Point: Can religion be taught at public schools?

Aaron Bialer , Copy Editor

I am reminded by my friend and his family of the themes of togetherness and community involvement behind the creation of the beautiful masterpiece I see as I step out of their car.

I notice the angled brick tile roof laid out upon a triangular structure atop of two Tuscan columns, accumulating into a traditional Thai Temple that seem out of place in the middle of Long Island.  Two golden lion statues sit upright, prepared to aggressively defend the temple from unwanted guests.  Inside, the Thai community works to prepare food for the monks who each seemed at peace with themselves under their orange robes and lack of footwear.

This experience offered me what a list of facts off of a PowerPoint could not.  I was prompted from the first moment to observe Thai religious traditions and rituals as an outsider.

Inquiry offered me answers as to their motivation behind some rituals, but not all—and this left me even more intrigued.

The lack of clear motivation behind some rituals contrasted with the amount of meaning and significance it all seemed to have for them.

In school, I was never able to grasp this degree of hidden meaning from any religion lectures.  A variety of religions were rather broken down into four to six main points or goals that were to be memorized for a test and forgotten.

It is certainly possible for religion to be taught in a more meaningful and academically valuable way than it now is without teachers indoctrinating students.

Students and teachers must accept the fact that it is possible to observe a religion from an outside perspective without accepting its followers’ inherent values and beliefs.

“I don’t feel uncomfortable learning about religion, so long as it is not forced upon me,” said senior Ben Pan.  “Being forced to learn about it is not the same as being forced to adopt it.”

Religion is about creating meaning from the unanswerable questions of the universe.

Yet it is taught as a set of facts within a historical context.

Students are not prompted to search into the underlying mysteries that inspire religious rituals.

Teachers should add more depth to lessons on religion.

Instead of using lectures, more teachers should use videos of religious services or class discussions to more fully engage students, as some already do.

“There are ways to teach religion without making it personal,” said senior Justin Truglio.  “I guess the important thing with educating students on religion is that they can learn about their own religion and other ones without any student feeling that what they believe is wrong.  Otherwise, students will withdraw from participation.”

Teachers and students should be able to communicate in such a way that students do not feel indoctrinated and are still able to express their own beliefs.  If teachers and students are not able to collaborate, Schreiber administration may set up a theology class.

With a theology elective, those interested in religion may pursue it, whereas those that may feel uncomfortable can remain content in global classes.

“A religion class would definitely be interesting.  It might help me understand some of the more obscure religious references and would help me expand my horizons to understand others’ beliefs,” said senior Lauren Livingston.  “It would also help let students who are interested learn more about religion without making others feel that their beliefs are being questioned.”

Religion is misunderstood when it is portrayed as a list of facts or beliefs.  There is a certain level of depth underlying each religion that is difficult to express in words, but that can be understood through a deeper level of engagement that is possible to attain through teacher student collaboration.

If students look upon a religion with open eyes and refrain from deeming education indoctrination, they may be able to unlock a new degree of meaning and academic understanding that they had not thought possible.

I am reminded by my friend and his family of the themes of togetherness and community involvement behind the creation of the beautiful masterpiece I see as I step out of their car.

I notice the angled brick tile roof laid out upon a triangular structure atop of two Tuscan columns, accumulating into a traditional Thai Temple that seem out of place in the middle of Long Island.  Two golden lion statues sit upright, prepared to aggressively defend the temple from unwanted guests.  Inside, the Thai community works to prepare food for the monks who each seemed at peace with themselves under their orange robes and lack of footwear.

This experience offered me what a list of facts off of a PowerPoint could not.  I was prompted from the first moment to observe Thai religious traditions and rituals as an outsider.

Inquiry offered me answers as to their motivation behind some rituals, but not all—and this left me even more intrigued.

The lack of clear motivation behind some rituals contrasted with the amount of meaning and significance it all seemed to have for them.

In school, I was never able to grasp this degree of hidden meaning from any religion lectures.  A variety of religions were rather broken down into four to six main points or goals that were to be memorized for a test and forgotten.

It is certainly possible for religion to be taught in a more meaningful and academically valuable way than it now is without teachers indoctrinating students.

Students and teachers must accept the fact that it is possible to observe a religion from an outside perspective without accepting its followers’ inherent values and beliefs.

“I don’t feel uncomfortable learning about religion, so long as it is not forced upon me,” said senior Ben Pan.  “Being forced to learn about it is not the same as being forced to adopt it.”

Religion is about creating meaning from the unanswerable questions of the universe.

Yet it is taught as a set of facts within a historical context.

Students are not prompted to search into the underlying mysteries that inspire religious rituals.

Teachers should add more depth to lessons on religion.

Instead of using lectures, more teachers should use videos of religious services or class discussions to more fully engage students, as some already do.

“There are ways to teach religion without making it personal,” said senior Justin Truglio.  “I guess the important thing with educating students on religion is that they can learn about their own religion and other ones without any student feeling that what they believe is wrong.  Otherwise, students will withdraw from participation.”

Teachers and students should be able to communicate in such a way that students do not feel indoctrinated and are still able to express their own beliefs.  If teachers and students are not able to collaborate, Schreiber administration may set up a theology class.

With a theology elective, those interested in religion may pursue it, whereas those that may feel uncomfortable can remain content in global classes.

“A religion class would definitely be interesting.  It might help me understand some of the more obscure religious references and would help me expand my horizons to understand others’ beliefs,” said senior Lauren Livingston.  “It would also help let students who are interested learn more about religion without making others feel that their beliefs are being questioned.”

Religion is misunderstood when it is portrayed as a list of facts or beliefs.  There is a certain level of depth underlying each religion that is difficult to express in words, but that can be understood through a deeper level of engagement that is possible to attain through teacher student collaboration.

If students look upon a religion with open eyes and refrain from deeming education indoctrination, they may be able to unlock a new degree of meaning and academic understanding that they had not thought possible.