What Should Religion Do in Public Schools?

With apologies to Yogi Berra, I’ll steal his line in this case. I’m heading down to the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in San Antonio. It’s the big one for education wonks and nerds. And it’s a zoo. Like Yogi said, no one goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.

crowd

Pardon me, sir, you’re stepping on my PhD.

Why would anyone brave such crowds, heat, and academic foolery? In my case, I’m going because we’ll have a chance to wrestle with the most interesting question in the world: What is the proper relationship between religion and public education in the United States?

A panel of experts was put together by one of my all-time favorite ed historians, Ben Justice. He and his co-author Colin MacLeod just published a terrific book about religion and school. They invited me and my recent co-author Harvey Siegel. We rounded up a few more experts, including Stephanie Mitchem and Mark Chancey.

have a little faith

And you got your church all over my school…or did you get your school all over my church?

I’m looking forward to the discussion. As SAGLRROILYBYGTH are painfully aware, these are questions that keep me up at night:

  • Is it fair to creationists to force their children to learn an idea that they find religiously objectionable?
  • Do conservative evangelical Protestants have any special rights in public schools? If everyone in a town is the same (evangelical Protestant) religion, is it okay for the schools in town to lean that way, too?
  • Are public schools really hostile to religious belief? Conservatives often howl that schools are cesspools of “secular humanism,” but are they really?

And so on.

Each of us only gets a few minutes to say some things, then we’ll open up the room to a wider discussion. I’ll have a hard time keeping my opening presentation short, but I’ll try.

Watch this space—I’ll be sure to fill you in on how it all goes down.

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4 Comments

  1. Jonathan Calhoun

     /  April 28, 2017

    That they should stay the hell away from each other. Next question? Lol

    Reply
  2. I know it is premature. But I’ll comment on your three points anyway.

    Is it fair to creationists to force their children to learn an idea that they find religiously objectionable?

    How can they find it religiously objectionable before they know what it is?

    Do conservative evangelical Protestants have any special rights in public schools?

    No, at least according to the first amendment.

    If everyone in a town is the same (evangelical Protestant) religion, is it okay for the schools in town to lean that way, too?

    It is inevitable that the schools will lean that way. But they should at least attempt to give the appearance of neutrality.

    Are public schools really hostile to religious belief? Conservatives often howl that schools are cesspools of “secular humanism,” but are they really?

    No, and no.

    Reply
  3. Good grief, these are not the real questions. They are ways of tip-toeing around the real question: Should state, publicly funded schools promote a single paradigm for each discipline or a range of acceptable paradigms that excludes or specifically contradicts views students and their families may hold very dearly?

    Democracy is not about majority rule to the point that it means minorities are tyrannized. If a substantial minority that is able to win local and national elections feels it is tyrannized by the rest of the population and its hold on authority, that’s not accurate. Especially when we see conservatives feel most tyrannized when they are prevented from denying equal rights to true minorities and groups defined by intrinsic categories like race and gender.

    It’s not a nebulous matter of fairness, but of what is just and who decides. The rest is just pragmatic political problems of enforcement.

    Religious freedom does not mean students and their families get to practice medicine if they wish to do so, or take over the role of teachers, school administrators, and curriculum designers. If they want to do those things, they need to resort to private and home schooling. If the majority of a town wishes to summarily execute certain people without due process, let bartenders practice dentistry and dentists practice medicine, this is still unacceptable if you wish to have a modern united nation state.

    Clearly public schools have not been hostile enough to religious belief or this situation would not exist. More specifically public schools have not been sufficiently closed to the idea that populist inventions of false facts and conspiracy theories are valid religious or scientific beliefs. The real blame falls to political and religious conservatives who have exploited and amplified their most ignorant and easily manipulated populations to make money and gain power.

    Reply
  1. Round Peg, Square Hole | I Love You but You're Going to Hell

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