‘Is it time for pub­lic schools to put re­li­gion back in the class­room?’ YES NO

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Tri­bune News Ser­vice By MAX B. SAWICKY Tri­bune News Ser­vice

It’s easy to un­der­stand why dis­cus­sions of re­li­gion, no mat­ter where they take place, make some peo­ple un­com­fort­able. But that’s no rea­son to ban the topic from Amer­i­can class­rooms.

Many of the peo­ple who first came to Amer­ica were seek­ing a place to freely prac­tice their faith. The ma­jor­ity of our colonies, at one time, had of­fi­cial churches.

Over time, the idea of re­li­gious tol­er­a­tion de­vel­oped, in which colonies with es­tab­lished re­li­gions would tol­er­ate the prac­tice of other faiths. By the time of Amer­ica’s found­ing, we had moved be­yond re­li­gious tol­er­a­tion to an Amer­i­can un­der­stand­ing of re­li­gious lib­erty, which is en­shrined in our found­ing doc­u­ments.

But in pro­tect­ing “the free ex­er­cise of re­li­gion,” as the Bill of Rights puts it, we have some­times gone too far. The sep­a­ra­tion of church and state does not re­quire that the govern­ment shun re­li­gion, only that govern­ment not com­pel wor­ship or fa­vor a par­tic­u­lar re­li­gion.

The Amer­i­can so­cial stud­ies class­room is the ideal place to talk about the role re­li­gion and faith have played in Amer­i­can his­tory. As the Na­tional Coun­cil for the So­cial Stud­ies writes, “Knowl­edge about re­li­gions is not only a char­ac­ter­is­tic of an ed­u­cated per­son but is nec­es­sary for ef­fec­tive and en­gaged ci­ti­zen­ship in a di­verse na­tion and world.”

Even the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union agrees with this. “It would be dif­fi­cult to teach art, mu­sic, lit­er­a­ture and most so­cial stud­ies with­out con­sid­er­ing re­li­gious in­flu­ences,” notes a state­ment on re­li­gion in pub­lic schools jointly signed by the ACLU and nu­mer­ous other or­ga­ni­za­tions span­ning the ide­o­log­i­cal, po­lit­i­cal and re­li­gious spec­trum.

At the Ash­brook Cen­ter at Ash­land Uni­ver­sity, aca­demic pro­grams are all based on the premise that the best way to learn about Amer­i­can his­tory and govern­ment is to learn it from those who lived and shaped it.

To know what they thought, how they felt, and what mo­ti­vated them per­son­ally and in­tel­lec­tu­ally — in many cases their faith — our stu­dents read their let­ters, speeches, pam­phlets and books.

The role of re­li­gion in Amer­i­can his­tory and pol­i­tics is part of this on­go­ing first-per­son story.

To un­der­stand the mo­ti­va­tions and think­ing of the early colonists, for ex­am­ple, we sug­gest that stu­dents read John Winthrop’s 1630 dis­course, “A Model of Chris­tian Char­ity,” which lays out a vi­sion for build­ing a godly com­mon­wealth and urges Mas­sachusetts Bay colonists to “be gen­er­ous with their re­sources ... con­sid­er­ing the good of their neigh­bor to be in­te­gral to their own good.” Good ad­vice for to­day as well.

Our sug­gested read­ing list on re­li­gion in Amer­i­can and pol­i­tics in­cludes 25 core doc­u­ments that helped shape our na­tion, such as:

— Cot­ton Mather’s 1718 es­say on “the prin­ci­ples of rea­son”

— Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton’s 1790 let­ter to the He­brew Con­gre­ga­tion of New­port R.I.

— Abra­ham Lin­coln’s sec­ond in­au­gu­ral ad­dress, de­liv­ered in 1865, and

— Henry Ward Beecher’s “Moral The­ory of Civil Lib­erty,” writ­ten in 1869.

More re­cent writ­ings in­clude Franklin D. Roo­sevelt’s 1933 ad­dress to the Na­tional Con­fer­ence of Catholic Char­i­ties, the Rev. Martin Luther King’s 1962 Ebenezer Bap­tist Church ser­mon, “Can a Chris­tian Be a Com­mu­nist,” Ron­ald Rea­gan’s re­marks at the 1983 an­nual con­ven­tion of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Evan­gel­i­cals, and Barack Obama’s 2009 ad­dress at Cairo Uni­ver­sity.

