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Ana Triculescu

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Should teachers be aware of their students’ religious beliefs, or should that be kept private and out of classroom discussions?

We live in a highly diversified world. With borders opening up more and more each day, we tend to lose track of who’s who and where they come from. Even if we’ve lost or choose to leave behind many of our deepest national/cultural/lingual characteristics, we often have a hard time giving up our values and religious views.

Latin American countries, specifically, tend to be very aware of religious beliefs, and tend to base much of their social life and political decisions on religious views. Often times, in conflicts between political parties, or the government and its people, a representative of the Church comes in and tries to mediate the argument. Sunday mass and religious holidays are sacred, and society has the tendency to label as outcasts those who do not share mainstream religious views. This also affects classroom behavior and the education basis.

I’ve once attended a training session for English teachers (public school teachers in a sector of Panama City, Panama). The entire session (2-hr long) developed around the text of the Old Testament, direct quotations from it, life lessons, and analysis. Not one note was made about English-teaching methodology or academics. On the other hand, tips were given on how to “bring God into the classroom” and how to start each class with a prayer in order to receive holly blessings. But in that case, what happens to the Muslim/Buddhist/protestant kid who sits at the back of the room and is ignored by this whole ritual?

Topics: education

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    Mar 2 2012: Religions have no place in classrooms. It's a tough idea, but there is such a thing as a "bad" culture.
    Schools are the place where you go tabula rasa, where you leave behind your superstitions and systematic traditions to actually learn something for yourself.
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      Mar 3 2012: I disagree Gerald. A holistic approach to education involves looking at the whole child and educating them based on their own desires and experiences. This includes their religion. You can not expect anyone to simply leave the whole of the belief systems and their experiences at the door because what you are asking is for them to leave themselves at the door and bend their beliefs to your own.

      You can take the man out of his religion but you can not the the religion out the man.
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        Mar 3 2012: This is the problem with brainwashing.
        But still, I don't think everything is doomed for young kids, though religion has a particuliarly powerful grip on their minds. And it should be the purpose of education to offer a way out.
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          Mar 3 2012: Wow. I find it sad that you see religion as such a poisonous thing, especially given the stoic religiousness of some of the same great minds whose theories you are suggesting children should be taught whilst denying the child's own world view.

          Here's the thing: a child is not a marionette to be pulled this way or that by a series of puppet masters intent on making their world view supreme. They are a developed human being with the ability and potential to make their own decisions despite, or better still in full consideration, of their upbringing, what ever that may be. This can not be achieved when you deny the child the importance of their upbringing or their faith (because never imagine a child's faith is any less real than an adults.)

          I'm afraid Gerald that you are showing the worst side of evangelistic atheism.
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        Mar 4 2012: I know how vulnerable my own kids are, how credulous they are, how they completely surrender their minds to the explanation given by the authority. It wouldn't be hard to raise them as integrists or nazis or you name it.
        The only thing that would be in my way is what other education they might be getting. Especially if the other education is about taking no one's word for it, about reason, creativity and criticism.

        I'd really apreciate if you would kindly explain what evangelistic atheism is, and what is harmful about it.
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          Mar 4 2012: Evangilistic atheism can also be called antitheism. An antitheist is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "One opposed to belief in the existence of a god." Like the evangelist of old (you might better know them by their other name: missionaries) the antitheist dogmatically seeks to convert all systems and people to their own anti-religious world view and ascribes a position of inferiority, if not danger, to the world view of those who do not agree with them. When the evangelist's zeal becomes too great they start to close their mind to new ideas and start to insist the heathens have nothing they can add to society and that they need to be wiped out from all culture - good or otherwise.

          For many years the settlers in the new world insisted that the natives could not provide anything of worth, that the needed to be indoctrinated into goos society. Only now are we learning of the magnificent medicines they have, the richness of their culture.

          If you truly believe that schools should be a tabula rasa: "a fresh start without prejudice" you must accept that a system of inquiry and education that excludes faith based religious world views at all cost is necessarily at odds with your aims: it is a prejudice of the greatest nature.

          I'll turn the tables back on you here for a moment. What harm do you see in an honest and open examination of the faith and world view of others? And why shouldn't teachers be made aware of and consider the spiritual position of the children in their classes, as was originally asked?
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        Mar 4 2012: You are a breath of fresh air..........thank you for your insight and comment.
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        Mar 4 2012: Good reply.
        So, what harm do I see in an honest and open examintation of the faith and worldview of others?

        None. As long as it's open and honest, of course. In fact, this is absolutely necessary in the classroom, I believe. This is something that might not exist elsewhere for kids stuck with a single worldview, that of their parents. But this is what I was saying about education offering a critic viewpoint, a way out of endoctrination.
        For example I think it's great that a biology teacher could pause to explain that, although the theory of evolution has not yet failed in explaining the origin of living organisms, many people simply throw it out because it's in conflict with the information they read in a book. A book written thousands of years ago by many different uneducated people, at times when women and men were not equal and when the earth was believed to be a flat disc.
        This is education. What I would disagree with is this :
        "Today's class is going to be about evolution. Now, Rashid here comes from a muslim family, so for him and millions of people everything I'm about to say is nonsense. And since truth is a matter of cultural background, it just might be nonsense. "

        So teachers should consider the spiritual position of the children's family, yes, if it's considered honestly. Cultural relativism has no place in the pursuit of knowledge. If scientifically minded people had met the native americans, they would have learned about medecine, no doubt. But only because the medecine was not just a matter of opinion.
        It's all about not fooling ourselves.

