Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Should religion be taught in public schools? Yes and it already is.

I came across an interesting opinion piece on the religion and education which asks the question, should religion be taught in the public schools.

Charles Haynes discusses the thesis of a book by Warren Nord entitled, "Does God Make a Difference." In the book, Nord says "American education proceeds on the assumptiion that God is either dead or irrelevant." Strong language yet I would say accurate.

Haynes goes on to describe Nord's argument:

Conventional wisdom in public schools and universities, Nord claims, is that students “can learn everything they need to know about any subject (other than history and literature) without learning anything about religion.” Students are uncritically taught to make sense of the world in
“exclusively secular categories.” And that makes public education “superficial, illiberal, and unconstitutional.”
Haynes asks:

Is Nord right? On the charges of “superficial and illiberal,” I would agree. Ignoring the role of religion in history and society — and, more deeply, ignoring religious ways of understanding the world — deprives students of what used to be called a broad or liberal education.

Education, Nord rightly argues, should address the “big questions” about meaning and morality — questions that cannot be properly considered without giving religion a place at the curriculum table.

A religion-free education may be wrongheaded, but is it unconstitutional? Here Nord goes beyond where most legal scholars are willing to go by boldly asserting that public schools and universities violate the First Amendment’s establishment clause by failing to be religiously neutral.

According to Nord, teaching about religion in public schools is not only permissible under
the First Amendment (a point the U.S. Supreme Court has made many times); but it is also required by the Court’s past rulings about the constitutional necessity of government neutrality between religion and non-religion. There is nothing “neutral,” he argues, about teaching all subjects through a secular lens without exposing students to religious alternatives.

I don't know that I'd agree that the courts should mandate particular religions be taught in the schools but it would do well to require "truth in advertising" about what what is currently being taught in the schools under the guise of neutrality. The courts could make the public aware that the reigning orthodoxy in many of public schools is secularism which is a faith just as much as Christianity or Judaism.

Haynes concludes by restating a critical problem with our current education system.

As Nord reminds us: “An educational system that ignores the great existential questions — political, moral, spiritual, religious — is not worthy of respect, indeed, it shouldn’t count as educational at all.”

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