Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Teach Religion In Public Schools?

Can you name the four gospels of the New Testament? Can you list five of the 10 Commandments from the Old Testament? What is the Golden Rule?* If you’re scratching your head and a little embarrassed that you don’t know, author Stephen Prothero wants you to turn your embarrassment into commitment to learn something about Christianity….and Judaism, Islam and Hinduism.

Prothero is Chairman of the Religion Department at Boston University and contends that what Americans don’t know about religion is killing us. Prothero’s new book, "Religious Literacy", points out that around 90% of Americans say they believe in God, yet only a tiny portion of them knows anything about religion. In a world where nearly every political conflict has religious underpinnings, Prothero writes that Americans are selling themselves short by remaining ignorant about basic religious history and texts. For example, if one doesn’t know the difference between a Sunni and Shiite and the foundational beliefs of Islam, one will not grasp what is going on in Iraq and Iran and America’s relationship with them both.

In Newsweek Prothero said, “Given a political environment where religion is increasingly important, it’s increasingly important to know something about religion.”

The book proposes a controversial solution: teach religion in public schools. According to Prothero every high school student should be required to take a Bible course and a world religion course. The purpose would not be to catechize or evangelize but to educate. Prothero believes that Harvard’s recent decision to not make religion a part of its core curriculum was a mistake.

Prothero calls for time-pressed adults to sample holy books and history texts. His book includes a 90-page dictionary of key words and concepts from Abraham to Zen. There’s also a 15-question quiz that his students fail every year. To sample the quiz and read more commentary on this subject see the USA Today article, “Americans Get An ‘F’ in Religion.”

What’s your reflection on Prothero’s idea? Is it a good idea to teach children about religion in public schools? Is it practical or even possible?

(*Answers for the first paragraph: Matthew, Mark, Luke & John; Exodus 20:1-17; Luke 6:31)


Bob said...

I think the guy's right on. Ignorance only brings disdain and corrosion in our relationships with other cultures. Now if we could only get our government to read his book

cmr said...

In the state of Oregon children are allowed to leave school during school time for One hour a week for "religious studies" regardless of what religion. As far as I know the Christians have used this time well.
My son attended a small public school while in 7th grade. One of his honor classes studied the top 5 world religions in-depth. Today he is an atheist. His "educated" decision. Today he says Religion is the cause of all mankinds problems. I think education is good, knowing history and culture is good, however, who would you trust to teach your kids about religion? I've seen teachers cross that line, introducing far more into the "history lesson".