Former Education Editor Argues Children Should Learn About Religion In School

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Teaching different religions in school, from a young age, is very important in terms of encouraging religious tolerance, according to Linda Wortheimer. (AP Photo/Thomas Kienzle)
Teaching different religions in school, from a young age, is very important in terms of encouraging religious tolerance, according to Linda Wortheimer. (AP Photo/Thomas Kienzle)

In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that school-sponsored Bible reading was unconstitutional. But, the landmark ruling included a strong statement from Justice Tom Clark about the importance of religious education. Justice Clark wrote, "An education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization."

But more than a half a century later, religious education in America is fraught with controversy.

Linda K. Wertheimer, a longtime education writer who lives in Lexington, writes about it in her new book. From episodes of anti-Semitic intolerance in suburban Boston, to anti-Muslim hysteria in Texas, she writes about the challenges of teaching about religion and religious diversity in modern-day America.

She argues that if we want to educate our children about the world they're growing up in, we need to teach them about religion. And too often, that's not happening.


Linda K. Wertheimer, former education editor of The Boston Globe. Her new book is, "Faith Ed.: Teaching About Religion In An Age Of Intolerance." She tweets @Lindakwert.

Interview Highlights

On Wellesley middle-schoolers' field trip to a Roxbury mosque:
Linda K. Wertheimer:
"Wellesley had taken these kinds of field trips for many years. This was their first time to the mosque in Roxbury. ... There's a backdrop to this, because the Roxbury mosque had been controversial to a particular group in Boston called "Americans for Peace and Tolerance." And there was a parent at Wellesley Middle School that happened to be associated with that group, and she was sent in with a video camera. They didn't particularly like this mosque. They felt that some of the backers had had connections to terrorism, an accusation that the mosque refuted.

"So, in comes Wellesley Middle School with about 200 kids, and during the field trip, a male worshiper invited five boys to come up and pray. Or, really, what he said was, 'Would you like to stand with us in the line of worshipers?' And the boys said, 'Yeah, this will be kind of cool.' ... And the parent caught them on video mimicking what the worshipers were doing, and that was in the spring of 2010. In September 2010, the group put out a video that said "Wellesley Students Learn to Pray to Allah." And the thing blew up in the school district's faces."

On the fallout from the video, from the district's reaction to parents' reactions:
"First of all, the superintendent actually came out and issued an apology. And she said, 'On these field trips, it's never meant for students to participate in any sort of ritual act — they're there to observe, so we apologize for that.' Secondly, parents interestingly came out in great force to support the school system and said, 'We love this course, it is terrific.' But then, there was a third aspect of this: and they got skewered on Fox, they got skewered by the group that sent in the parents ... it was an accusation of indoctrination."

On a Texas teacher who invited students to try on burkas:
"For 15 years, [this world geography teacher] had brought in clothes from around the world for the kids to try on, and in this particular instant, she brought in several items of clothing from the Middle East. ... Five kids tried them on. One of the girls took a picture, put it on Facebook ... and that got picked up, somehow went viral. ... And once again, you're hearing these accusations of 'Oh my gosh, they're trying to convert these kids to Islam.'"


The Washington Post: Public Schools Shouldn't Preach. But They Should Teach Kids About Religion

  • "She stuck figures of Jesus Christ and his disciples on a flannel board, told us how Jesus could solve people’s problems and, a little while later, asked us all to sing the hymn, “Jesus Loves Me.” Here’s the thing: I’m Jewish."

This segment aired on September 15, 2015.


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