Put Religion Back in School. ~ Stephanie Sefton

Via Stephanie Sefton
on Aug 15, 2013
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Keeping religion out of schools is an unconscionable injustice imposed upon our children.

Our intercultural incompetence is being forced upon our children; their intelligence is gravely insulted, their world view being distorted, intolerance of ‘difference’ is perpetuated and our future projected further into jeopardy. While we keep our children uneducated about religion, they are simultaneously inundated with unfounded, frequently hateful and dangerous generalizations about all or any ‘other’ religions or faiths deemed unwelcome on their soil, in their neighborhoods and within their homes.

Our youththe future caretakers of us and our planetare being indoctrinated with the toxic, ethnocentric notion of ‘us and them’a powerful, fear-based dichotomy that plagues humanity. Ignorance and fear, now the basis of a multi-billion dollar industry, is being molded into the foundations of their beings. Religion is gravely misunderstood and has become, by default, the scapegoat for what people feel has been done to them and, whether they want to accept it or not, a foundation for rationalizing the mistreatment, segregation, ostracizing, exclusion and bullying of many global citizens.

Our children are joining in on this nightmare and we are perpetuating it by continuing to make religion and faith something to be afraid of.

We are stripping our children of their agency. We revoke their ability to act independently and make their own choices because we are enveloped in fear about things we do not understand or accept. Our children are not born believing they are different from anyone regardless of their religion or heritage. That means our societythe one we have createdis responsible for their distorted construction of reality.

Our world is no longer made up of small, separate pockets of communities untouched by each other; industrialization, technology and exponential population growth has forced most cultures, whether voluntary or not, to delve into some kind of relationship with each other. Sadly, the most powerful parts of the world believe the rest of the world is there for the taking and, based on their position on the ‘development spectrum’, much of the world’s cultures are at the mercy of a select few.

Global powerhouses have imposed their ethnocentric ideologies upon each part of the world they ‘conquer.’ In the process, many beautiful cultures along with their religions, faiths, beliefs and treasures have been destroyed. If not completely destroyed, imposed upon, threatened, judged and made fringe from the ‘right way to live.’ The root of all destruction, beneath greed, power and wealth is fear—fear of what we refuse to take the time to understand, learn from and potentially embrace.

There are many philosophies on the purpose of schooling and education, but I think the majority of us can agree on at least a few objectives. Education is meant to intellectually develop our children, assist them in entering the workforce and cultivate a sense of social membership and moral responsibility.

How can our children act socially and morally responsible on the global spectrum or within their own communities if we have denied them a complete understanding of our social context and skewed their view of the land?

Our social world is made up of diverse norms, mores and folkways that define cultural identities. These socially defined customs dictate what is right and wrong, power relations and appropriate social behavior (formal and informal) ultimately, all ways in which we perceive ourselves, each other, the world and how we relate and interact in our relationships with each.

Despite what many people tell themselves to maintain comfort, these social rules are not ‘the way things have always been’ or ‘what everyone does.’ These rules, oozing with historical context, make up the social construction of reality in which we live. Reality, and the rules that define it, are always transforming, morphing and changing. We have influence and impact on how reality is constructed and that makes us, as the care takers of our children, responsible for the lens they view the world through.

We have a responsibility to teach our children about how the world has come to be the way it is. How can we conceive of teaching history or social studies without talking in depth about religion? It is manipulative, irresponsible, dangerous and riddled with lies. How can we expect our children to understand, empathize, respect difference and collectively inhabit the global community if we refuse to educate them about the diverse foundations and contexts of their world? It is absurd.

How our children socially construct their world view has a direct impact on how they act socially and morally. When we ‘falsify’ or attempt to completely remove religious beliefs from our children’s societal lens, we are blindfolding them from an integral facet of the world’s social discoursea world they will, one day, be in charge of. We are wrongfully manipulating their construction of reality.