        This is why I don't consider myself a fascist crusader. There actually is a way, a method, by which good and bad ideas are sorted out. An explanation that fails to explain anything is not an explanation. It's just an opinion. And I guess evangelist atheists are dreaming of a world where explanation weighs more than opinion.
        Is there anything wrong with that?
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          Mar 5 2012: On one hand you say children should be exposed to as many viewpoints as possible and on the other that religious POV has no place in the education environment. You certainly are a man of contradictions.

          i totally agree with your suggestion that the scientific method be used to sort ideas. But remember the method is aimed at establishing theories and then disproving (not proving) them. Any conversation of any scientific therom should be prefix with this disclaimer, just as any conversation of religion should be prefixed by a disclaimer about the cultural and culturally sensitive nature of the conversation.

          Of course, the issue here seems to be that i have not explained my premise clearly enough. I am not arguing for the teaching of religious doctrine in class (this is the place of the parent and the church) in fact I argue that in science conversations 'why" should not be mingled with theories of "how" but in a humanities subject the experiences of the child can offer some wonderful insights. Every conversation about culture needs to acknowledge all worldviews.

          You may not see yourself as a fascist crusader, but imperialist statements like: "there is such a thing as a 'bad' culture", " I don't think everything is doomed for young kids, though religion has a particuliarly powerful grip on their minds", "simply throw it out because it's in conflict with the information they read in a book" and "It's all about not fooling ourselves." shows an assumption that those of faith are unable to examine science with any level of academic rigor and a strong dependence on your own opinion as a way of explaining the world rather than the scientific "explanation" you hold so dear.

          Further, "A book written thousands of years ago by many different uneducated people" shows a clear unwillingness to understand these peoples belief. The do not see those words as being written by people but rather through people by a God/s trying to explain their desires for man.
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          Mar 12 2012: Got it. Thanks Daniel
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        Mar 5 2012: Daniel I think you may be confusing education authorities or parents desires not a young child.
        If you want religion in school go to a relgious school.
        Public schools should be secular.
        Religion is part of history and culture so teach about relgions - no just one - but not indoctinate at a public school.

        Parents have the right to brainwash their kids - can't we leave public schools alone.
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          Mar 5 2012: No Im not. This is getting to feel like wilful misunderstanding.

          Let me reiterate: My whole point is that the child is not a empty vessel and that irrespective of where they are educated, you cant ask a child to pretend that they don't have faith because it doesn't fit with your view of the world. The question orignally raised was should teachers be considerate of children's religion. The answer is yes, just a a religious person needs to be considerate of your world view.

          GM, we agree. Im not suggesting public education should be anything but secular. I don't want you teaching my or any children religion in school (you'd get it wrong anyway) but stop telling them they are dumb or brainwashed or whatever because they choose to have faith.
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        Mar 5 2012: Is it imperialistic to believe that some cultures have it all wrong? That human rights are not a matter of cultural relativism? That the only way to efficiently figure things out if to keep reminding ourselves that our best theories are most likely to be wrong?

        No, I don't buy this. I know about the atrocities that our Western world was responsible for, but I'm over feeling guilty. These atrocities were not caused by the open-mindedness I'm advocating.

        A culture where creativity is muffled is a bad culture. A tradition of mutilating children's genitals is a bad tradition.

        Education and human rights might be evangelistic, but so is heart surgery and vaccination.
    • Mar 4 2012: I disagree also, the schools have been run that way longer than you have been on the planet and it has not caused any riots or problems. It's the Religious wars and protests set up by Governments and Main Religious Authorities in Countries that cause the problems, not the ones in school. If your not Religious or do not believe in that Religion, you should not be ignorant to their ways and reslpect their ways, but you do not have to recite them, stand or kneel and say your religious prayers, if you do not believe in any Religion than get clarification if it is okay to sit while the prayers are said or what is the correct thing to do, step out?, but then you are pointed out, sit, stand but say what you believe in, silently because you must respect the Traditions and ways of the Country you are in and if you move to the Country because you are better off, than why create friction when you are enjoying the benefits of the place you are in.
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        Mar 12 2012: You don't think forcing kids to be subject to religious practices of the majority is part of the problems or reinforcing the problems?
        Why not ask the kids who are not Catholic, or their parents what they would prefer.
        You can choose not to go to mass. You have to go to school.

        There are a lot of bad traditions and practices
        Religious intolerance
        Genital mutilation
        Killing women who have been raped
        • Mar 13 2012: Your examples of bad traditions and practices are not in free and democratic countries. Your examples come from most countries where religion and state are one and the same and that is the problem. Countries where religion and state are seperate tend not to have bad traditions and practices.

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