Thursday, October 18, 2007

Religion in Education

When I became a religion major my freshman year of college my poor parents shook their heads and wondered why they bothered sending me to a non-state school if I was going to waste my time in a major that I'd never be able to use. I stayed in the major because I absolutely loved the topic, knew I was going to teach elementary school and really just needed a "strong liberal arts background". (As a religion major you become good at saying that when anyone questions why on earth you chose religion...)

My first year teaching I quickly realized that I had somehow landed in a career that allowed me to use both my education background AND my religion major.

My diverse first grade class was made up of 2 Hindus from India, 1 Christian from India, 1 Muslim from North Carolina, 2 Christians from America, 1 Christian from Bulgaria, 7 Catholics from South American Countries, and 1 Jewish boy from Argentina.

We occasionally had some fairly intense religious debates. Once I was eating lunch with my little Muslim girl and one of the boys from South America, when the little Muslim girl was explaining why she didn't celebrate Halloween. "Halloween is dirty" she stated, "Just like boys and Jesus". Try telling a boy from Bolivia that Jesus is dirty. His first grade fist slammed on the table and he let out a low "JESUS IS NOT DIRTY". Quickly I tried to turn this into a discussion about how great it is that we all have different beliefs but can still be friends in first grade. Isn't America grand? MMMM.... this cafeteria food sure is yummy. Drink you're milk.

Another memorable event was one day a little boy raised his hand and asked, "Excuse me, Ms. L? Even how are you ever going to get a husband if your hair looks like that?" The class murmured in agreement. "Yes Ms. L? How even?"
One boy from India raised his and defended me, "Why Ms. L! It's easy! You just ask your parents and they will find one for you."

The most interesting were the debates between the children from India. They were all very deep-thinkers and unable to understand the differences in one another's religion since they were all from India. The Christian in the group tried explaining to the Hindus the difference. You might have many, many gods but really there are three Gods, "The Father, The Son, and The Holy Ghost". I thought that explanation made perfect sense coming from an Indian-Hindu background. One of the Hindu children however, did not. "But really, you are so sad that your Jesus God died. There are more gods than that, Sunil. There are many gods that died. Look at Krishna. Krishna died too. It's sad whenever a god dies."

I loved that class for their religious debates, their strong beliefs, and their great personalities. Since then I have had other very diverse classes but perhaps in my older, wiser teacher mentality I have sadly kept my students more on topic and limited these debates. It's funny that sometimes as we become 'better' teachers we lose out on some of the energy first and second year teachers bring to the classroom.

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