Journalist Linda K. [not the NPR personality] Wertheimer has written a column for Time.com on why children need to start learning about world religions from an early age. Her column was prompted by a recent high school basketball game in which Catholic fans and predominately Jewish fans for respective teams traded anti-Semitic and homophobic insults across the court.
Some people, based on comments on Facebook and newspaper and television stories, link the teens’ behavior to a natural outgrowth of seeing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and/or his supporters publicly spout racist, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric. I don’t. I think the teens’ behavior stems from something more systemic in our society.
Long before Trump hit the scene, children were hurting each other with anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, anti-Sikh, and anti-Hindu statements or references. Christian children, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, haven’t been immune from being picked on because they don’t fit into the so-called norm of the majority in the U.S. Neither have atheists and agnostics.
Wertheimer, who is author of the book Faith Ed: Teaching About Religion in an Age of Intolerance, says it’s connected to an absence of early education and the resulting discrimination and hatred toward anyone different.
In public schools, since the late 1990s and early 2000s, most state standards have required teaching about the world’s religions as a part of history or geography in middle and high school. That’s too late. Some private and public schools, such as the roughly 1,200 using the Core Knowledge curriculum founded by researcher E.D. Hirsch Jr., teach about world religions to children as early as first grade. But most schools shy away from such lessons because teachers lack training about religion or educators fear backlash from parents.
But schools, using Core Knowledge’s approach as a model, can incorporate simple lessons about religion with very young children. In the first grade Core Knowledge curriculum, children receive lessons on Judaism, Christianity and Islam. They learn to identify different houses of worship like a church, mosque or synagogue. They cut out and color symbols for each faith, such as a Star of David for Judaism and a cross for Christianity. They learn, too, that Jesus is a Jew, a fact that sometimes helps prevent anti-Semitism. It’s teaching, not preaching.
Photo included in Our Town Sylvania story.