It's time to teach religion in schools
Yuba City can be characterized as a religious city — whether it be Christianity, Islam, Buddhism or Sikhism, the majority of our population practices a religion. In fact, soon we will host one of the largest religious gatherings in the Western United States — the 33rd annual Sikh Parade. But just how much does the general population know about its own religious diversity? Chances are, not much.
In a survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, which included 32 questions about several aspects of religion, respondents answered a measly average of 16 questions correctly. In other words, America got an F in religion, which means it's time to get studying — and that is exactly what River Valley High School's History of Religion class is doing.
"(History of Religion) was designed at the request of some of my students from World History the first year the school was open," said course instructor Leslie Lee.
The class aims to explain and explore the contemporary religions of the world through textbook readings, lectures, individual research and even meditation.
"The course is significant because it creates more awareness of the different cultures in the world, and it shows how religion shaped history, caused conquest, expanded our knowledge base and so on," Lee said.
Religion has certainly shaped a large part of human history, and RVHS students are enthused to learn about it. Junior Leanne Jarvis said, "History of Religion allows us to learn things we wouldn't otherwise learn in traditional history classes. It gives us a better appreciation for world cultures."
Although Lee values the historical importance of religion, she also recognizes the significance of the skill set her students will gain. "Hopefully, students will get a broader perspective on life and a more open mind, the ability to see beyond the differences that are often touted — especially in the news media," she said.
"Hopefully, they'll come away from the class with the tools to look at religion through a new lens, and while they can have their own personal beliefs about something, that doesn't necessarily mean they have to tell everyone else they're wrong, but rather have an open and intelligent discourse about it," Lee added.
"Learning about religion helps in getting to know others. Oftentimes, people get misjudged and misunderstood because of their religious beliefs," said junior Harkiren Everest.
Clearly, the benefits of teaching religion in schools are numerous. Even Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark acknowledged this in Abington School District v. Schempp (1963) when he wrote, "One's education is not complete without a study ... of the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization."
RVHS has made the first steps toward greater understanding, but now it's time for the movement to spread throughout Sutter County and beyond. Students have the right to learn about religion — a topic that affects more lives than virtually any other subject — and it's about time we taught them.
Alejandra Cervantes is a senior at River Valley High School. Her column appears every six weeks in Education.