An Atheist Argues We Need More Religion in the Public Schools

Now that the Pew Forum has said atheists know more about religion than the religious, atheist Michael Tracey — current editorial intern at The Nation and former adversary of Mike Huckabee — argues that we need more religion in public schools.

My proposal: courses in world religions should be mandatory for all public school students, with a focus on Christianity as the most prevalent domestic faith. These courses would examine the philosophical and sociological features of religion, without teachers’ needing to fear that such lessons will be construed as an endorsement or denunciation of any particular doctrine. Within reason, their ability to teach freely and honestly must be unhindered.

It is patently unacceptable for so many to know so little about what has been by some accounts the prime mover of world history. The only solution is to shift our educational priorities. In learning more about religion, students will also hopefully recognize that the decision to assign oneself a religious faith is not to be taken lightly, as it bears profound metaphysical, social and even political implications. With any luck, they will also glean that the study of religion is incredibly interesting and fulfilling.

I think it’s a proposal that’s nice in theory but not very practical.

The classes students have to take at many public schools are limited to what gets tested on standardized tests + a few more classes. Even then, you might only need two science courses or three math courses. Adding a religion requirement? Not likely to happen in our current education climate.

Some schools do teach the Bible as literature. That’s fine, if taught objectively. And to the inevitable question of “Why only the Bible?” I agree with Michael that it’s the predominant religion in our country and ought to be studied because of that.

If you had the option to take a World Religions class in high school, would you have taken it? Did you?

Though I’m clearly interested in religion now, I’m not sure I would have taken that class back then.

  • Siamang

    I certainly would have taken it. I took it in college.

    I maintain that if we started mandatory public school prayer, religion in America would be nearly wiped out in a generation. As an atheist, I’m totally for not just teaching religion in schools, but actually having school led prayer.

    But only because I’d love to have the popcorn concession at the school board meetings while every parent fights over which prayer is the real one to the One True God. Lol!

    As a supporter of the Constitution, I’m against Government led prayer. But as an advocate of atheism, I support it.

    For the same reasons, I support rigorous world religion education in school, which I believe both passes constitutional muster, and would have the effect of diminishing the power some of the intolerance around competing religions.

  • Don Rose

    No way. It would be a huge waste of time. Why learn something that’s of absolutely no use?

    Religion belongs in private….. deep inside the mind of the delusional individual. It’s one of those subjects that has no place in any formal setting, other than strictly religious settings.

    Eventually, religion belongs as a footnote, in history books.

  • http://www.myspace.com/timtationsmusic Tim D.

    I would love to take a class on religions; I’ve been reading the “New Atheist” books lately (among some others, like Hemant’s and Greg Epstein’s), and it’s gotten me eager to learn the actual facts about what religious doctrine preaches.

    That said, I don’t think requiring us to take such a class is necessary. I understand the sentiment, and the importance of understanding religions even if you’re an atheist, but I don’t like the idea of being forced to take a class like that. Having the option is a definite plus, though.

  • Kelley

    It really depends on who actually taught the class. If it was a teacher that I felt would say that Christianity was superior, or the most legitimate or anything, then no, I wouldn’t.

    I’m taking Sociology of the Paranormal next semester and I’m excited about that though! (They’ll hopefully offer religion and science next fall again)

  • JD

    I thought Christopher Hitchens was promoting that idea for some time.

    A lot of public schools have optional religion classes. How this is legal is that it’s ostensibly taught as literature, they can’t teach it as truth, they can say some people believe it is truth. My high school held the proper line, though I think it’s probably too tempting to cross it, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn crossing that line is a prevalent practice in many places.

  • Baconsbud

    I wouldn’t have a problem with world religions being taught as long as it isn’t the normal be nice course but a reality course.

  • Sven

    I’ve always been a Geography geek, so I opted to take World Geography in high school, which covered world religions in a fairly neutral respectful-but-without-promoting sort of way. It covered a lot of topics, not just religion, but it did go pretty in-depth.

    I think a course like that is fine, and I’d encourage any hypothetical future children of mine to enroll. Should it be required? Hard to say. It would be foolish to downplay the role of religion in history or in modern geography.

  • http://furtherthoughtsfortheday.blogspot.com EnglishAtheist

    The education system is different in the UK is different – religious education is part and parcel of the education system up to the age of 16. Sadly, it’s not taught in a secular fashion. We have a national curriculum, and school’s teaching is assesed independantly by OFSTED. Except for it’s religious education, which is examined by the “appropriate faith”.

