The School Holiday Calendar

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Objectives: 

Activities for the early grades (3-5) meet the following objectives:

  • analyze a complex social problem, and
  • identify solutions to such a problem.

Activities for the middle grades (6-8) and high school (9-12) meet the following objectives:

  • read and understand a newspaper article;
  • gather, organize and evaluate the relevance of data;
  • analyze a complex social problem;
  • identify and evaluate solutions to such a problem, and
  • differentiate between fact and opinion.

Essential Questions: 

  • What holidays do people of different religions celebrate?
  • Should religious holidays be school days off?
  • What factors should school and government leaders consider when deciding?
  • How do we balance the needs of students to participate in their religious traditions with laws that require students to attend school enough days a year to get a quality education?
  • What is the difference between fact and opinion?

Materials Needed: 

New Yorkers are asking whether or not Muslim holidays should be school holidays, as some Christian and Jewish holidays are. This question is relevant in many cities, districts and states. The activities ask students to engage with the question and think critically about best actions to take.

Framework
This week’s activities jump off from the following news story, published in the Wall Street Journal on Sept. 15, 2009: “Muslims Press for School Holidays in New York City.”

Although these classroom activities primarily focus on Christianity, Islam and Judaism, we encourage you to adapt this lesson purposefully and thoughtfully to include beliefs of religions and faith traditions (e.g., Hinduism, Taoism and/or Buddhism) represented in your school and the students’ communities.

Professional Development
You can read some general guidelines about how to teach about religious holidays, see Teaching Tolerance’s resource, Religious Holidays.

GLOSSARY

Christmas |ˈkrisməs|
(noun) This Christian holiday celebrates the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Christians believe Jesus was the son of God. They celebrate the holiday by feasting, giving gifts, and being with family. The holiday falls on December 25 each year.

Eid Ul-Adha |ēd oŏl ˈädə|
(noun) This Muslim holiday marks the end of the hajj, which is the pilgrimage to the holy city of Makkah that every Muslim must take during his or her life. Eid Ul-Adha is a day of thanksgiving and is celebrated by everyone, not just by those who make the pilgrimage in a given year. It commemorates the belief that Abraham obeyed God’s command to sacrifice his son Ishmael. The holiday is one of remembrance and forgiveness.

Eid Ul-Fitr |ēd oŏl ˈfētr|
(noun) This holiday marks the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month. The name of the holiday means “Festival of Fast-Breaking,” which refers to breaking the fast (not eating) that is observed from sunup to sundown every day during Ramadan. People celebrate the holiday by praying, feasting, and visiting family. They also give to charity, which is required of every Muslim.

Good Friday |goŏd ˈfrīdā|
(noun) Good Friday is the day Christians believe that Jesus died. Three days later, on Easter Sunday, they celebrate their belief that Jesus rose from the dead after being executed by Roman soldiers. Good Friday is marked with prayer; Easter is celebrated with feasting. Both holidays are observed during early to late spring.

Passover |ˈpasˌōvər|
(noun) Passover celebrates the freeing of Jewish slaves from Egypt. The holiday lasts for eight days, usually in March or April. During Passover, Jews eat matzo (unleavened bread) because those fleeing from Egypt did not have time to allow their bread to rise. People mark the holiday in a special prayer service at home.

Yom Kippur |ˈyôm kiˈpoŏr|
(noun) Yom Kippur, usually in September or October, is the holiest day of the year for the Jewish community. The name of the holiday means “Day of Atonement.” To atone means to apologize. On Yom Kippur, Jews ask for forgiveness for the things they have done wrong during the year. They pray and fast from sundown one day to sundown on the next day.

EARLY GRADES (3-5)

Social Studies

1. Every religion includes important holidays. Christians celebrate Christmas and Easter. Jews celebrate Yom Kippur and Passover. Muslims celebrate Eid Ul-Fitr and Eid Ul-Adha. Your teacher will explain these holidays. As a class, discuss their meanings.

2. Your teacher will tell you about some people who want Muslim holidays recognized on the New York City school calendar. As you listen to the story, think about the holidays that are marked on your own school calendar.