As any hon­est his­to­rian will at­test, there is no way to di­vorce Amer­i­can govern­ment and his­tory from the re­li­gious be­liefs of those who cre­ated our govern­ment and lived that his­tory.

The Na­tional Coun­cil for the So­cial Stud­ies puts it like this: “Only through learn­ing about re­li­gions and be­liefs will young peo­ple be ad­e­quately pre­pared for ci­ti­zen­ship in a re­li­giously di­verse so­ci­ety and world.”

Schools shouldn’t run from the topic; they should em­brace it.

Roger L. Beck­ett is the ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Ash­brook Cen­ter at Ash­land Uni­ver­sity. Read­ers may write him at 401 Col­lege Ave., Ash­land, OH, 44805.

Ev­ery morn­ing in grade school, we said the Lord’s Prayer. I still re­mem­ber the words.

That’s some­what re­mark­able con­sid­er­ing I never be­lieved in a god back then and still don’t to­day.

That said, be­ing re­quired to pray did not cause any last­ing dam­age to my psy­che. But I’m still con­vinced there are dan­gers to mix­ing re­li­gious ob­ser­vance with pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion.

The key ques­tion for those who want re­li­gion in schools is this: Can you han­dle the truth?

Be­cause the truth is dif­fer­ent peo­ple want their chil­dren to be­lieve dif­fer­ent things, and that’s every­one’s right.

Based on the way our ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions work and draw­ing on past ex­pe­ri­ences, it’s al­most cer­tain school­spon­sored re­li­gious ob­ser­vances would be one-size-fits-all ex­er­cises go­ing against the pref­er­ences of at least some, if not many.

Even the most ba­sic type of prayer af­fronts those who don’t want to pray. And mean­while, some com­mon prayers might be re­jected by de­vout Chris­tians as weak tea.

The most im­por­tant fea­ture of Amer­ica’s kin­der­garten-through-high-school pub­li­ca­tion ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem is that its gov­er­nance is de­cen­tral­ized. And that same at­tribute would make al­low­ing re­li­gious in­struc­tion par­tic­u­larly trou­ble­some.

Be­cause birds of a feather flock to­gether and the mem­bers of many com­mu­ni­ties wor­ship in the same way, there are mi­nori­ties ev­ery­where who would risk be­ing big-footed by ma­jori­ties who would want their lo­cal schools to re­flect their re­li­gious pref­er­ences. Con­se­quently, in­tro­duc­ing any par­tic­u­lar wor­ship — or dis­cussing even the his- tory of re­li­gion in lo­cal schools — is a for­mula for dis­cord, which pub­lic schools need like a new rat pop­u­la­tion.

Rather than de­bate about re­li­gion, we should fo­cus on teach­ing stu­dents prac­ti­cal skills. In our in­creas­ingly in­te­grated world, tech­nol­ogy has brought di­verse groups closer to­gether, re­quir­ing in­di­vid­u­als to go out­side their bub­bles and un­der­stand broader so­ci­ety.

And even if greater dis­cus­sion of re­li­gion were per­mit­ted, would lo­cal school boards al­low teach­ers to talk about re­li­gious groups out­side the main­stream? And what about Is­lam?

No short­age of li­belous, ig­no­rant rub­bish is cir­cu­lated about that re­li­gion and its ad­her­ents in the U.S. by groups in­clud­ing well-known en­ter­tain­ers, politi­cians and re­li­gious lead­ers. What would schools have to say about that?

But it’s not just Mus­lims who face dis­crim­i­na­tion.

My daugh­ter re­cently gave me a study Bi­ble as a gift. It in­cludes a page that soberly ex­plains why Mor­monism is not a le­git­i­mate type of Chris­tian­ity. And in ad­di­tion to in­ter-Chris­tian squab­bling, there is anti-Semitism and as­saults against Sikhs.

Us all get­ting along? The ev­i­dence is mixed.

The fact is, schools have their hands full with read­ing, writ­ing and arith­metic.

For the fore­see­able fu­ture, I think we’ll have to make peace with the fact that, as Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The most seg­re­gated hour of Chris­tian Amer­ica is 11 o’clock on Sun­day morn­ing.”

Max B. Sawicky is an econ­o­mist spe­cial­iz­ing in pub­lic fi­nance and pri­va­ti­za­tion. Read­ers may write him at Cen­ter for Eco­nomic Pol­icy Re­search, 1611 Con­necti­cut Ave. NW, suite 400, Wash­ing­ton, D.C., 20009

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.