Our world is inundated with ignorance and fear. Dangerous generalizations, lack of education, ingrained nonacceptance and judgement in our children will only precipitate the already existing misunderstanding, ill treatment and neglect of the beauty of diversity we have on this planet. We are perpetuating arrogance, ignorance and fear that, based on history and present day, we don’t handle wellwe bully, inflict pain, segregate, destroy and kill. When we approach or discuss religion with angst, tension, negativity and judgement, we are pre-defining, in a detrimental way, how our children conceptualize, understand and mentally construct a powerful force of our history, present day and our future.

Religion is not simply something of the past. There are approximately 7 billion people living on this planet and over 80 percent of us have labelled ourselves as religious or adhering to some level of faith. For some perspective, approximately 14 percent of the population have cars, roughly 7 percent have completed university and about 42 percent are employed. More people have a definitive faith than all individuals who drive cars, complete university and are employed and that is assuming those three categories don’t overlap (which of course, they do).

Religion, faith and belief systems have a way of stirring up a sense of anxiety and fear within many of us. There are no definite answers or proof to be found that any one ideology is the right one. This notion, the numerous ways in which religious texts are interpreted and fear have been a ‘perfect storm’ for hatred and war. So, we fuel this by refusing to talk about itrefusing to shed some light and understanding on what ‘all the fuss’ is about?

Continuing to keep our children in the dark about religion is perpetuating our own ignorance and fear onto them and disabling them in the global community we have created for them. Our community is filled with diverse ways of engaging in the power of faith and it is an integral part of that landscape. This is a treasure for our children if we enlighten them instead of oppress them.

Oppressing our children by keeping the diversity of religion and faith in the dark suppresses their internal, innate desire to believe, question, investigate and explore the meaning of their existence. That is an injustice.

Deepak Chopra puts it beautifully when he says,

There is a light within each of us that can never be diminished or extinguished, it can only be obscured by forgetting who we are in the words of Carl Jung, as far as we can discern our sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being. We are far more than mere beings, we are brilliant enlightened spiritual beings created with a divine spark that can light the flames of love and joy throughout the world.

Do not doubt the capacity of your children. Believe in them and empower them to embrace the world through knowledge and education. Do not endanger them with the bigotry, ignorance, judgement and fear that has been historically ingrained in us. Religion is not something we should be afraid of nor should it make us feel threatened.

The idea that our children may choose to redefine their faith if they are exposed to the world religions often leads to discomfort or fear. Children should not be indoctrinated into any religion; they should be educated about them in all of their diversity. Our education system should embrace a program that allows a safe, open, calm and enlightened environment for all religion and faith to be critically discussedthat includes their own as well. Participation in any religion should be done from a position of full understanding of its history and context. Children have a right to know that there is more than one way to live life. Just because they were born into a specific family, that does not mean that the rest of the world has got it wrong.

Acknowledge your resistance and own it.

Be aware that the lens you view the world through has been culturally definedthis means if you were born in another part of the world, you construction of reality would be different. Provide your children with the knowledge and development they need to engage with the diverse world they are entering into.

Our children are not growing up in the same world context that we did anymore than we did relative to our parents. Each generation cultivates change from what ‘isn’t working’ for the time while simultaneously attempting to ‘set up’ a ‘better situation’ for our youth. While we discard some of the past, earlier generations resist that change.

Resistance is based in attachment and fear; two converging paths to pain and unhappiness.

If you are going to be afraid of anything, be afraid that, for self serving needs, we continue to manipulate the lens in which our children see the world, we are disabling their agencytheir ability to cultivate their genuine selves.

Do not attempt to extinguish their internal light and innate desire to be a part of something bigger than we can fully understand. Guide them, offer them support, strength and confidence so they can cultivate understanding, empathy, peace and faith in our time here. Maybe we can find the strength and courage to join them.


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Ed: Sara Crolick 


About Stephanie Sefton

Stephanie Sefton is a daughter, sister and mother. She is a friend, a partner and a loved one who practices and teaches yoga while dabbling in many forms of creative expression. She is a perpetual collector of knowledge and a student of life. Her yoga practice, like her life, is a process, not a destination.