    Richard Dawkins did a great show on it, here’s a link with links to it. You can watch it in the US or the UK

    http://richarddawkins.net/videos/500515-faith-school-menace-now-visible-in-us

  • http://furtherthoughtsfortheday.blogspot.com EnglishAtheist

    Oh, and if any one reading is so inclined, the British Humanist Association have a “Say no to faith schools” campaign, trying to go for a secular education:

    http://www.humanism.org.uk/campaigns/what-you-can-do-to-help/faith-schools-fund

  • Michelle

    I would only disagree on the focus on Christianity. The more we understand about all religions the easier it is to see them for what they are. We could add it to geography and history courses and have more in-depth classes for electives. Of course I’m also for more language classes and less, but smarter, testing.

  • amelia

    My high school taught the Bible alongside Greek and Roman mythology as part of our literature curriculum. It was not a promotion of religion in any way, but it allowed us to examine it as a foundation of later literature. I wish I’d had a similar requirement in other world religions.

    It wasn’t what made me an atheist, but it certainly prepared me for later discussions with people who were religious but lacked knowledge of their own texts.

  • sputnik

    In the UK this is compulsory, I did Religious Education (although I think now it’s taught as Religious Studies) for five years and we had to learn about the major world religions. In depth we studied Catholicism, Judaism, and Anglicanism, but we did a fair bit on Islam, Sikhism, and Hinduism too. I don’t really remember it being too bad, it was one hour-long session a week and my class was a fairly mixed bunch. Our teacher was an Agnostic, he said that the only thing that stopped him from calling himself an atheist was the whole origin of the universe, so on the whole our classes weren’t that bad.

  • Alex Salyer

    I actually did have a World Religion class that was available in my High School a couple years ago. (Sadly it was cut because the school system hates elective classes). I took it and rather enjoyed myself, though the teacher hated me because I argued with him over certain aspects of the religions that were taught. It was nothing in depth, mostly a primer on the Judeo-Christian religions as well as a couple Eastern ones like Buddhism and Hinduism.

  • http://ashleyfmiller.wordpress.com Ashley

    I actually created a Religion Club in my public high school, in South Carolina a decade ago, and the entire purpose was to basically be a survey course in world religions that met during lunch or after school. We had about 20 members in a school of 1000, but they were doing it on their own time. I imagine quite a few people would want take it, particularly if they got a history credit towards graduation.

    (We had to agree beforehand not to talk about Satanism, not to make fun of Christianity, and not to talk about witchcraft. I can’t say we lived up to any of those standards.)

  • anne

    Definitely! Subject to what Kelley says – it depends who’s teaching. I was lucky to go to school in England before National Curriculum. RE was on our syllabus, and we learned about all the major world faiths. Our teacher (a Baptist minister – a persuasion rare in that district) was very sharp and well informed and liked nothing better than sparking a good argument. It was fascinating to compare and contrast, and definitely taught us to be both more tolerant and more questioning in a community which, back then, had nothing more complex to deal with than Anglicans vs Methodists (the single RC was excused the lesson). But hey, Catholicism was covered too, quite fairly, and we tackled Bernadette about it later. (She was very bright and tolerant and well capable of dealing with our questions.)
    I’m afraid that when I first met a Jew, then a Muslim, I quizzed them shamelessly, and to their credit, they were only too happy to talk about it. G-d for me was never going to work, though for a time, I was prepared to suspend disbelief in the deferential hope that it was some adult thing I’d eventually get. And in the end, as an atheist, I read Theology at university, believing it to be a vital part of western culture. Was disappointed (tho shouldn’t have been) to find that a large element of the course was devotional.

  • Jason

    I took a comparative religion course in college, and it was the start of my path to Atheism. The more you know about religion, the less it makes sense, and the less likely you are to delude yourself that it’s true.

    I say all education based on facts is good for America. This course in high school would work to atheists goals, and therefore be fiercely opposed by religous groups.

  • Luther

    I would not have taken it in high school unless it was mandatory.

    Sounds great to me, make three years of it mandatory. Make good tough detailed tests:

    1)Compare versions of the ten(?) commandments and the gospels.

    2)Group exercise: Stone a promiscuous pet to death.

    3)Make a burnt offering.

    4)Practice a month of no graven images.

