian (31.4%), Muslim (23.2%), and Hindu (15%) and it makes religion’s worldwide presence is apparent (cia.gov). The pillars of the major religions of the world contain parallels in what they stand for. “The Dalai Lamas are believed by Tibetan Buddhists to be manifestations of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and the patron saint of Tibet.” (dalailama.com). There is a quote from the Dalai Lama saying, “All major religious traditions carry basically the same message, that is love, compassion and forgiveness.” The three main words of this massive appeal to the emotions and ethics of people are ‘love,’ ‘compassion,’ and ‘forgiveness.’ The world is full of people arguing over the what’s of the world instead of the why’s. Teaching the youth the “why’s” on will lead to a more understanding community centered more on communicating and less on arguing. Along with showing students by teaching the “why’s” of the world teaching religion with their themes such as love and forgiveness, rather than just telling students the names of religions and sending them on their own to figure the rest out, will introduce students to a variety of moral complexes societies all around the world. Students are preparing to enter college, one of the communities that serves as an epically diverse melting pot of people with different religious beliefs, values, and opinions present in religion. This is not a plot to bring more young people to be religious, it is a way for young people to not only hear the beliefs of others but to gain an understanding of why their beliefs are the way they are exist and where their values come from

Religion is prominent not only worldwide but has been showing growth in participation on college campuses, a community even more immediately relevant to the high school students nearing their time to become college students. Americans United says that parents should not fear their children being forced to pray in school and should make their own decisions about religion (au.org). The way people shape the basis of their lives such as being religious or not plus the decisions that come from what they decide are absolutely decisions that should be made within a household uninfluenced by any school system or government. However, religion is a popular subject that is still growing and allowing young students to move away from home and starting life with no prior knowledge in such a subject is setting them up for failure. According to the Association of American colleges and Universities involvement in campus crusades nearly doubled in just five years between the 1995-96 semesters (20,000 members) to the end of the 2001 semester (39,000 members) (aacu.org) with continued growth afterwards. Courtyards have become filled with campus preachers, there are groups every day promoting religious organizations, and religious studies have become part of general education classes. Entering a community like such without knowing the basics of religion is scary and dangerous, school systems need not teach students what to believe but what religion means and more specifically what each religion means. When students are better prepared for the lifestyle and community changes they are getting ready to face they can focus more so on their schooling, which is why they are there.

`           The American Civil Liberties Union has a “Joint Statement of Current Law on Religion in The Public Schools,” in which the fifth point reads “Students may be taught about religion, but public schools may not teach religion.” (aclu.org). What exactly does that mean? Students can learn about religion if the lesson plan happens to stumble upon it? The page goes on to say that some areas of schooling such as art can’t be properly taught without the incorporation of religion. Despite religious studies being prominent in general education classes of colleges and the apparent influence from religion on other topics in high schools it is still not being taught in these schools. There is so much red tape around the subject that teachers must be scared when the topic arises. Religion serves a major role not only in the history of America but in development of the world’s culture, a culture high school students will soon be submerged in. With a better understanding of religion and its influence on culture students will be better prepared for classes they will face in college heavy in culture and what influenced it.

The education of our youth is being suffocated by red tape and buried by gray areas. Teachers are being restricted in the classroom with rules constraining what they can teach, when they can teach it, and how they must go about it. Religion may be a sensitive and personal subject but it is a subject with a mass of influence in daily events and restricting the youth’s exposure to it until they are already surrounded by it is an equation for disaster. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, “a global community dedicated to excellence in learning, teaching, and leading,” published a piece by Steven Weber called “What Is The Purpose Of The American High School?” In this article weber questions the said “goal” of the American high school as he says is supposed to be “to graduate all students ‘college and career ready,’.” It would be false to say that religion is not something students need to be ready for when they arrive in college and currently the American high school is failing to provide students with that readiness. This failure to educate high school students properly puts the foundation public schools, specifically high schools, are built on. The readier our high school students are for adult life the better the dropout rate will be and in turn the better the employment rates from American high schools will be.

The National School Boards Association published an article on the purpose of public education where an award-winning teacher is cited having asked eight-hundred-seventy-five people inside and out of the public-school system one question and the only restriction being to answer in thirty words or less. That question was “What is the purpose of public education?” from the responses the Fordham Foundation claimed “Three-fourths of board members say that ‘help[ing] students fulfil their potential’ or ‘preparing students for a satisfying and productive life’ is number one.” (nsba.org). The preparation of the youth is the overarching purpose of these schools it is odd to step back and think that religion, a topic so prominent through history and growing in present day society, is not being taught in an establishment built on the role of preparation. When the debate between the inclusion or admittance of religion in lesson plans of public schools becomes more centered around adults who have already seen, heard, and lived the real worlds opinions the students end up on the receiving end of faulty life preparation created by those adults and their opinions. Due to the red tape put up by education official’s students are not able to learn enough about the subject to form an individual opinion of whether they should be learning about religion at that stage of life. By teaching religion in American high school’s students will be prepared better for college and the real world where religion is present and growing while also learning about moral complexes and the basis they are formed on. By teaching religion and the values that come along with religion students will be set up to better understand not only what others believe but why they believe it, helping them become a more understanding community and better communicators.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

ACLU. “Joint Statement of Current Law on Religion in the Public Schools.” American Civil Liberties Union. American Civil Liberties Union, n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.

Agency, Central Intelligence. “The World Factbook: WORLD.” Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, 12 Jan. 2017. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

Brochure. “Publication.” Religion In Public Schools | Americans United. Americans United, n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.

“Dalai Lama Biography |.” Biography Online. Biography Online, n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.

Education, Liberal. “Religion: A Comeback on Campus.” Association of American Colleges & Universities. AACU, 30 Oct. 2014. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.

“Establishment Clause.” Legal Information Institute. Cornell University, n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.

“Facts and Case Summary – Engel v. Vitale.” United States Courts. United States Courts, n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.

Peifer, Angie. “The Purpose of Public Education and The Role of the School Board.”National School Boards Association. National School Boards Association, 14 Aug. 2014. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.

Weber, Steven. “What Is The Purpose Of The American High School?” ASCD EDge. ASCD EDge, 2012. Web. 24 Apr. 2017.

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