21 Responses to “Put Religion Back in School. ~ Stephanie Sefton”

  1. Kathy says:

    Nicely written article, but it doesn't confront reality. When religion is in school, a certain religion is uppermost and is the one that everyone is supposed to follow. And for people who don't believe in a religion or god, why should they have to? Teaching something like a comparative religion course? Fine. Having prayer in school? No. That is how the majority end up turning into the American Taliban.

  2. Scott says:

    I'm on board with Kathy. Want religion in your child's school? Send them to a privately funded religious school.

  3. Stephanie says:

    Kathy and Scott, thank you both for taking the time to read my article. There are parts of your comments that I agree with and other parts that are, in fact, part of the foundation of why I wrote it.

    Religion and faith are very much a part of the world's reality. The world is diverse and our education system should reflect what world we are preparing them to function in. We teach them to be literate so they can communicate, mathematics so they can economically participate, geography, sciences and environmental studies to understand the fragility and complexity of physical bodies and the ecosystem, physical education and sports to promote health and social skills, and, history and social studies to cultivate an understanding of how we have come to be, empathy and understanding for the diversity of all people. Religion was, and for many, still is a driving force in how they choose to live. Our children have a right to understand and know the full context of how the dynamic of the world has come to be. If they do not know the whole story nor can they see the whole picture, how can they possibly make responsible decisions about their own participation?

    In terms of indoctrination in school and a comparative religious program, here are my thoughts from the article:
    "Children should not be indoctrinated into any religion; they should be educated about them in all of their diversity. Our education system should embrace a program that allows a safe, open, calm and enlightened environment for all religion and faith to be critically discussed—that includes their own as well. Participation in any religion should be done from a position of full understanding of its history and context."

    "That is how the majority end up turning into the American Taliban" is an ill informed generalization – these kinds of statements are dangerous.

    Our population need a well rounded education (not to be mistaken with indoctrination) about religion, the historical context of each, their true purpose (not our misguided view) and what happens when it has been radicalized. If religion is taught as a course – not prayer, not participation in specific religious practices and not sacramental events – it would not impede on their individual beliefs – it would be educating them that there are other ways of life besides there own – that is not a bad thing – it makes parents uncomfortable, not children.

  4. Ralph Monkman says:

    I agree with Kathy. The writing is excellent. It's just too bad that she had to include Deepak Chopra's coment on religion. If religion is included in the school teachings it would be nice to see opinions expressed by writers like Dawkins, and Harris, and Dennett, and Hitchens. The atheists of the world have just as much a right to be heard as any others; more so in my opinion.

  5. Sara says:

    Beautifully written, and I agree in theory. In practice, I don't have much confidence in administrators to "get it right" in curriculum. Comparative religious studies in high school is wonderful, but I have yet to see any kind of educational tools for young children that successfully imparts the idea "this is what this group of people believes, these are their customs for these reasons" without children coming away from that lesson with a true understanding of the difference between fact and belief. My daughters attend elementary school in a rural Canadian village, where there is not technically supposed to be religion taught in school, but they take part in a Christmas concert every year, so obviously there is some discussion of Christian tradition and beliefs; these beliefs are generally presented as fact. As atheists, our family is in an awkward minority, not willing to press the point that teachers are crossing a line because we don't want to ruin the experience that so many families (ours included) enjoy as a community every year. The efforts to be inclusive in this event border on laughable – usually a throwaway joke about lighting the Menorah, equating Hanukkah as the "Jewish Christmas". I've had some great conversations with my kids, but it's difficult for them to understand the subtle difference between what we believe versus what most of their friends believe. I think most kids this age are looking for a black and white answer about who's right, and things like what happens after you die – mysteries of faith are difficult to teach to the very young, from a neutral place.

  6. Kim says:

    Parents are a child's first and best teacher. If you want your children to know about many different religions, then teach them yourself. The State should not be in charge of religious education for our children.