    5)Jesus died for you and then had a/n:
    a) Wardrobe malfunction
    b) Erection
    c) Resurection
    d) Benediction
    Support your answer with facts.

    6) Compare the evidence provided by L.Ron Hubbard and Joseph Smith.

    7) Place in order from most to least acceptable.
    a)Adultery
    b)Killing all the men and children
    in a village of another religion
    c)Blasphemy
    d)Coveting your neighbors car
    e)Abortion for a rape victim

    Make it a requirement for graduation. But equal time for Wicca, Hindi, and Buddhism.

    I was not good at languages and grammar – making them mandatory started a lifelong hate and rejection in the case of languages, eventual tolerance of grammar.

  • exe

    No, I wouldn’t have taken it, especially if it meant giving up a useful class, such as math or science. If it were an optional class, I think there should be no emphasis on any one religion.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    Classes on world religions? Absolutely. Great idea. Most younger believers tend not to get exposed to any other beliefs. Focus on Christianity? Err… NO. If it’s because we’re a majority Christian nation, let them get that at church. Teach them something about the minority religions and about the non-religious.

  • Bill

    I had to take one and it was taught by the school chaplain (private school. I credit him and a very good biology teacher with starting my doubts about “The one true religion”! Pastor George was a great teacher who taught religion warts and all and never evangelized anyone who showed doubt. It was said in several messages, it would depend on the teacher!

  • Ron in Houston

    Honestly, in a way, it’s almost a cultural literacy test.

    I can’t tell you how many times I cringe when someone says “Christians believe X.”

    The wide divergence of views on the nature of God and the role of the Bible make me view non-theists who say such things as not much better than the ignorant morons who deny evolution.

  • Jude

    We already mandate too many classes. Besides, a geography class might be mandated, but that doesn’t mean it will necessarily be taught well. I would probably teach an inspiring and cool class about religions. But I can’t see ever making it mandatory.

  • KH

    I took a World Religions course in high school (in Ontario, Canada) and really enjoyed it. It was a pretty popular class. I was particularly impressed that our teacher bowed out of the Christian portion and let a guest speaker take on that one. He felt that as a Christian he wouldn’t be able to present it neutrally. He only let his personal beliefs leak through once when he said that one can’t be moral without a belief in God – There was quite the debate that day!! The course itself inspired me to go to a variety of houses of worship to see what was out there. (Too bad there was no eBay yet or I could have sold my soul too!) I rather liked the Baptist churches, but could never buy into what any of them were selling. I guess I’m living proof that religious education does lead to atheism. :)

  • Rose

    Ha. It is not the students that need the education. It is the parents. The only thing that teaching religion in school would do would give teachers, as well as preachers, the right to indoctrinate children when they are their most vulnerable.

    They might start it at the high school level but as soon as they get in, they will take it all the way and once they get in, we’ll have an even harder time getting them out.

  • Patrik

    Where I live, we are taught world religions (with the focus on christianity due to it being predominant in the western civilization) in school. The subject is simply called “Religion”. When we get to our equivalence of high school, most will encounter the class “Religion A”. And I think only sociology students or the likes are likely to take Religion B.

    Some of the comments seem to hint on the reason for having such a class would be to help one “find one’s faith” or something, which isn’t anywhere near the reality of it all. What we learned in that class was what people around the world believes, and why. It didn’t teach any religion, not christianity nor wicca, as facts. It simply explained who, why and where.

    Useless subject? Not in the least. Understanding religion is key to understanding most of the history of mankind so far. Even nowadays, religion has a big impact on our daily lives. The more we know about it and understand it, the better we will be able to handle it and eventually, perhaps, lead on to a better (secular?) society.

    Dismissing learning about religion is simply counterproductive.

  • Richard Wade

    My proposal: courses in world religions should be mandatory for all public school students, with a focus on Christianity as the most prevalent domestic faith.

    I have a big problem with “mandatory” in this. Several people here who are approving of the idea are responding as if it was optional.

    Even if it were optional, the potential for abuse by a teacher with an intent to proselytize is huge. Sounds like a lawsuit industry.

    It is patently unacceptable for so many to know so little about what has been by some accounts the prime mover of world history.

    History is very important, and religion has been a, if not the prime mover of world history so far.

    But things are changing very fast.

    Now and for the foreseeable future, science and technology will increasingly be the prime mover of world history, and most U.S. students are abysmally underprepared to respond to the demands of a world more and more dependent on science and technology every day.

