Somewhere around Thanksgiving, we’re bombarded with the commercial celebration of the holidays.
Schools are no exception, and the hype is difficult to ignore. Is this a great time for our students to study the holidays celebrated throughout the globe?
The key is to change our multicultural religious education from “Christmas around the World” to “world religions.” Our country is one of the most religiously diverse nations in the world. If we want our students to develop religious tolerance we must work to eliminate religious ignorance. Our focus on religions cannot be centered on Christian holidays, but should be taught throughout the year and encompass an array of religions.
Technology has helped us become a global society with vast resources and information at our fingertips. Unfortunately a vast amount of misinformation is also available. It is our job to teach students how to differentiate between the two.
We have evidence that teaching students about world religions makes them more tolerant and understanding but does not undermine their personal beliefs. However, it is also important that we stay within the bounds of the First Amendment by teaching about religious celebrations without celebrating them in schools. Research skills and media literacy are an important place to start.
The interfaith calendar or the BBC Religion websites are helpful when assigning students (alone or in groups) short research projects throughout the year. A teacher can make a list of the religious holidays and dates and assign holidays for students to research one month in advance of the holiday. These student projects can include identifying the religion's main symbols, key figures, special texts, places of worship and key holidays.
Students can also write a short paragraph about basic beliefs. They can create an interactive poster through Glogster or use Windows Movie Maker to put together a simple five-minute multimedia presentation to present on the date of their holiday.
Avoid the “holiday rush” and validate the study of other religions throughout the year. Teaching Tolerance offers lessons, activities, blogs and information on how to appropriately integrate the teaching of world religions to help our students have a better understanding of the world and perspectives of the people around them.
Wozniak is director of curriculum and technology and a former middle school robotics teacher in New Jersey.