Education

Why Religious Literacy in Schools Matters

For both parents and educators, it's a critical time to reach out to our teachers and school leaders.

group of african american college students studying together
Photo Credit: michaeljung

As 2015 rolls to a close, families around the nation are taking the time to count their blessings. Many parents and children have taken pen to paper to write notes of gratitude to their schools and teachers. My own family is so grateful for being part of an incredible public school system in Arlington Heights, Illinois. Our children are flourishing under the guidance of their dedicated school staff and the positive environment that is consistently maintained in the buildings. As an educator, I know how much thought is given to every aspect of learning and teaching and we are so grateful for the benefits this carries for our children.

For both parents and educators, I believe it is a critical time to reach out to our teachers and school leaders that support educational efforts in our great nation. The current political climate in our country and the media outlets have words like "Islamophobia" trending, accompanied by stereotypes about Muslims. With more than 5 million American Muslims in the Unites States, our schools serve many children who practice this faith. The children are caught in a cross fire of negative media messages and political slogans. American Muslim youth are having a hard time processing statements that seem like attacks to their beliefs. They are confused as to why people in their own country, a nation founded on religious freedom are attacking their faith identity. Some even dread the school playground and other social platforms for fear of being bullied or facing critical faith-based questioning.

As educators we know very well that one can not judge a whole group by the evils committed by a few--in this case we cannot judge 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, for the wrongful action of Daesh, who also inappropriately choose to call themselves ISIS. Just like it would be wrong to condemn a whole faith group for the actions of the Nazi's or the Ku Klux Klan. American Muslim parents are very concerned about the negative messages constantly being bombarded from the media, and its effects on the children's sense of identity and safety. Like most parents, they also place great importance in nurturing their children to be exemplary global citizens instilling in them values of service and good. 

Parents of all belief systems want to ensure that their children are safe at school. Additionally, Muslim parents also want to be sure that all students including their own have a strong mutual understanding and respect for each other. As our nation's educators it is imperative that we take the following steps: 

  1. To bring awareness to schools and other educational institutions of the concerns regarding the consequences of stereotyping and negative media messages about any identity group including Muslims 
  2. To lean on educators' leadership expertise to discuss proactive steps that should be taken or are being taken to make sure school teams are aware of the rising incidents of religious bullying in our nation's schools and communities
  3. To discuss how our schools are working on building a strong sense of understanding between diverse groups based on faith and culture, which are also listed as global awareness skills by the Partnership for 21st Century Learning: "a. Using 21st century skills to understand and address global issues. b. Learning from and working collaboratively with individuals representing diverse cultures, religions and lifestyles in a spirit of mutual respect and open dialogue in personal, work and community contexts." 

It is evident that promoting religious literacy is an essential skill. As the Harvard Religious Literacy Project states, "Understanding these complex religious influences is a critical dimension of understanding modern human affairs. In spite of this awareness, there remains a widespread illiteracy about religion that spans the globe. There are many consequences of this illiteracy, but the most urgent is that it fuels conflict and antagonisms and hinders cooperative endeavors in all arenas of human experience."

Our American Muslim students are counting on us for our consistent efforts in doing what's best for our nation's schools. As educators, let us continue to rise to the challenge of meeting the needs of each and every child.

 

Founder & CEdO of InnovusED . Global Educator. Social Entrepreneur . Promotes Women & Youth Service Leadership.

 

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