    Every minute wasted in a mandatory class on religion is a minute lost preparing young people for their future. If you want to introduce a mandatory class, then it should be Critical Thinking 101.

  • Hitch

    Frankly world religions belongs with world history.

    Much better would be classes on ethics, philosophy, interpersonal communication, psychology etc etc.

  • Richard L

    I did take religion in school – as it is required of every Swede to know stuff about religions in order to go to high school, college and university. I absolutely hated it, but it did make me read the Bible and Koran, so I learned something.

    I am probably a bad example though – the only courses I enjoyed back in those days were math and physics and I tried to get away with doing as little as possible in every other subject. I get to study Titan for my Master Thesis, so it’s all good ^_^

    I have some fun memories from my religion classes that I will share:

    1) Do propose that J. Christ suffered from schizophrenia and thus was able to speak with ‘God’ – it gets the attention of the entire Confirmation-Now crowd of your class.

    2) Try to press Jehova’s witnesses on answers regarding stuff they gave to you when you were young – but don’t remember all the details! I got one to say: “Maybe it happened so long ago, it really didn’t happen at all” and considering his belief in J. Christ… you get the point.

    Ah, memories.

    Nowadays, I actually think religion should be taught in school, if only to heighten awareness of the culture of other religious groups and because it helps people Be Rational about religion. As a quite outspoken atheist from young age (stopped believing in gods at twelve, anno 2000, and I’ve never been good at keeping my mouth shut about ideas I find interesting or wrong), several of the people that argued with me about religious doctrines and godly existence during these classes have later returned calling themselves atheists or agnostics, or at the very least stopped bugging others about their faith.

    … T.L;D.R ?

  • Grimalkin

    I did. I was living in England just long enough to sign up for RE as my GSCE focus – then I moved to the US. I took Comparative Religions as soon as I ‘got off the boat.’ Then I minored in Religious Studies in University.

    So yes, definitely yes.

  • AM

    I have to agree with Anne regarding religious studies, although the national curriculum in Britain now has tougher requirements on the subject. A teacher friend of mine states that taking the exam is a requirement to graduate. It’s not to force religion upon students, it’s to make them aware of the huge cultural diversity that exists within the country and to promote tolerance, and also for immigrants to understand what religion “drives” Britain, being a state religion. The class also debates on such issues as euthanasia and abortion now, which I could only hear fundamentalist Christians in this country screaming from the rooftops on that one.

    I never knew my RE teacher was actually a very strong Christian (she still teaches at my school 20 years later), I got more knowledge from her than from Sunday School. She taught the class that Jesus was not born on Christmas Day and that he was a homosexual. She once had us re-write the Nativity. I used the theme of the Young Ones, where I had Neil playing Mary, and Vyvyan was Joseph, who after bashing Jesus over the head with a sledgehammer ran off to join in a homosexual relationship with Rick. SHE GAVE ME AN ‘A’. I can only imagine at school here, I would have more than likely been suspended.

  • phira

    I took World Religions in high school, and it was one of my favorite classes. We started with Hinduism, then Buddhism, then Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We ran out of time with Islam, which was disappointing.

    I disagree with the idea that Christianity should be given more weight because of its prevalence in the US. That seems pointless.

    A good World Religions class should be elective, and it should focus on as many major faiths as possible, not just Christianity. It also should emphasize the ways that religions function and develop, so that students learn about religion in general and how it works, not so students just learn trivia about major religions.

  • AM

    Out of interest, I notice that the majority of us who were taught religion in more secular countries consider this a good idea.

  • Fundie Troll

    Already happening…

    One of my boys in high school is taking a world cultures class, and part of the class is an in-depth study of the world’s major religions. I have absolutely no problem with the class being taught (in fact I encourage it), despite the fact that we are Christian. Religion shapes entire cultures, and it has a huge influence on the governments of the world and their policies. If you want a proper understanding of the world (past, present, and future) you must properly understand religion, regardless if it is agreeable with you or not.

  • anne

    @AM Great story! I hope she is still teaching. I should add that my experience in UK was a long time ago, when our rural district had been unchanged for centuries; now we have had massive immigration so that almost every district has new religions.

  • Atom Jack

    I’ll agree with you, Richard Wade- but I think that every class should be about critical thinking. I’d like to tip my hat to one of my friend’s fathers for really getting me on the road to critical thinking. He was the one adult who used to challenge us on our positions when we were arguing about things as children (10 to 15 years old). It was painful having to think critically at first (at the age of ten, that muscle was pretty flaccid), but I’ll have to tell you it ruined me on religion, not that that is a bad thing.

