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Educating Students About Religion and Tolerance in the Classroom, and How to Accommodate for It

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Religion is a large part of  many people’s lives – whether they’re Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, or another type of belief. It can bring many people hope and help them improve their lives. It can also cause others to commit terrible acts of violence out of zealous belief. It is a part of human history, and affects life everywhere.

That also means it affects the classroom. Students, often children, hold the same beliefs as their parents. If it’s a Christian, Muslim, or Jewish school, then religious education might not be a big problem – seeing as a  majority of the students and staff hold the same (or similar) beliefs. But if it’s a public school, or private non-religious school, it might be a little trickier.

Four Questions to Keep in Mind While Teaching Religion

Whether you, as a teacher, are religious or not, the topic of religion will come up in the classroom. You may have Muslim students, or Christian students, or Hindu students, or students who are not religious. A few questions come to mind as we look at the topic of teaching religion:

  • How can you teach religion in a respectful manner to a diverse class?
  • How can you teach your students to be respectful of other beliefs?
  • How can you plan lessons that are accommodating for all students (i.e. science lessons, teaching holidays, music and songs, etc.)?
  • What can you do if you have conflict with religion in the classroom?

Let’s look at each question individually, and then discuss the answer. 

Q1: How can you teach religion in a respectful manner to a diverse class?

It’s quite possible to teach religion in an easy-to-understand and respectful manner. The best thing to do, especially with young learners, is to give a broad sense of each religion and its core beliefs.

For example, you can teach how Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all share some similar beliefs and that they put their god first. You can share how Hinduism worships a large number of gods and hold the cow as a sacred animal. Or how Buddhism doesn’t concerns itself with gods, but instead focuses on making a person more at-peace with him/herself and with the world through kindness.

You shouldn’t try to push one religion over another though – especially if it’s in a public school classroom. But even private schools should do their best to be fair when teaching world religions.

If you’re teaching older students, then you can get into more detail with each religion. If a student’s parents are uncomfortable with the idea of teaching religion, make it possible for that student to sit-out of the class and do some alternate activity that better suits them. 

Q2: How can you teach students to respect other people’s beliefs?

This is similar to the first question. Teachers should allow students to express their religious beliefs freely if possible, and then allow the rest of the class to ask any questions they have. If students are exposed to a variety of different beliefs, they can learn to be more open-minded and accepting of others.

It’s important to teach that even though people may believe different things about gods and the universe, everyone can respect those differences and discuss them politely.

Q3:  How can you plan lessons that are accommodating for all students (i.e. science lessons, teaching holidays, music and songs, etc.)?

Now this is the tricky part. While students may be already familiar with various religions and may even be religious themselves, lesson planning for the teacher is challenging. While standard subjects such as ELA, maths, social studies, or physical education aren’t hard, others like science and music pose some difficulty.

Many religions have their own versions of how the universe and humanity came to be, and scientific facts typically deny those religious stories. It’s important to teach that while religions say one thing, that should not replace what we can see, feel, touch, hear, and measure. Science and religion can be very compatible. A good science teacher makes the distinction that science helps us understand the physical universe and how we interact with it, and religion offered attempts to explain those interactions before the advent of modern science.

Again, it’s important to make sure that the teacher’s lessons reflect scientific content impartially, while allowing religious students to fit their beliefs within that framework. And if student has an issue with it, the matter can be taken care of privately after class with proper supervision and resources. 

Q4: What can you do if you have conflict with religion in the classroom?

As hard as you may try, not everyone will get along. People disagree and fights break out. In a classroom, students may argue and fight over various things, and religious could be one of them.

When this happens, it’s important to keep yourself and the rest of the class calm. When students are agitated, they may say hurtful things or physically lash out. Take the students in question to a private room with another teacher (or preferably the school counselor), have them discuss the conflict, and find a positive resolution. If no other faculty member is available, then assign some reading or other in-class work while you take the select students aside. If the problem becomes quite serious – such as bullying –  involve school administrators and notify the parents to work out a solution.

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Photo credit: chili-presbyterian.org

One of my students has a religious conflict with one of the content units in our textbook. Her beliefs inspired me to write this post. She has challenged me to create content for her as well as other students who may not be able to learn the selected content in the textbook. I hope this post helps you, too, should you ever come across this issue in your classroom.

 

Thank you for reading!

I would love to hear any similar experiences you may have had in the comment section!

 

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Filed under English, ESL, Korea, Lesson Planning, Religion, Students, Teaching