Should religion and morality be taught in schools?

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Should religion and morality be taught in schools?

Unread postby WeiWenDi » Fri Aug 27, 2010 1:11 am

I'd been thinking about this topic a bit in light of the Park 51 controversy, and all of the noise being generated around it.

I think the question of whether religion and morality should be taught in schools comes down to what you believe the function of education is. After AmeriCorps, I swung briefly toward the pole of 'schooling ought to be oriented toward building competitive skills in the job market', but the more I consider this position the more misguided it seems. Given all of the misconceptions about what Muslims believe and how easy it is for discredited misinformers like Robert Spencer to prey on such ignorance, and given the rise of cults and extremist forms of Christianity in the United States, the overwhelming technical emphasis in public education starts to look almost negligent. I'm starting to think religious, ethics and civics education are necessary in public education, at least to a limited extent, for the sake of producing not labouring automatons but whole human beings and well-rounded members of a civil society (promoting the Greek ideal of paideia).

Of course, it would be a breach of Constitutional religious disestablishment, not to mention a breach of trust between teacher and pupil, for teachers to proselytise or promote a specific religious viewpoint in the classroom. But I think parts of the Bible ought to be required reading in English classes, so that students can understand it both as a work of literature and as an important, even foundational work of the Abrahamic civilisations. I think also that students in public schools should be given, to prepare them for citizenship in a Western democracy which is fundamentally pluralistic, some basic factual instruction in what exactly members of the different world faiths believe and practise, including not only adherents of the Abrahamic faiths (Christianity / Judaism / Islam) but also Hindus, Buddhists and non-believers / Humanists.

Thoughts on the issue?
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Re: Should religion and morality be taught in schools?

Unread postby Crazedmongoose » Fri Aug 27, 2010 1:19 am

Definitely agreed, but only if we can protect the minority from being overwhelmed by the majority in these courses. Because the teacher is at such an advantage to the student.

For example, can you foresee, in small town in southern US, a version of this course where the secular humanist components are given the same weight as the Christian components? This course can be very very open to abuse.
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Re: Should religion and morality be taught in schools?

Unread postby WeiWenDi » Fri Aug 27, 2010 3:43 am

True; we'd have to agree on some kind of standard baseline curriculum wherein each tradition was given a fair and factual treatment... but, given that science and history classes in the American South and West are already subjected to massive amounts of abuse and misrepresentation (largely at the behest of state governments), I'm really not quite sure what we would be able to do about it.

With regard to 'weight', though, I actually tend to think the Abrahamic faiths should be given greater coverage in the curriculum because of the influence they have on our culture and on our foreign policy (Islam in particular at this point)... that's just my thinking on the matter. Humanists and non-believers do tend to feel (often with some justification) that they are a disrespected minority in the US; if done poorly, such a programme might come across as further marginalisation to them.
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Re: Should religion and morality be taught in schools?

Unread postby Crazedmongoose » Fri Aug 27, 2010 4:14 am

I honestly don't think secular humanists would mind if Abrahimic faiths were given a greater weight, because it is more formative of our culture, but so long as it's not biased for them. And that second part is what would be hard to insure.
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Re: Should religion and morality be taught in schools?

Unread postby Sun Fin » Fri Aug 27, 2010 8:21 am

America is so different to the UK.

Here the humanist/aethists are in the majority and in schools Christian's often feel like an abused minority.

So do you guys not have a form of Religous Education at the moment? It's a compulsery option (if only a short course) up until the age of 16 at my old school. You get taught the basics about all the major religons (Christianity, Jewdism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddihism and Sikhism). Of course I think it could be done better but the course certainly couldn't be accused of being biast in one ways favor.

Way I don't think Aethism needs to be taught in it: A) because when you have 'discussions' in the lessons its Christianity vs Aethism most of the time anyway so it is really taught in RE. I also find that science lessons push the concept of aethisim as hard as they can anyway.
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Re: Should religion and morality be taught in schools?

Unread postby Kristina » Fri Aug 27, 2010 12:29 pm

It's just such a gray area. For religion, I'd only be comfortable with a class that touches teh most common bases. For morality, they try. Don't cheat, keep your hands to yourself, no bullying, ect. On the whole, those things are really the parent's job to impart. Some parent's don't do it, but it's really their perrogative (spell check says that's wrong but Firefox won't tell me how to do it right).
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Re: Should religion and morality be taught in schools?