  • popvox

    I went to a Catholic high school the first two years (four years of high school in the US), and freshman year I had a Hebrew/Christian studies class with a heavy emphasis on the historicity and non-literality of the Bible (particularly the Old Testament). Ironically, this religion class was what started in earnest the process of questioning my faith; the idea of Biblical criticism was a totally new concept to me, and I’m kind of surprised this flew at a Jesuit school.

    I think knowing basic facts about the more popular religions is important, for the sake of cultural knowledge and tolerance, so I could see a place for it within a social studies curriculum. Probably not much perceived space for it in the standardized testing environment, though.

    (I also think that such a course ought to explain why you can’t objectively justify religious belief, because I think even religious people can/should be mildly agnostic. But somehow I don’t think that idea would fly with the PTA. It’d save me a lot of time debating with the wacky evangelizers in my dorm, though.)

  • Sinfanti

    During my college days I did take a course in World Religions and it was very beneficial in understanding foreign cultures. Religion has strong overlaps with subjects such as History, Sociology and Psychology. Such a course would be a valuable part of any school curriculum because it would help eradicate the prevailing ignorance that is the foundation for so much misunderstanding and hate in societies around the world.

    I also think such a course should have at least one day of examining atheism and dispelling misconceptions about those who don’t buy into shared imagination of any of the faiths.

  • http://secularshawshank.wordpress.com Andy

    Dan Dennett has advocated a similar thing—that World Religions be part of the standard curriculum in schools. As a general proposition, I’m for it.

    I don’t think there should be a special emphasis on Christianity, though. If we’re teaching this curriculum right, there’d be no special emphasis on any particular religion. You really have to take an “all religions are created equal” approach—ask the same questions of every faith, study the same elements, look at each faith as objectively as possible. Singling out any one religion as “special”—for any reason—is exactly where trouble starts.

    Also: “Mandatory” is a funny word when it comes to what kids learn in public schools. Seems like parents and kids wriggle out of “mandatory” stuff all the time. I once worked for a school with a “mandatory” sex ed curriculum, but all a parent had to do was call up and say “I don’t want my kid exposed to that,” and the kid got to sit in the library and eat Oreos instead. An irate parent who truly doesn’t want her kid “exposed” to such a curriculum, will get her way 9 times out of 10. I actually agree with Richard (I don’t like the word “mandatory” either), but I’m just sayin’…this seems like it would be another one of those things that’s not mandatory, but “mandatory.”

  • Reality Chic

    I went to Catholic high school and took a World Religions class. I learned a lot and have always been glad that I took it. Not something that should be taught in public schools, however.

  • Gibbon

    Currently being in the middle of a Bachelor of Arts degree in Religious Studies at university I can honestly say that such a course at secondary school would be of benefit. Religion has always been an important piece in the history of the human species, and given how important it still is, learning about them would go a long way to controlling the tension that exists between the religions. However, contrary to what Michael Tracey has suggested, I think a more comparative type course would be most appropriate for teenagers rather than something that delves into the sociology or anthropology of religion, as I believe that would be like teaching general relativity in a high school.

    I will also say that one can make a case that from a Western perspective special focus should be placed on Christianity, because from what I learnt in a course on European history earlier this year, the modern world really began with the Protestant Reformation. Many of the principles and ideas that the Modern West represent were first truly promulgated by Martin Luther and those who followed him, such as the notion of religious freedom, church/state separation, and governing by the consent of the governed. So I definitely think that for a student in a western nation leaning about Christianity is somewhat more important than learning about Buddhism or Islam.

    One last thing, I’m not sure if a course in Comparative Religion should be mandatory, instead it should be an elective, one chooses it if they wish to know more. But if they’re not interested they shouldn’t be forced to take it.

  • Anonymous

    There were no religion classes in my US public high school, but my sociology class did a unit on cults (including Large Group Awareness Training movements). It was very helpful (though it took me a long time to see their similarities to other religions). Excellent for critical thinking skills.

  • FresnoMikey

    No, as I at 18 had just dropped out of going to Catholic church for 18 years. I had just figured out the lies, Inquisition, pro-war policies, and persecution sponsored by the church.

    Religion should be allowed to be objectively integrated into all high school subjects as long as the teacher is not propagating any of them.

