Teaching about religion in the public schools of the United States
Inch, Morris A.,1925-
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Problem and Limitation. Our society has become increasingly alarmed with what is apparently a weakening of ethical conduct. This result has at least been coincidental with a failure to recognize the significance of religion for daily life. Tbe public school, by its limited handling of religion, has contributed to this situation. Among the various proposals for remedying the condition, while maintaining the American principle of separation of Church and State, teaching about religion is held in high regard. Although there have been several studies advocating teaching about religion in public education, it remained to be seen whether or not a suitable teacher guide could be prepared for this purpose. The need of such a guide has called into being this work. The study under consideration has been curtailed by: (1) other works in the field, (2) limitation of the areas of study, (3) limitation of syllabi, and (4) careful selection of bibliographical entries. Procedure. The body of this study, eliminating the introductory and concluding chapters, may be divided into two sections of three chapters each. The first section lays the context out of which the teacher's guide is developed in the next three chapters. These contextual chapters consist of a historical evaluation of the development of religious liberty, and the public school system, and a description of the various proposals for solving the present difficulty. Those three chapters which make up the teacher's guide deal with criteria for the selection and use of material, creating and maintaining a favorable atmosphere, and a selected syllabus for teaching about religion in American History on the Senior High School level. The first two of these subjects provide a general guide, and the last a specific aid for a given course and age group. The criteria for selection and use of material were developed by the writer, with motivation supplied by a variety of works. These were refined by consultation with the 1954 Seminar in Religion and Public Education at Boston University. Materials for the chapter on creating and maintaining a favorable atmosphere were drawn primarily from (1) group dynamic studies, and (2) inter-cultural works. In this case, as with the chapter on criteria, hypothetical instances were used to illustrate and sharpen the issues involved. The selected syllabus was geared to David Muzzey's widely used text, A History of Our Country. The content of this specific guide was affected by the critical appraisal of Dr. Charles Peltier and certain of his colleagues of the history department of Newton High School (Newton, Massachusetts). However, this should not be construed to mean an endorsement by the staff. Findings and Recommendations. The contextual chapter's have yielded the following conclusions: 1. The United States is deeply rooted in religion in general, and the Hebrew-Christian tradition in particular. It is equally committed to the ideal of freedom of religion, a position not maant to repudiate its religious foundations. 2. Earlier mistrust and controversy which helped usher secularism into the schools, seems to be giving way to a more favorable attitude conducive to increased experimentation in finding a more important role for religion in public education. 3. The approaches for bettering the present educational situation may be divided into those (1) outside, and (2) inside the school system. The proposals outside of the public schools are (1) improving education in the church and home, (2) marginal time education, (3) released time education, and (4) sectarian schools for instruction. The proposals inside the public schools are the (1) common core approach, (2) teaching of moral and spiritual values, (3) use of religious exercises and observances, and (4) teaching about religion approach. 4. That teaching about religion is a live option can be seen from other studies in the field, and the evaluative historical chapter on the development of religious liberty and the public school system. 5. Those who advocate teaching about religion recommend that it be done either (1) in context, or (2) by way of special units. Only the former proposal can break down the illusory dastinction between religious and secular. 6. Religious subject matter appears to have been lacking in the schools, except where teachers have been particularly concerned about and adept at providing for this lack. In any case, the teacher is the key to the success of this approach, and must be properly equipped for the task. 7. The community approach has been advocated as the best way of securing the goals set forth, and in maintaining the relations necessary for the program's continuance. The following findings are drawn from the three chapters constituting a teacher's guide: 1. Six criteria of complex character have been presented, and illustrated by appropriate hypothetical cases. They are (1) student relevance, (2) intelligent understanding, (3) integration, (4) preparation for choice, (5) variety, and (6) community awareness. "Student relevance" means that the material selected must have pertinence for the pupil; his maturity, needs and interest, and training in and for life. "Intelligent understanding" indicates that the material must aid the student in better understanding the subject matter and himself. "Integration" points out the role of religious material in unifying the varied elements in the subject matter and the self. "Preparation for choice" recognizes that life choices are made, and seeks to allow freedom in, show the importance of, and accept as of worth the pupil's religious decisions. "Variety" as a criterion is valid as it reflects upon subject matter and method. "Community awareness" signifies the recognition of one's debt to and responsibility for the community of which he is a part. In the context of this study, the religious community is particularly in view. These criteria are significant whenever relevant to a given area of study, but are contingent on the actual teaching situation. 2. Group-dynamic insights will help provide and maintain a conducive atmosphere for this study. The diverse religious convictions of the pupils can be protected by a democratic process of preparing, sharing, acting, and evaluating together. 3. The teacher must set the example in good personal relations. He must function as a (1) person, (2) learner, (3) research person, and (4) leader. 4. Careful effort must be maintained to guard against emotionally strained situations. Methods of control include prevention, suppression, exhortation, diversion, exemplification, mediation, consideration, consolidation, and visualization. The best of these methods is prevention, but a combination of effective means can be employed. Lines of communication must be kept open between all those affected by the proposal. 5. The history of the United States is rich with materials for teaching about religion, as well as weighted with explosive issues. Religious subject matter must be presented in context, with the objectivity demanded in any other realm of study. 6. History in general, and religion in particular have relevance for daily life. Students should be aware of religious alternatives, with the understanding that decision is their prerogative and that of their religious affiliation. Among the areas demanding further study are the following recommendations: 1. There is a need for extensive work in the realm of semantics. Much misunderstanding is due to lack of clarity at this point. 2. What is the role of the school in religious counseling? It cannot expect to deal with life issues without soon confronting religion in one form or another. 3. The preparation of pamphlets on religious themes and movements, would be most helpful. There is a dearth of religious material suitable for school purposes. 4. Public school text books should be written which will adequately deal with religious factors. 5. Until such books are provided, a multiplication of adequate syllabi is called for. 6. Attempts to deal with religious preparation on the teacher college level is needed. The new Danforth Foundation study is in the spirit of this recommendation. 7. The proposal to teach about religion would benefit from the experience of experimental pioneer communities. This would permit the principles to be put to work, and allow for evaluation. 8. There is need for experimentation with controlled classes dealing with religious themes. This would help clarify the problem of tension control. 9. How can the teacher measure the effectiveness of his efforts? It would be profitable to ascertain effective means of testing.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Boston University
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