Religion has the potential to play important role in school curricula

By Thaddeus Chatto, Opinions columnist

Religion has been a divisive topic throughout the history of mankind. Religion deals with matters such as morality and the ultimate values that guide people’s lives. Matters of what is right or wrong, and what is or isn’t sacred are never simple. 

And one of the primary areas of controversy is the notion of teaching religion in public schools. 

Growing up, I was always curious about how other religions operated. I attended a public high school in Southern Illinois, and I would have enjoyed taking a course on religion. 

A new book titled “For the Civic Good: The Liberal Case for Teaching Religion in the Public Schools,” written by two professors at the University, explores the educational importance, constitutionality and liberal arguments for providing religious education in public high schools.   

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    The authors — Walter Feinberg, professor emeritus of education policy, organization and leadership, and Richard A. Layton, professor in the department of religion — make several points arguing the value religion courses could have in public schools. They believe the academic instruction that teachers can provide about beliefs, practices and canonical texts of various religious traditions can be an appropriate part of the curriculum. 

    I agree with this point because I think religion has been one of history’s prime motivators. By disregarding the importance of teaching religion in school curricula, we are essentially disregarding the significance and influence of religion on historical events.

    An example is the Crusades during the Middle Ages in which the Latin Catholic Church sanctioned military campaigns. The Crusades serve as an example that regardless of what the specific religious belief is, it has constituted itself in significant historical events that have structured various aspects of society. 

    Religion should also be considered a vital part of a civilization’s culture. For example, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the Philippines is about 93 percent Christian and more specifically, Roman Catholic. When taking into account the Philippine’s history, we would have to also consider the dominating religion that shapes the country’s identity and culture.  

    I can safely say Catholicism is part of my identity and my culture — it’s part of my way of life and I want to give others the opportunity to learn about it. 

    For example, public high schools that want to teach religion courses could teach them in a way that is similar to the analytic, interpretive and critical skills that are associated with humanities courses. It could be possible to teach literature of the Quran, Torah or Bible in a manner similar to works by William Shakespeare, Ernest Hemingway and Emily Dickinson. 

    For generations, students have been reading and studying the literature of Shakespeare for his ability to depict human emotion in eloquent verses, the compelling characters, great stories and historical contexts of his works. 

    Public high schools can use the Bible as a way to teach students about the historical and literary circumstances that encouraged the authors of the Bible to write the text in the first place. 

    I think I would have enjoyed a religions class in high school that would have taught the traditions of different religions and the historical context and impact each of those religions has had on mankind. I am a proud Catholic, but I honestly do not know that much about Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and many other religions. 

    As much as I would like for religious education to happen in public schools, there are also major roadblocks in the way. 

    One major roadblock is the idea of teaching these courses in a way that is not advocating for a certain religion. I don’t know if it is possible for a teacher to instruct religious courses without including personal bias. The teacher would have to choose the religions to cover, and there could be controversy from students’ parents. 

    The problem is the ability of the teacher to not impose a religious belief upon a student. Whether a teacher intends to, someone will not be happy. Religion is much more complicated to teach compared to art, literature or other humanities subjects. 

    A solution to this could be that teachers are accountable for following specific lesson plans that would have to abide by strict guidelines of what information they could present. It is up to the instructors to make sure the lesson is presented in a way that is not overbearing or promoting a certain religious belief. 

    I am proud to be a Catholic. Most of my friends were either agnostic or atheist while I was growing up. I remember I wanted to be able to share my respect and joy of Catholicism with them, but I never wanted to shove my religion down their throats. 

    The point of the religion courses wouldn’t be to make them believe in my religion, but it would help them understand my religion from an objective standpoint and maybe for us all to have a greater appreciation of each other’s beliefs. 

    Ultimately, if taught correctly, religion courses have the opportunity to give students the ability to empathize other peoples’ beliefs and values.

    Thaddeus is a senior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @Thaddingham.