    Once immunizations were opposed by ignorant clergy, and that kind of history could be taught in history or science. I wish my teachers in the mid-60′s in Fresno had been forthcoming. Only the humanities instructor did and of course got called a Commie, which he considered his finest compliment.

  • Jake

    I took a world religions class my Junior year of high school, but it was at the local community college, where I was dual-enrolled.

    Regardless, I’m sure I would have taken it even if it were offered in the high school. And the class was also one of major factors in my eventual loss of faith.

    Although, the teacher was much more into Eastern religions than he was Western religions, so that may have affected how much, and what, I got out of the class.

  • Josh

    The problem I’d have would be the problem that I had at my high school, which was that the “Religion” class was actually the “Christianity” class. There happened to be a church right next door to my school. You get three guesses where the class was held.

    If there was a way to avoid this sort of “wink, wink” religion class, I’d get behind this idea.

  • Josha

    I love Richard’s idea for a “Critical Thinking 101″ course. I think this is desperately needed in our society. Many people don’t even understand their beliefs, they just soak them up from an authority and spit it back out.

    I went to a Catholic high school and we had religion courses all four years. Freshman year was the Old Testament, sophomore year the New Testament, junior year morality and senior year world religions. Out of all those classes, world religions was the one that I took the most out of and learned a great deal. I think it should be offered as an elective with main world religions given equal time, and then to teach about many other smaller faiths.
    When I took my class it was a few years after 9/11 so it also helped to dispel my narrow view of Islam. We also learned about cults and how to recognize one. I would’ve liked if the teacher brought in people of different religions who would talk about their beliefs and be open to our questions. Also, I wish we had learned about nonbelievers and secular movements.

  • Mr Z

    This whole question bothers me deeply. How can you learn history without learning politics? How can you learn politics of historical figures without learning of religions? How can you understand history without understanding religions? What gives? It has only been this last little blip of world history where non-belief did not get you killed (more or less). To say that you learned history and did not learn about religion is to say you had bad teachers.

    As for needing religious studies in school as a result of this survey, I call BS. If the non-believers learned it so can the believers, especially when they claim it as something important in their lives. We all learn best what we are most interested in. Interest does not affirm belief in same. The churches’ inability to fulfill their stated missions is not then a responsibility for the state. Religions should/must be taught from a historical/cultural/political perspective as part of history. Why one sect believes differently is not important. Understanding how that sect affected the world around it is important. As the clerics now must admit, you cannot force young people to learn about a religion’s tenets and foundations. They will learn what is important to them personally and this shows a failure on the part of religious leaders.

    It might be interesting to simply have comparative religious studies, but it is much more important to know the political, geographic, and cultural effects of those religions and their interactions. The politics and causes of the crusades can consume a lifetime on their own. More interesting at times is the situation surrounding the treaty with Tripoli and the question of religion. Why the pilgrims came to America, why are there no more Visigoths? Who were the Cathars? Why are there Jews in Africa? If Jews inherit their lineage via their mothers, why do DNA tests show that Palestinians are ‘just as Jewish’ as Jews?

    It is incredibly difficult to understand world politics today without understanding them from historical perspectives. It seems impossible to understand them historically without understanding their cultural basis, which is in turn impossible to understand without understanding the religions that ruled them.

    I say that religious people had all the same opportunity to learn about religions but chose not to. It’s not the governments responsibility to ensure they know about them other than historically. I also think that people in the USA should know why Mecca is a holy city, what is special there, what Ramadan is, why there is an easter bunny and yule log and thanksgiving.

    Learning these things does not require a pastor or bishop to teach. It’s information you can get at the library or on the Gooooogle. Hiring a cleric to teach religious studies is crossing the line of separation IMO. The basic history curriculum should be beefed up a bit to include religions.

    Though it might make more atheists in the end, it is not the state’s responsibility to guide or force such decisions on the populace. We are worried about religion when we should be worried about ALL subjects, math, the hard sciences etc.

    The real problem is not whether certain aspects of religions should be taught, but who sets the curriculum. Recently, the Texas State BoE has shown that these dozen people have more impact on children’s lives than even the Pope could hope to have.

    Argue and fight/vote for better curriculum, not better religious education.

