You may have missed it in the hours before Christmas, but Andy “Eduwonk” Rotherham delivered an important column at TIME on “The Real War on Christmas.” It’s not the push to secularize Christmas in public schools, as annually portrayed by fevered cable TV news hosts that should trouble us, Rotherham notes. The larger problem, he points out, is that public schools are skittish about teaching much of anything about religion at all.
“Although there is little hard data, the consensus among those who study the issue is that to the extent world religions are taught, they are treated superficially, usually with the help of just a few textbook pages that have been heavily sanitized to avoid even the hint of controversy. And that’s not good news if you believe a working knowledge of the world’s religions and their history is an important aspect of a well-rounded education.”
Or a “well-informed citizen,” he might also have added.
Andy is on the money with this. School teachers are notoriously gunshy about talking about religion, which leaves students ill-prepared for the globalized world, poorly equipped to understand basics of history and geography, and lacking critical background knowledge to make sense of current events at home and abroad. “It’s hard to understand many contemporary issues without knowing religious history and the tenets of the world’s major faiths,” Rotherham observes.
That said, it’s not hard to see how some schools and teachers might come honestly by their reluctance to teach religion, when some are quick to confuse proselytizing and learning about religion. In the comments section following Andy’s piece, the husband of a kindergarten teacher describes the reaction of parents of her students who were upset with her teaching Kwanzaa, “which they said is a made up holiday…That family decided to send in pictures of Jesus for their daughter to color while the rest of the class was learning about other world holidays.” Teachers’ own knowledge of religion—or lack thereof—is another pitfall. Too many are ill-equipped to teach much of value about the world’s major religions, even at an elementary level.
As a driving force in shaping civilizations and cultures, knowledge of world religions is essential and indispensable.