Thou shalt teach history
I want to share a few thoughts with the readership concerning James Todd's Front Porch article ["The Schoolhouse Shall," Aug. 15]. He speaks of the First Amendment keeping "our government out of the business of religion". Upon that I agree. In re-reading the article, the key phrase troubling me was his comment, "I believe most parents will agree that they don't want public school teachers explaining to their children the meaning of, 'You shall have no other gods before me.'" Here, I need to disagree. By teaching why Yahweh commanded this to the people of the time, it would not be The State teaching religion. This is "the business" of history, not of religion. It is about them, then. Otherwise, why teach history? Ironically, the answer might be something like this: to learn something about our human lives, today.
Firstly, I myself haven't spoken to "most parents," nor has anyone I will ever meet. Words like "most" are the smoke in the smokescreen that passes for thinking these days. "Most people Mr. Todd has met" might have been a better expression.
More pertinently, perhaps Congress (delegating the states) would be attempting to make a law "establishing" religion in the public schools, simply by posting a copy of The Ten Commandments. However, what is being proposed is to have other historical documents regarding civil behavior posted side-by-side with it. For a teacher to shy away from explaining this particular and meaningful creed, it would show how the teacher had failed to distinguish between her or his personal creed, and that of the great leaders of our country. Any mature teacher would point to the subject at hand, without any attempt at establishing religion, personal or national. Mr. Todd says he would accept a statue of the Buddha being displayed while studying Asian cultures. Would it be inappropriate for an open-minded teacher to say why and how the millions of adherents to Buddhism revered their spiritual leader, and how it influenced daily culture and political life? The same would pertain for Christianity and Western civilizations, as he points out. Crusades were fought upon such mighty spiritual/religious principles. Shall we not teach about the Crusades? And what of Joan of Arc? Indeed, if "In God We Trust" is a cornerstone of our American culture, then explaining how the founders of our country adhered to that principle in word and deed, in daily life and political creed, would be just the education that would free a child to see how the child's own life does or doesn't contain similar core values. The child might then ask of the parent, "What do we believe in our family?" Education will have stimulated thought, rather than established a religion.
So my question is this: In what way would such open, even-handed classroom discussion be an attempt upon (the State) government's part to establish religion in our schools? Opposition to this would be perpetuating the nervous reaction the adult community typically has on all controversial topics. God (or someone) forbid my child learns meaningful human values beyond the walls of my household! Couldn't teachers tell history? That's not establishing religion, is it?
Personally, I would suggest, for educational purposes, the posting of the Commandments, alongside the cornerstones of numerous of the world's religions. Such discussion, framed correctly, would illustrate to the class a broader, and truer value: that humankind has always, in the main, relied upon great spiritual principles, ideals, leaders, and documents. Teaching respect for those who adhere to such values would make the world a finer place, I am certain.
--ALLEN BARENHOLTZ, DURHAM
Thou shalt II
The Front Porch piece on lawmakers allowing the Ten Commandments to be tacked on the walls of public school classrooms was a well-thought piece and I respect James Todd's opinion ["The Schoolhouse Shall," Aug. 15]. Still, I think there's a difference between the separation of Church and State, and Religion and State. We shouldn't promote religion in public schools. Agreed.
History, however, cannot be taught effectively without getting into religion at some point. From the fall of the Roman Empire to World War II, if you avoid talking about religion, you avoid the whole truth. Without the whole truth, students become misled.
Take the Edict of Toleration, for instance. The history surrounding it has a lot to do with religion and the way the last 150 years panned out in Europe and the Middle East. I'd say that's worth getting into in school, public or otherwise.
In my opinion, the Commandments could be used as a teaching tool, a discussion lead-in, to help students understand what happened to people, nations and the human race during certain portions of history. Other religious documents and teachers could also be used to help explain all sorts of interesting historical subjects, not the least of which would be the 1960s. Martin Luther King Jr. was not just a civil rights leader. He wanted to do God's will. He said as much all the time. To avoid a good portion of Dr. King's motivation would be like beginning an American history class in 1865.
How can we talk about current events in the Middle East without supplementing the political nature of the past 50 years with the religious undertones of the past 1,400 (at least)? Students will recognize the shallowness of the lesson.
Unfortunately, all this would involve in-depth teaching and I admit it's a tricky line to tread.
--MARK DEREWICZ, DURHAM
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