Is Religion Too Hot to Handle in the Classroom? No, Says Council Thats Reviews Texts

By Witham, Larry | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 27, 1998 | Go to article overview

Is Religion Too Hot to Handle in the Classroom? No, Says Council Thats Reviews Texts


Witham, Larry, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


The American Textbook Council has said that teaching "about" religion in public schools has a place in the new character education movement, not just in academic slots like social studies, history and literature.

In a new report, the independent reviewer of textbooks and curriculum said religion is so integral to value systems that, despite awkwardness toward religion in classrooms, its study can prompt students to think about the meaning of life.

"Educators can and should make religious-based insights as to being, meaning and purpose more integral to character education," says the council's new guide, "Learning About Religion, Learning From Religion."

In the past decade, a number of professional organizations have encouraged the treatment of religion as an important part of culture and history in a liberal arts education.

But the so-called character education movement, which encourages ethical learning through stories and student-choice exercises, still is reluctant to cite religion as a source for right and wrong, said Gilbert T. Sewall, author of the new council report.

"I think the character education movement has tried to avoid the issue of religion," he said in an interview. "Like it or not, religion has become too hot to handle."

The 29-page report, released in November, has two other key recommendations: that students learn that "religious people differ in the details" of beliefs, and that students learn "to imagine life as something more than material."

It also contains an index of readings, events and movements that should, at minimum, be learned by students in grades seven through 12. Mr. Sewall said that "children begin to grapple with this from the age of reason."

The textbook council has supported other efforts to mollify conflicts in public schools over study of religion.

In September, Mr. Sewall endorsed an Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) guide called, "Taking Religion Seriously Across the Curriculum."

The ASCD said that such reform may be difficult because new national standards for public education, a decade in formulation, excluded academic religion.

But Mr. Sewall said "the ASCD had to pull punches" and could not go as far as the Textbook Council in speaking about religion and character education. …

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