Addressing Religion in the Classroom

December 31, 2014 | Matthew Yellin
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Does the doctrine of separation of church and state mean that any discussion of religion in public schools is dangerous and out of bounds? That appears to be the dominant belief of most educators, and it reduces what students learn about religion to the rote memorization of a few bloodless facts. Such an attitude, writes Matthew Yellin, is wrongheaded and counterproductive:

While most areas in the history curriculum invite debate and argument (“Was the New Deal an appropriate response to the Great Depression?,” for example), religious teaching becomes the realm of the closed question, with one right answer and no debate (“What are the five pillars of Islam?”). Instruction about religion becomes the moment where good teachers in good classrooms shut down real inquiry for fear of addressing the whys and hows. . . . The impact of this is deeply felt. If religion is the one area of the curriculum that teachers are afraid to teach using inquiry and discussion, it will be the one that students will feel is boring or unimportant.

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