Yes, let’s teach public school students about religion



Having recently dissed Vice President-elect Mike Pence for suggesting that creationism should be taught in science classes in public schools, I should qualify my rejection of the idea.

Creationism has no legitimate place in a science curriculum — except perhaps as an example of nonsense. But religion deserves a sharper focus in the classroom than it currently receives in public schools.

Of course, valid history is going to touch upon the profound role of religion in the rise of virtually every civilization. American history alone is an account of religious influences among settlers in the New World. But few, if any, primary or secondary public schools deal objectively with religion as a subject of study on its own. Rather, it’s more commonly treated secondarily. The unfortunate result, for example, is that students in public schools generally know little or nothing about the important distinctions between Puritans and Pilgrims in early New England.

This tendency toward superficiality in teaching about religion is born, no doubt, of a reluctance to give offense. But history is history. A history lesson is not valid if political correctness requires that certain religious influences are glossed over or omitted altogether. There are reasons why Irish Catholics militated toward police work in big cities and why Southern Baptists sometimes were reluctant to grant fundamental rights to African-Americans. If students in public schools are not taught about these things, they’re getting cheated.

By the same token, it’s insufficient to teach about the anti-Catholic bias faced by John F. Kennedy when he ran for president in 1960 without dealing frankly with the roots of that prejudice. It didn’t just pop up out of nowhere. The bias had a history of its own. But the schools don’t teach about that. Nor do they teach about countless other aspects of religious history in America and elsewhere in the world.

The kind of curriculum I’m favoring here cannot easily be established. There’s bound to be resistance among religionists of all sorts. But the consequence of this reluctance is a widespread belief in an incomplete history, which, by definition, is a false history.