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I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation that is indivisible with liberty and justice for all. Is anything wrong there? Is this the way we should recite the pledge in public schools? Now look at the word “Holiday”, what does it look like? If you were thinking “Holy Day”, you would be correct. However, who should declare the change in the saying of the flag? Who should declare which holidays we observe in our school system? Who should declare if we teach religion in schools?
Religion influences nearly everything in our daily lives: from the architecture of buildings, the food we eat, and the books we read, to the rituals of marriage and death, and the customs of courtroom and government. Religion shapes our beliefs, moral codes, national identities, and now it should help define other cultures in the classrooms.
Today, I will try to convince you that we need more religion in public school systems by elaborating on the sense of community it brings and the freedom of religion that we are given. I will also give reasonable solutions to these denied rights, we as Americans face.
The search for religious freedom brought many of the first European settlers to the shores of the New World, and, for more than 200 years, the first Amendment has protected religious freedom. At first, students recited “The Lord’s Prayer” to begin the school day, and vacationing during Christmas and Easter breaks became a commonplace. Society then evolved, welcoming immigrants from many different parts of the world; these new populations brought their own worldviews and ways of celebrating holidays.
In 1962, our Supreme Court ruled in the case Engel v. Vitale, that prayer is not normally permitted in classrooms when class is in session; communities have become divided on the issue of religion in public schools. With the ruling of this decision, in public schools you are allowed to do certain things when pertaining to religion. These things are: invocations, benedictions, or prayer at graduation ceremonies, teaching religion in different courses in school as long as one religion is not presented as being superior to another, students are allowed to organize Bible study and other religious groups, having moments of silence, students can organize prayer on school grounds outside of the classroom, students can carry Bibles or other religious text, students can wear clothing and jewelry with religious sayings, religious organizations can rent school facilities, and the teaching of evolution. Conversely, teachers can not initiate any of these things.
Being taught about religion in school creates a sense of community and where is a better place to learn community than in school? When I say community, I do not mean a community we live in. I mean unity and identity.
We are given our freedom of religion and as the United States Constitution states, we have a right to worship any religion we choose, a right our forefathers fought for, believed in, and died for; it’s part of the whole reason they rebelled against England. We have a right to learn about other religions, as long as it is taught, not preached. This is because religion is a part of culture, and cultures define the people of the world. Religion ties cultures together; I will use the Abrahamic religions once again. However, as I have asked before why must we be taught religion in our schools?
Charles C. Haynes is quoted saying “religion plays a significant role in history and society. The study of religion is essential to understanding both the nation and the world.” Omission of facts of religion can give us as students the false impression that the religious life of humankind is insignificant or unimportant. Failure to understand even the basic symbols, practices, and concepts of the various religions makes much of history, literature, art, and contemporary life unintelligible. We should apply genuine neutrality to our curriculum. This would give students as me secular ways of seeing the world. You see, if we exclude religion, or barely mention it, it seems hardly neutral or fair. That is why the failure to take religion seriously in the curriculum is compelling for the notion that public education takes sides. The curriculum that excludes religion implicitly conveys the sense that religion is irrelevant in the search for truth, which is a message that is neither neutral nor fair.
As Dr. Ernest Boyer, school founder of Boyer Center, says “it is necessary if we are going to live with our deepest differences in the 21st century.” He also states that “the religious diversity of the United States continues to expand.” He feels it will be increasingly important that public schools be places where religious liberty works and where we learn as much as possible about one another.
In addition, Boyer is correct, we must and shall learn as much as possible about one another and ourselves. That brings us back to religion as the sense of community for one. Most educators take an effective view of student behavior. They do not want young people running around in destructive groups. They do not want them doing drugs, alcohol, or crime. They do not want them teasing others, speaking disrespectfully, withdrawing from their families, or cheating on their schoolwork. So, in order for such things to be prevented, we must develop a moral sense that goes through cooperative learning, discovery methods, active learning modes, peer teaching modes, and methods that give students responsibility for choosing how much to learn, in what way to learn, what parts of a topic to learn , or in what order to learn something. This moral education teaches us good conduct styles, including manners and thoughtfulness. It is about the development of our character, the stable qualities that are revealed in our actions. Frequently, people adopt a simplistic view of morality. They think it concerns only lying, cheating, or sexual misbehavior, whereas in fact it encompasses as well positive duties towards one’s self and others. Religious or not, moral standards affirm our human dignity and rights, allow us to treat others as we wish to be treated, enable us to live a fulfilling life, and make possible democratic and civilized cultures. These moral standards are taught by parents, but are reiterated by our schools each day. For example, Roland Park K-8 includes in their daily curriculum the topic of character. Bernadette Washington, Assistant Principal for Roland Park, says “Although, I do not know the statistical information of our effect of character education, I’m aware that more kids are being honest. We have kids reporting things without being afraid. There are lesser students receiving referrals than from previous years.” Diane Grossman, Kindergarten teacher at Roland Park, states “I was real big in the beginning on showing the students what character education was. Now we take out the time to teach them and show them honesty, no talking in the hallways, self-control, respect, and caring. I’m sure if you were to ask any student in my class, they can tell you that they want to care for others and respect people.” Moral education is taught by example. We imitate the attitudes that adults display around us.
A part of moral education, we must continue to face school based behavioral problems with a moral dimension that educators try to solve with counseling. We must teach in these counseling sessions, virtues such as mercy, charity, forgiveness, humility, and modesty, so children can understand them. Then they will know that this is deeply rooted in religious teachings of right and wrong. We should and can learn about the religion-based sense of gratitude and humility that has fortified many different generations and cultures. Great thinkers of the modern era have expressed the wondrous nature with much passion. “The most beautiful and most profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead,” said the great physicist Albert Einstein.
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