  7. Becky says:

    Teaching religion and teaching about religion are two separate things. You seem to be describing why it is important that we teach about world religions, and public schools do. But the phrase "put religion back in school" and the photo of the kids praying is teaching religious indoctrination itself, which is a wholly separate thing. I have a degree in Religious Studies, and I am also a teacher, but neither have anything to do with praying or practicing a religion. Schools have a responsibility to teach about the world, and kids should know what Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, etc. are. Individuals and families also have the right to bring up their children in a religion (or not) as they choose. Religious practice does not belong in a public school.

  8. MatBoy says:

    Couldn't agree more. The State is not a monolith and all politicians have an agenda; those in control will attempt to impose their will and vision on the population. Many believe they have a mandate, even a responsibility to do this. School prayer is a divisive issue in most of the US, especially in more religiously fundamentalist areas. I believe you are inviting big money into the election if you let local governments or school boards make decisions on religion in school. Suddenly the boards become a religious battleground instead of focusing on educational excellence.

  9. scout4282001 says:

    If the government allowed religion to be taught in schools a hundred years ago you wouldn't have been allowed to write this article today. Allow religion to taught in schools today and you couldn't write this 20 years from now. The number one rule of any religion (Buddhism is not a religion) is that you can't believe in any other religions. Well written article but Jefferson got it right.

  10. Stephanie says:

    Becky, I agree with you completely. Many of the comments and feedback I am getting make me feel as though the point of my article is being missed and perhaps the pictures and the title are the reason for that. Perhaps an adjustment to both would assist in my attempts to explain that the discourse in which we use to discuss religion needs to change – here it seems, in terms of title and photo, I have fallen into the trap that I believe needs to change.

  11. Stephanie says:

    I wish I could agree with you regarding parents being a child's best teacher but if that was the case, racism, bigotry, sexism, bullying and the like would not be so prevalent or even exist for that matter. Our children are not born believing they are different, superior, better or 'right' relative to others – we as parents ingrain that into our children.

    Religious education is not interchangeable with religious indoctrination – these are very different concepts. Our lack of education regarding the unique diversity of cultures (which includes religion) along with our ethnocentric outlook is greatly responsible for the state of our global environment. Much of what we are trying to communicate as well as what is being communicated to us is gravely being lost in translation not only because of direct language barriers but also because of our inability to contextually understand what is being conveyed.

    We, as parents, should not be attempting to make duplicates of ourselves – we don't necessarily have it right. Many of us grew up in a religious context that we do not practice or participate in any longer. That does not mean it does not exist nor does it mean it did not have a profound influence on us – unfortunately, for a lot of us it has left a bad taste in our mouths and we project that onto those around us including our children.

  12. Stephanie says:

    Ralph, having a contextual education about global religions and beliefs systems would most definitely include the ideologies of atheism.

    I did not specifically list atheism nor did I list the approximate 21 major religions of the world or any other belief systems either – I wasn't leaving anyone out or including anyone specific.

    This would be the point of religious education, not indoctrination – to educate about the diversity of belief systems that contextualize the world view of all individuals our children will interact with. The assumption that what is right for one is right for all is not working – the discourse needs to change.

    I selected words from Deepak Chopra because of his secular positioning.

    Deepak's quote is not specifically about religion. His spiritual philosophy is, in fact, secular. The point I was making through his quote was his belief that "we should seek happiness and spirituality within ourselves, and not look for external guidance from organized religion."
    I think it is fair to say that we, as a global community, not only want but are in desperate need of genuine peace and happiness.

  13. @GEvolving says:

    Based on the comments, I'm not sure everyone read the article. The title and picture are intentionally provocative, but the content, as I read it, is that children (and many adults) need to be educated on world religions and how they impact our lives daily. The American, Christian-centric "education" children receive in public schools today is unacceptable if we are to raise a generation of open-minded global citizens.

  14. Stephanie says:

    Yes yes yes!!! Sigh.

  15. smallgrl says:

    Stephanie, I get you! Your article makes me think of when I first started going to college after high school, and finally things made sense. I finally got to choose to learn about things that seemed relevant to me: Religious Studies, Art History, Sociology. That religious studies class really opened my eyes. And I think that it would not be that difficult to teach children (at least, youth) about various religions without bias. Who knows, kids might even be more engaged, interested, and open-minded if this kind of thing were standard. I would have been more engaged in high school, at least, were I learning at this level.

