I’m a HUGE supporter of the separation of church and state. Huge.
But as a public school teacher, that doesn’t mean I can’t teach about religion. It just means I can’t tell my students that one or any religion is the RIGHT religion.
As a high school American literature teacher, it is absolutely impossible for me to teach any of the books in my curriculum without my students having some working knowledge of the Bible.
When I teach The Scarlet Letter and The Crucible, I teach my students about The Puritans and why they left England in the first place. I teach about their beliefs and about Predestination. In order for my students to get why it was SUCH A BIG DEAL that girls were dancing, they need to know why the forest was considered evil.
When we read Washington Irving’s The Devil and Tom Walker, I need to explain the biblical allusions to hell and the devil.
When we read John Steinbeck, I have to inform my students about Original Sin and Cain and Abel and the idea of a paradise lost…of fighting for perfection that will never be because of the nature of man.
When we read A Raisin in the Sun again we touch on the Prodigal Son and on the Greek mythological Titan, Prometheus.
When our 10th grade students read Night they study Jewish traditions and scripture from the Torah.
Tenth and Twelfth grade students read numerous pieces of World Lit that requires them to know about religions from Africa, Native Americans, India, and more.
In the Humanities class I used to teach, we used to look at the idea of how we as humans portray our Heroes and our Villains in different cultures. This required us to look at religions–both Christian and not.
I am lucky that in the decade that I have been teaching American Literature, not once has a parent questioned my teaching of religion alongside of the content of my classroom. But I know that is not always true.
The same people who get angry that separation of church and state means their child’s teacher can’t lead a prayer with her class, call in complaining that their child is being taught the pillars of the Islamic faith so they can better understand the content in their history class. The same parents who want a Bible class in public schools, also want to make sure literature teachers do not want their kids to know anything about Hinduism when they study Indian literature.
Religion brings communities together and rips nations apart.
In order for students to see both the blessings and the curses religion has had on the world, for them to be able to think critically about events and politics, for them to see more than one side, religion will always be in public schools.