Religion and Prayer in Schools

“The role of religion and prayer in schools has always been controversial, and teachers are advised to neither encourage nor discourage religious observances.  As a teacher, what religious celebrations or practices might you encounter in your classroom?  How would you respond to these issues while maintaining your neutrality?”

This topic is such a controversial one, and something that I have thought about a lot. It is even a topic that I have attended a conference on since I think it is something that every teacher needs to explore for themselves. Once again with this topic I find myself in an interesting position for two reasons 1) I taught in a country where religion is more or less illegal and 2) I am religious and have very strong beliefs(and since this is my blog I think it is ok that I share that).

We live in a period of time where there is a clash of so many different religious practices. Not only do we live in a period of time, but geographically with Washington, DC, not far away there is a very strong chance that our classrooms will be extremely diverse. As a social studies teacher, part of my job is to create citizens of the United States. I want my students to be aware of current issues, including issues of religion. Now by making them aware, I will not be shoving my beliefs down their throats but I want them to know what beliefs are out there and that it is important for them to find purpose in life.

While I was in China, at times we found ourselves walking a fine line between what was ok to share in our classrooms and what was not ok for us to share with our students. The policy that we most often held to was that as long as we were not asking our students to believe what we believe that it was ok to share about various religious practices, etc. Something that made it a little easier to share about certain religious things in China was the fact that many Chinese see religion as a Cultural custom that Americans all participate in.

An example of how I introduced Christmas in China and how I would also introduce it in my class in America, was not only telling “The Christmas Story,” but sharing about the origins of Santa Claus, etc. In an American Classroom I would also discuss the other holidays that take place around that period since so many students observe other holidays. I want my students to know that they can feel free to express themselves in my classroom and I think that part of that will be having open and honest communication about different beliefs and ideas(including religion). As a social studies teacher, I want to prepare my students to be able to express, defend(civilly), and discuss their’s and others’ beliefs and the reasons behind them.


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