  16. MatBoy says:

    most American teachers are Christian-centric, just as most voters who elect school boards are Christian-centric. At this juncture to allow the teaching of world religion in schools would, in most places, simple reflect the views of the christian majority. Could you imagine a christian fundamentalist teaching about islam, or any other religion. I am sure such a teacher would be hard-pressed to hold back her point of view while introducing other religions. I fear introducing such a program is likely to do much more harm than good, unfortunately.

  17. A Reader says:

    Highly emotive writing, a bait-and-switch between spirituality and religion with the added sprinkling of secular thoughts miss-used in an effort to gain credence…

    If we want to refer to to Deepak, remember he also said,

    “You are not your religion…”.

    This lesson can be best be taught by letting schools become a safe haven from ALL religious practices, symbols, uniforms/fashion accessories, the use of the word ‘god’ etc.

    I’d like to hope that the article is actually about educating children that a thing called religion exists. Showing them horrendous deeds performed in the name of, or justified by, religion through history (and still happening today).

    We educate our children on the dangers of guns and global fast food outlets in an effort to make the world a better place. So it only stands to reason we give them a crash course in the various multinational corporations who peddle religion in exchange for power and profit.

    But first spend time teaching children critical thinking and give them skills on finding their own identity from within before exposing their vulnerable minds to the beguiling meme of religion. As evidenced, religion has and will always target under developed and vulnerable thinkers.

    It’s hard enough teaching sex education classes and at the same protecting our children from porn. I guess we could try to educate them ‘about’ religion without them being exposed to its more than 50 shades of grey.

    Although, is it really ever possible to practice ‘safe religion’?

    Do we incorporate religious studies with marketing studies during the classes about ethics, or lack thereof? At the practical level, for the time-poor teacher with an overflowing curriculum, I suggest one could suggest tacking the lessons about religion onto the end of the lessons about pedophiles. Bearing in mind we don’t need or want to have ‘pedophile schools’ just so that kids can learn about all the horrible things that have been done to innocent children in the name of pedophilia.

    “Resistance is based in attachment and fear…”

    …So is religion. A healthy wariness of religion is not a weakness, it’s wise.

    Let the kids know the dangers, then move on.

  18. guest says:

    No one would have a problem with comparative religion in school. The problem is promoting one specific (e.g. christian) religion, prayers before sports games invoking implicitly or explicitly a specific god. If religion were taught as a comparative class, like philosophy, fundamentalists would still object. When people request to keep religion out of schools they request the proselytizing or promotion to be kept out, not the educational part ( as in: those are religions and that'S what they do, no right/wrong) I had comparative religion in high school and it was the best class ever.

  19. Ramona M. says:

    Before we could even attempt to educate children about the worlds religions, we would have to acknowledge that freedom of choice in ones life is a right that should not be abridged by any entity. People are quick to judge, without all the basic information. A human being is educated for the sole purpose of making choices in their lives that are willing to accept responsibility for. They are slaves to society. They owe no one anything. They should do what fulfills them. The only hard and fast rule is do not kill. Because you do not have the power to give life, you should not exercise the power to take it away. Without killing the power to subject human beings to whatever they are not interested in, would be greatly reduced. Live and let live.
    Ramona M.

  20. Aarsh_Pandya says:

    Hello to all,

    My name is Aarsh Pandya.I am the photographer of this photo.I feel good that my photo is used in this nice article.But, let me explain the story behind this photo:

    This photo was taken at slum area of Gandhinagar, Gujrat, India.This photo is very special in manner of life time memories.I took this photo when I visited one slum area in gandhinagar where one NGO named as YUVA UNSTOPPABLE is running project named as "Weekend School Project". In that project volunteers teach kids in very well manner like school but, with more fun. At the end of the every teaching session they did prayer which is related to their teachers their "gurus". The prayer is very famous in HIndu religion and the prayer is " Guru Bhramha….Guru Vishnu…". So, I called it's very right way of teachings.

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