World Religion In School

Joseph Laycock, an Assistant Professor at Texas State University, posted a piece last week on Quartz expressing his belief that students should be taught about the major world religions to better prepare them for the world.

When Professor Laycock has given his World Religion course students a worksheet on the major world religions, they exhibit a lot of strange misconceptions for most of the belief systems.

The Bible Literacy Project conducted a study in 2005 in which they tested American teenagers on the names of five of the major world religions. They found that only 10% could name them all, while 15% were unable to name a single one. The Pew Forum study in 2010 saw similar results when they asked 3,000 American citizens a few religious questions.

The problem, as Joseph Laycock sees it, is that many Americans misunderstand the First Amendment and interpret the two clauses which state that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” There has begun to be a widespread belief that public schools abolished religion, and that schools have to be completely free of religion. However, the clauses in the amendment work together to separate state from church.

He adds that many people feel uncomfortable teaching world religions to students, however, in the long run, it creates citizens that think critically, who can ask big questions and have a sense of moral agency. They will be able to understand their friends, family, neighbors and coworkers. Since “high school students are more inclined to take new ideas seriously,” he says that it should be a class taught in middle or high schools. “Education often requires both students and teachers to venture outside their comfort zone.”

There are some U.S. states that have requirements pertaining to basic knowledge and understanding of religions, particularly Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism and Hinduism in world history classes. They may require that students be able to analyze text that makes references to the Bible or biblical times. However, most states ignore these requirements. Laycock believes that, if they don’t learn this information, they will be “ill-equipped to compete in the global market” as they won’t be able to critically think about the claims made about religion in media and by politicians.

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