Unread postby WeiWenDi » Fri Aug 27, 2010 8:11 pm

Sun Fin wrote:America is so different to the UK.

Here the humanist/aethists are in the majority and in schools Christian's often feel like an abused minority.

So do you guys not have a form of Religous Education at the moment? It's a compulsery option (if only a short course) up until the age of 16 at my old school. You get taught the basics about all the major religons (Christianity, Jewdism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddihism and Sikhism). Of course I think it could be done better but the course certainly couldn't be accused of being biast in one ways favor.

Way I don't think Aethism needs to be taught in it: A) because when you have 'discussions' in the lessons its Christianity vs Aethism most of the time anyway so it is really taught in RE. I also find that science lessons push the concept of aethisim as hard as they can anyway.


As far as the last goes, if science classes are pushing atheism, then (bluntly speaking) they're doing it wrong. The discipline of the hard sciences is meant to explore the workings of the natural world according to empirical data and according to the logic of the natural world, not posit metaphysical explanations of how the natural world came to be, whether negative (atheism) or positive (theism). I have some deep philosophical problems with both materialistic reductionism and 'intelligent design' / creationism; I think each is a side of the same coin in that each is attempting to impose a metaphysical or normative system on a purely physical and positive discipline.

... but no, we don't have mandatory religious education in this country. Sometimes I almost think it's too obvious that we don't; too many people here fall prey to extreme distortions and misconceptions about what their own religion teaches and about what other religions teach.

Kristina wrote:It's just such a gray area. For religion, I'd only be comfortable with a class that touches teh most common bases. For morality, they try. Don't cheat, keep your hands to yourself, no bullying, ect. On the whole, those things are really the parent's job to impart. Some parent's don't do it, but it's really their perrogative (spell check says that's wrong but Firefox won't tell me how to do it right).


You're certainly right that it's a grey area, but attempting to circumscribe the role of the educator as sharply as this begs the question a bit of what it means to be educated. I have wavered on this issue more than a bit, but I'm coming back around to the classical ideal of paideia as the gold standard for education - guiding students into a comprehension of not only the True, but also the Beautiful and the Good. (Naturally, the prohibitions on cheating and disrespecting other students would come into play here.) You're certainly right that the family has the primary responsibility in cultivating these traits; the classical Greek and Chinese thinkers would certainly agree there.

But I'm not sure where we get from this the insistence that the job of cultivating ethics must end with the parents. One of the responsibilities of the educator, particularly in the Confucian worldview, was to help encourage and cultivate the ethical grounding the pupil acquired from her parents such that it could be extended (推) within a broader social context.
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Re: Should religion and morality be taught in schools?

Unread postby Shikanosuke » Fri Aug 27, 2010 8:18 pm

I don't want them taught in schools. I don't find it feasible to teach them without proselytizing. Anything, as far as objective information, is already taught (at least it was to me) in history classes.
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Re: Should religion and morality be taught in schools?

Unread postby agga » Fri Aug 27, 2010 8:54 pm

it would be endlessly controversial, and so while it might be entertaining from the outside, it would just be an experiment on the students, to see how they deal differentially with a constantly/randomly challenged curriculum.

i took civics in high school. we learned the basics of what it meant to be a citizen, why we voted, how the government works, etc. - i think that's the extent of the moral education we should expect from a government institution.

i have other thoughts, but will hold back until they are more relevant :|
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Re: Should religion and morality be taught in schools?

Unread postby agga » Fri Aug 27, 2010 9:01 pm

agh, i can't resist.

okay, in civics you also learn a little bit about the law, why we follow it, what it consists in (in a general sort of way), about the concept of rights (though i'm happy with elision of discussion of where those rights are supposed to come from, since then you get into dangerous territory), that sort of thing. school should be a place to learn about the basics of the law, which i guess is sort of a codified and universalized morality.

but, teaching morality in terms of religion, philosophy, metaphysics, etc. i think is very undesirable. it would just be a realm in which my (future) children would get to try out the anti-religious rhetoric i had taught them at home in some class discussions, earning the scorn of who knows whom..
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