Why We Need Religious Education: Following Through on the Golden Rule
Priyanka Fouda ’12
People often have prejudices about religions and their followers based on stereotypes and hearsay. A recent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life asked 32 questions to over 3,000 Americans about religious knowledge and on average, participants answered half of the questions incorrectly. The highest scoring groups were Atheists and agnostics, as well as Jews and Mormons. Fewer than a third of participants knew that Public school teachers can read from the Bible as an example of literature (as my sophomore English teacher did to illuminate allusions in Of Mice and Men to the Book of Genesis).
I suggest that recent controversy in regards to religion can be traced back to ignorance.
During elementary school teachers constantly touted the golden rule “Treat others the way you want to be treated” in regards to race and disability during elementary school. Yet, religion was rarely addressed. Perhaps that is why as we grow older, regardless of our elementary education, religion remains a controversial issue.
Generalizations about Islam or Catholicism sprout up based on the actions of a few, or a fundamentalist faction. The Catholic priesthood is not composed entirely of pedophiles nor is Islam of terrorists. Yet, I think that this fact, amazingly, often escapes the general public. I agree that it is easier and more comforting to rely on bigotry rather than reason. But easier should not equal better.
We need religious education not just to teach religion but to teach acceptance.
The beauty of a comprehensive World religions curriculum like that offered in the middle school is that it focuses not on one religious group but on several, and from a cultural perspective. We need a curriculum not to preach and convert, but to explain the major tenets of the different religions of the world, many of which are practiced in our community, to promote understanding and appreciation of people whose beliefs are different from our own.
A World religion curriculum does not act as a panacea. It will not prevent labeling and taunting in the hallways. It won’t end racist Arab jokes, nor has it prevented parents from flying into a tizzy over the imitation of a prayer ritual. It is, however, a positive and enjoyable part of Wellesley curriculum and should be cherished and preserved.