Sunday, November 10, 2013

To Teach Or Not to Teach

In Volusia County, FL, there have been protests by right winged residents over what the groups argue to be an unfair balance between Islam and Christianity in school texts books.  The protesters contend that the two volume world history textbook series devotes an unequal amount of pages describing the foundation of Islam.  The school contends the page count is necessary in order to allow for a greater understanding of its cultural impact in the Middle East.  The groups have been demanding the school provide replacement textbooks that devote a proportional amount of pages for both Christianity and Islam.  “Critics say the 1,000-page book devoted too many pages to the rise of Islam without providing equal coverage to Christianity. One Lake County activist suggested patriotic schoolchildren should be encouraged to rip out the 32-page chapter on Islam, though he later recanted his position.”  The school contended that the reasoning behind the unequal coverage was simply a matter of chronology. “Because Mohammed, the founder of Islam, wasn’t born until about 570 A.D., the chapter on Muslim civilizations is found in the second book. By the time Volusia County students read about him, they’ve already learned about the rise of Christianity in the sixth grade.”  The school is not backing down and pledged to continue covering all major religions that “help us understand the modern world”.  With the debate continuing to heat up, some individuals, who champion the inherently secular nature of public school’s, argue that religion should not be taught in school.  These individuals will denounce the schools approach of using religion as a tool to develop a greater understanding of the world.  

In this particular case, the court will eventually struggle with the question of whether or not Volusia County is violating an aspect of the Establishment Clause. More specifically, is the County showing preference to one religion over the other (Islam v. Christianity, Judaism, etc), or is the County unlawfully adding religious curriculum into its public schools.  In the first argument, the school would have to prove a secular purpose of devoting more material covering the religion of Islam.  This would be a requirement in order to pass the Lemon test which may or may not be convincing enough to some.  On the other hand, the school may be challenged by the law to take all religion out of its curriculum.  The landmark case Epperson v. Arkansas paved the way for secular public schools.  Molleen Matsumura fromThe National Center for Science Education makes an excellence point regarding the famous case; “...the U.S. Constitution does not permit a state to require that teaching and learning must be tailored to the principles or prohibitions of any particular religious sect or doctrine.”  This principle could likely be applied to the Volusia County Public School system.  In short, if no secular purpose is legitimately contended, the district needs to prescribe to the law which would either provide for a balanced approach toward the implication of religious curriculum or it needs to ban it all together.

There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that this case, like a plethora of others, will help mold the future for public schools in the United States. I believe this case helps discover the attitudes toward the secular nature of public schools as well as aid in the understanding of the social shift in our country.  In addition, this particular case may serve as an example of how religiously motivated controversy could lead to protest.  The article specifically cites that attempts at holding meetings have been futile due to the serious potential for violence.  It may be time for public schools, of all regions, to realize that without religion in the schools there may be a decreased potential for vicious debate.  It goes without question that the schools willingness to teach religion in schools lead to the protests and likely a change in curriculum.  I feel that the religion in public schools, especially K-12, should take religion out of its textbooks (curriculum) in order to remain secular and to avoid social consequences.  More specifically, this change could prevent unintentional indoctrination, social pressure, and violent protest.  With social issues aside, I will even go as far as to contend that the constitution argued for a strict separation and that there is not justifiable secular purpose to teach any form of religion in public schools.  I also fundamentally disagree with the focus of the article covering the debate in Volusia County.  I feel the author brought in politics by slamming the “conservatives”  for being anti-muslim and or radical Christians.  I feel the politics in the public school debate plays too much of a role.  I feel that this debate should transcend political ideology and instead focus on the fact that the public school system is generally an extension of the state.  The same state that is apart of the infamous quote; “separation of church and state.  

After reading, do you feel that Volusia County needs to be fair and balanced with its incorporation of religion in textbooks or do you think the County needs to take religion out of their textbooks and classrooms? 


Nicole D said...

I think I have to disagree with you Mike. I think that avoiding conflict is not a good enough reason to take all religious education out of schools. In fact, I think that it encourages diversity and acceptance of other religions if children learn at a basic level what the major religions they will be exposed to entail. This is part of a history lesson, and therefore directed toward informing the children of the history of other religions, and not at all toward converting them. I do agree however that if they were to decide to remove the lesson on the Muslim religion they would also have to remove all lessons on Christianity, which I am sure most of the protestors would not support.

Tyler J said...

Personally, I believe there is nothing wrong with a more extensive coverage of Islam in textbooks. Like Catholicism in the past, Islam is not well understood by the majority of Americans and is therefore often targeted by ignorant people. By giving our children a greater understanding of a religion which neither they nor their families are familiar with, we are more likely to reduce the prejudice Muslims face. I do not believe there needs to be an equal explanation of Christianity because I am willing to bet that most, if not all of these children have been exposed to its teachings through family or friends in their everyday lives.
As far as pulling all religion out of schools, I do not necessarily agree. Religion is something that has an extreme influence in all societies around the world, and it is important to acknowledge that. I believe religion can be taught in schools only if it is taught from an unreligious perspective. As long as the material is being taught as "this is when (insert religion) was established; this is what (insert religion) believes in; etc.", I think religion can be taught in schools.

Dylan Smith said...

How many times have we seen the court, more recently, disregard the lemon test when discussing establishment cases? The court instead raises up the test of neutrality and advancement or endorsement of religion. If the course being taught is world cultures, then it must be necessary to actually teach about the different cultures of the world. I think that the Islamic religion constitutes culture. It is a culture, like Tyler mentioned, that is not often understood well. Why should we not teach this culture? Why should a class not do what its very purpose entails? It would be a disgrace to many of the cultures of the world not to teach. In fact, we might as well throw away this entire class were we not to allow religion to be taught about. Culture, I would argue, does not exist without the influence of religion. Its unthinkable that this school would not allow teaching regarding religion.

Terry B said...

I believe that the teaching of these major religion has a more secular component than religious. For most of the cities in the middle east was formed through Islamic ambitions. Without including the religion will not give these students the full description on the history of these people. Matter of fact the majority of history has a religious purpose in the background and by not providing it would leave holes into why are the things the way they are now. I see no issue in having the major religions being taught in school, with a major purpose for secular teaching and religious advancement, because it provides a background of world history.

Cori T said...

I agree with both Tyler and Dylan on several points. First, I do not think that religion should be pulled out of schools. I think religion is integral to culture and that should be covered in schools so that children are exposed to (all) the beliefs that dictate (albeit in different ways) the majority of the world's lives.
Second, as Tyler said, there would be a benefit on devoting more time to Islam because it is less understood in our society. With more knowledge, perhaps discrimination and stereotypes will be reduced/debunked.

SC said...

I am slightly more sympathetic to the complaints that there is too much religious coverage altogether. However, I found the people that are complaining because they want Christianity covered more to be humorously hypocritical. They are essentially accusing the school of favoring a religion, while asking to be favored at the same time. Also, I fail to understand how 32 pages out of 1,000 can be considered too much. In addition, the school did not write the textbook, and the school was surely limited by the fact that there are a finite number of textbooks on the subject of world history. Therefore, even if the rise of Islam was overrepresented, the fact that it is could be largely incidental.