  • Jeff

    I think a deeper world religions unit should be taught as part of the history curriculum. Instead of picking up shallow, fragmented pieces of what different religions believe as they come up in a historical context, there should be a framework to provide students with a moderately deep, consistent understanding of major religions. Instead of just “here’s Mohammed and the 5 Pillars” and that’s it, you’d get a look at actual practices and how the religious beliefs actually tied into historical events. Personally, it took me until my world religions class in college to connect Buddhism’s four noble truths and eightfold path to any of its variant practices, because previous discussions in high school had been on such a shallow level. This stuff is important; it has shaped history, it continues to shape history, and the better we understand it, the better armed we all are.

  • Brian S

    I like the idea of a world religion class but looking at it from a practical perspective, it would be heavily abused in the U.S. Expecting a devout evangelical Christian schoolteacher to teach religion in an unbiased manner would be akin to asking a University of Michigan football coach to teach a class on the history of Ohio State. You’re just asking for trouble.

    Can someone who strongly believes that the four gospels were actually written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John really teach what the evidence actually shows about them? That the authors are in fact anonymous and heavily plagiarized one another? Can a devout Christian schoolteacher really be expected to teach children about Hinduism or Islam in a completely non-biased way?

    World religion in public school would be abused so much because in the U.S. religion is something intensely personal, and it is extremely difficult to get someone to objectively present a subject that they have intense personal feelings about.

  • http://www.mothershandbook.net The Mother

    My atheist son took a world religion class at Duke over one summer. He loved it.

    But in public schools? Texas tried to implement that a year or two ago. They claimed it was an objective look at the Bible as literature, but given the way our school board looks at the Bible and literature, it was unconvincing.

    Luckily, the controversy downgraded the proposal to an elective, that only must be offered if a certain percentage of the students want it. So far, our HS hasn’t bothered.

    Now, if we could just get Islam and Thomas Jefferson reinstated…

  • allison

    I would’ve been interested in such a course in high school……depending upon who taught it. But then, I had teachers who overstepped the line on religious issues in a not-infrequent fashion, so I’d be uninterested if certain people had been teaching the course.

  • Haley

    In theory, I would love to have taken a world religions class in high school. Technically, we did have a Bible Studies elective (for one year) during my freshman year, and while I do think it’s important to study the Bible objectively as a piece of literature because of its significance and influence in our culture…that’s not the kind of class it was, to say the least. Probably why it only lasted one year.

    In practice, though, I probably wouldn’t have taken such a class. During my freshman and sophomore years, the wound was too fresh concerning religion; I had only just “broken free” the summer before high school. And junior year and this year, I’ve been way too busy with AP and IB classes to even think about taking something like that. (On a side note: I don’t know how much any of you know about IB classes, but we do have a Theory of Knowledge requirement in which we are taught to think critically and objectively. I really wish we could apply this to religion during class, but while we’re in class at least, we have to be p.c.)

    I don’t know if any of you are interested, but in the iTunes store, there’s a section called iTunes U in which professors from colleges and university upload lectures for their students–or anyone else who’s interested–to listen to for free. The lectures on Religion are in the “Humanities” category, and I find them extremely interesting.

  • http://luckyatheist.blogspot.com Michael Caton

    I didn’t read all the comments so sorry if this was already posted. Daniel Dennett among many others has also made this same suggestion. And it turns out that this has already been done, immediately to our north in Quebec. And what did the Christian parents do, once religion was in schools? They sued.

    http://www.skyejethani.com/teaching-religion-in-public-schools/405/

    At the very least it’s nice when the playing field shifts and people have no choice but to show their true colors. It’s not religion they want to teach, it’s their and only their religion that has to be taught.

  • http://kaleenamenke.blogspot.com Kaleena

    I signed up for a world religions class in high school…but my mom wouldn’t let me take it :(

  • muggle

    What Richard Wade said so much more eloquently than I’m capable of.

    You do know what Mr. Tracy can do with his religion clases, don’t you?

    There is some basics covered in literature and history. Want anything beyond that? Take a couse at a university or your place of worship or wherever? But keep the fuck out of public schools.

    As has been mentioned, the government shouldn’t be teaching religion and there’s no way the schools in the US can be trusted to teach them unbiased.

    And what the fuck was that about giving Christianity priority? What’s he pulling? Do we know for sure this idiot is really Atheist instead of having a hidden agenda? (What? Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean the world isn’t out to get me. Or my grandson.)

  • Sue

    I’m British – my religion lessons at school were pretty good. We gave roughly equal time to Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam, Judaism and Humanism. At no point did any of the teachers try to tell us that any of these was the right one.

