As our country becomes increasingly polarized, it becomes even harder for teachers who teach about touchy topics like religion. Sometimes, parents get nervous if they just hear the word ‘religion’ combined with education.
In general, Americans are fairly ignorant about what’s legal and what’s not regarding religion and public schools.
In July, I’ll conduct two workshops for Chicago-area teachers interested in teaching about the world’s religions. I’ll use lessons learned from my reporting around the country to provide tips, some words of caution, and success stories. Some school systems, like Modesto, Calif., simply do not allow field trips to houses of worship or guest speakers on religion. They also avoid things like letting students try on clothing with any sort of religious connection as an experiential learning exercise. Other school systems push the envelope, but put in some safeguards, hoping to avoid backlash for trying to give students a sense of what it’s like in a Jewish temple, a mosque or a Hindu mandir.
Finding the right mix is never easy nor does the same approach work for every school, given communities are so different. The stories in my book, Faith Ed, give a sense of what can work and what might lead to uproar.
One of the highlights for me was finding this review by high school teacher Christopher Murray, who I got to know after he read my book and sought me out to give tips to teachers in the Montgomery County, MD, school system.
“As a high school teacher who has been teaching an elective course on World Religions for the past 6 years I can not begin to tell you how valuable this book has been for me! It walks through the BIG topics and fears that all teachers have when it comes to teaching about religions in our public schools. Since I 100% believe we need to be teaching ABOUT the world religions in our schools this book is vital in equipping teachers with the knowledge and information they need to successfully teach about religions without creating 1st Amendment issues or walking into politically generated drama. This book should be a staple book for all in the field of education. – Chris”
Workshops, classes I’m teaching this summer:
1. Inspire Change: Crash Course in Writing Op-Eds (one-day workshop): June 24, 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Grub Street in Boston. Since Faith Ed came out, I’ve written several dozen commentaries related to religion, education, and combating bigotry. Come spend a day learning how to write op-eds and helping become a voice for change.
3. Writing Provocative Stories about Religion – a Chautauqua workshop: Spend a week at the beautiful Chautauqua Writers’ Center on Lake Chautauqua and write with me. I’ll also give a reading and a talk during the week.