3. Complete the handout, Religious and School Holidays, to help you understand how the issue relates to your own school district.

4. As a class, discuss your answers to the last three questions. What do you think Mayor Bloomberg should do? Why?

Reading/Language Arts/ELL

1. Write a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Give him your suggestion for how to deal with the issue of multiple holidays during the school year. In your letter, give two reasons why you think the action is the right one to take.

MIDDLE GRADES (6-8)

Social Studies

1. Every religion has important holidays. Christians celebrate Christmas and Easter. Jews celebrate Yom Kippur and Passover. Muslims celebrate Eid Ul-Fitr and Eid Ul-Adha. The handout, Religious and School Holidays, provides a description of each of these holidays. In pairs or small groups, read these descriptions. Then circle the holidays that correspond with the holidays on your school calendar.

2. Now read the news story that is the basis for this week’s lesson. Based on information in the story, answer the questions on the handout.

3. With your group, complete the following activity. Use the information in the article as background. Your goal is to decide whether or not to make Muslim holidays into school days off. You are to assume the role of the city council of a city where 10 percent of the population is Muslim. It is also true in your city that children are required to attend school for at least 180 days a year, and that other cities in your region have found solutions. Vote on the best solution and present it to the class.

4. Compare the presentations given by all of the groups. As a class, try to reach a consensus on the best solution.

Reading/Language Arts/ELL

1. The Wall Street Journal story includes both facts and opinions about the issue of school holidays. Facts are statements that we agree are true. Opinions are statements that reflect a personal belief. In pairs or small groups, read the story. Use a straight line to underline facts in the story. Use a wavy line to underline opinions that are given in the story. (Hint: Opinions are usually given by people who are quoted for the story.) Separate the facts from the opinions. Do the facts support the idea of including Muslim holidays on New York City’s school calendar? Write your answer in one sentence at the top of a piece of paper. Below it, make a numbered list of facts that support your answer. Compare your statement and supporting facts with another group’s and discuss any differences.

HIGH SCHOOL (9-12)

Social Studies

1. Every religion has important holidays. Christians celebrate Christmas and Easter. Jews celebrate Yom Kippur and Passover. Muslims celebrate Eid Ul-Fitr and Eid Ul-Adha. As a class, discuss the reasons for and details of each of these holidays. This site’s glossary provides definitions of them.

2. Discuss these holidays in relation to your school calendar. Which of them are on the school holiday calendar? Which are not?

3. In small groups, read the Wall Street Journal story, “Muslims Press for School Holidays in New York City.” Discuss the answers to the following questions: What percentage of students in the New York public schools are Muslim? What “political aspect” has come up regarding the question of Muslim holidays becoming school days off? Why has Mayor Bloomberg opposed the idea of including Muslim holidays on the school calendar? How did the Hillsborough County, Florida, schools deal with the question of religious holidays? What action has New York’s city council taken regarding the holidays?

4. According to the article, 10 percent of students in New York schools are Muslim. Using the Internet, find out the religious composition of your own community, town, or state by following the directions on the handout, Demographics and School Holidays. Complete the table on the handout.

5. As a class, discuss how the demographics in your school district compare to those in New York City. Are those demographics reflected in your school holiday calendar?

6. On your own, write a 250-word essay explaining the demographics of your school district and how the district might consider them in drafting next year’s school calendar.

Reading/Language Arts/ELL

1. The Wall Street Journal story presents several potential solutions to dealing with the issue surrounding religious holidays and school calendars. List the solutions being discussed both in New York City and elsewhere around the nation. Based on the facts and opinions in the story, which solution do you think has the best chance of working? Why?

2. Individually or in pairs, create a presentation designed to persuade Mayor Michael Bloomberg to adopt your solution. In the presentation, support your point of view with factual evidence and good reasoning. Consider presenting your evidence in the form of graphics, interviews, and/or personal appeals.

Extension Activity: 

Effective learners reflect on how they learn. After
you have completed the activities, answer these questions in a journal:

  • What was most interesting of what I learned?
  • What surprised me most?
  • What questions do I have about the topic that are still unanswered?
  • How might knowing what I know now affect what I say to people or
    things that I do?