    I’m all in favour of religion classes in schools, providing they’re run like this. I’m not convinced that’s as practical in less secular countries though, and even in Britain I know of a teacher who’s telling kids that Christianity is the truth. My husband had to de-programme one of his kids after he came home and announced that he was now a Christian.

  • http://gaytheistagenda.lavenderliberal.com/ Buffy

    If you had the option to take a World Religions class in high school, would you have taken it? Did you?

    Yes, I would have. I took Sociology of Religion in college, so I definitely would have taken a World Religions class in high school. I almost wish I had, as it might have hastened my return to atheism.

  • Aj

    Comparative religion courses in the UK are a good idea, but as with all the humanities it’s highly politicized and infected with ideology. It should not be sanitized, it should be factually based and representative. I think that’s a hard thing for governments or elected school boards to do, they impose their bullshit ideologies and faith on education.

  • channi

    I went to school in Hesse, Germany. There are religion classes for protestants and for catholics throughout school. You can choose which one you want to attend or not attend any if your parents agree.
    At the age of 14 you gain the right to choose your religion, so from that point on there are also ethics classes. If you don’t take religion you then have to take ethics, which is what I did.
    Before, I had attended protestant religion classes but found it kind of annoying that the teacher automatically assumed everyone believed in the Bible and in God.
    Ethics is basically the same content in terms of morals etc but without the Bible stuff. I had great expectations when I changed courses – only to discover that it was the same teacher -.-

  • Jeff Sherry

    I would have taken it, but the school I graduated from would not have been objective in teaching religion or religions. It would have been another tool for promoting Christianity in the community.

  • http://disavian.no-ip.info/lamenta3 Hillary

    I went to a Catholic high school, so I got quite a bit of religious education (but I always have to give them credit for keeping religion out of pretty much all of the curriculum except where it added something). The school was 7-12 and in that time we spent 3 semesters each on the old and new testaments, and then we were able to choose from 4 or 5 other religion classes to fulfill the other 2 semesters the school required to graduate. I chose a class on world religions and a class on social justice. (It’s been so long, I can’t remember what the other options were now.)

    The head of the religion department at the time was a VERY liberal former nun (she left her order to get married, and while I was in her class, she got divorced, which you know is a BFD if you’re Catholic) and she always taught her classes in a very sociological/anthropological style, and encouraged the other teachers to do the same, as the student body was actually very diverse for a Catholic school (about 50% Catholic, 48% Protestant, 2% other).

    There was a little bit of religious study inserted into literature and history, particularly where it lent itself to explaining the themes of certain texts (Canterbury Tales and Dante’s Inferno are two I remember) or certain events in history, we were able to go into the religious writings that were related to the themes and events. Religion was left entirely out of the sciences, and my biology teacher even prefaced her module on evolution with a statement to the effect of, “we’re not going to discuss how these theories in a Biblical context in here. That’s what your religion classes are for. This is a science class, so we’re only going to talk about the science parts in here.”

    So in that respect, having religion class helped to compartmentalize the philosophical and “controversial” components of science and allowed actual science to be taught in the science classroom. And in the end, even the religion classes didn’t get bogged down with those discussions too much because there were so many more “real” and interesting things to talk about.

    I realize that this is probably the most ideal way that things could work out, but I feel that my religious instruction was among the most pivotal things in bringing me closer to reason and non-theism. But that’s another really long story. :)

  • John Gills

    For years, Hinsdale Central High School, in Hinsdale Illinois, offered a Religious Lit class that covered all the major religions. When I taught the course I used Huston Smith’s Religions of Man as the primary text and always included a field trip to a synagogue, a Hare Krishna temple and a theological seminary. I always assured the students that the intent was to widen their experiences and to enrich their own personal beliefs. It seemed to work quite well.

  • Barb Noon

    I definitely would not have taken it in high school or college. Now? Yes. It would be very interesting.

  • EmilyKatyKayla

    We are very upset that our school does not teach world religion. Last we year while reading a book about the Salem Witch Trials we learned a little about Wicca but the teacher did not answer questions and did not care to find answers. The only thing they care about is the bible. We are always learning about it in English. We plan on writing a letter to the board. We don’t need a class but they need to be more objective.

  • Brina

    I go to a Catholic high school, and i hate having religion classes. I can express my faith at home it is a private thing. Students shouldnt have to be forced to take it and schools shouldnt enforce the class.