The following guidelines can help you address the concerns that often surround teaching about religion in the public school classroom:
- Preface the unit of study with a letter to parents outlining objectives and offering dialogue. Explain that you will be helping students learn about various religions without promoting any of them.
- Let students know up front that faith, or lack thereof, is a very personal matter and that they do not have to profess any religious beliefs in order to participate in the unit.
- As part of your own preparation, visit local places of worship to enhance your understanding of different faiths and to make contacts for possible class activities.
- As the class surveys religious traditions, stick to the facts (date and place founded, basic beliefs and practices, significant people). Avoid interpreting issues of faith, and focus on religion as an aspect of culture: It is part of what makes people who they are. Artifacts such as prayer rugs, menorahs and crucifixes remind us of this role.
- Provide a relevant framework by focusing on the similarities among faiths. This comparative approach can also prompt effective art, music and writing activities.
- When choosing religious texts, such as the Qur'an, try to find authentic or bilingual editions so students can see different languages and formats. Both Arabic and Hebrew read from right to left, so, from an English-language perspective, the books are laid out "backwards." Use this difference to discuss how individuals might make assumptions about scriptures and religions with which they are not familiar.
- Arrange for the class to visit various places of worship. Make it clear to your contact person that you wish to be observers only and not participants in the service.
- Invite guest speakers to the classroom, but alert them ahead of time to the need for objectivity. Any discussion about religion can quickly become personal, so stress that the purpose of the visit is not to have students examine their own faith but simply to expose them to various belief systems.