August 15, 2013

Put Religion Back in School. ~ Stephanie Sefton

Keeping religion out of schools is an unconscionable injustice imposed upon our children.

Our intercultural incompetence is being forced upon our children; their intelligence is gravely insulted, their world view being distorted, intolerance of ‘difference’ is perpetuated and our future projected further into jeopardy. While we keep our children uneducated about religion, they are simultaneously inundated with unfounded, frequently hateful and dangerous generalizations about all or any ‘other’ religions or faiths deemed unwelcome on their soil, in their neighborhoods and within their homes.

Our youththe future caretakers of us and our planetare being indoctrinated with the toxic, ethnocentric notion of ‘us and them’a powerful, fear-based dichotomy that plagues humanity. Ignorance and fear, now the basis of a multi-billion dollar industry, is being molded into the foundations of their beings. Religion is gravely misunderstood and has become, by default, the scapegoat for what people feel has been done to them and, whether they want to accept it or not, a foundation for rationalizing the mistreatment, segregation, ostracizing, exclusion and bullying of many global citizens.

Our children are joining in on this nightmare and we are perpetuating it by continuing to make religion and faith something to be afraid of.

We are stripping our children of their agency. We revoke their ability to act independently and make their own choices because we are enveloped in fear about things we do not understand or accept. Our children are not born believing they are different from anyone regardless of their religion or heritage. That means our societythe one we have createdis responsible for their distorted construction of reality.

Our world is no longer made up of small, separate pockets of communities untouched by each other; industrialization, technology and exponential population growth has forced most cultures, whether voluntary or not, to delve into some kind of relationship with each other. Sadly, the most powerful parts of the world believe the rest of the world is there for the taking and, based on their position on the ‘development spectrum’, much of the world’s cultures are at the mercy of a select few.

Global powerhouses have imposed their ethnocentric ideologies upon each part of the world they ‘conquer.’ In the process, many beautiful cultures along with their religions, faiths, beliefs and treasures have been destroyed. If not completely destroyed, imposed upon, threatened, judged and made fringe from the ‘right way to live.’ The root of all destruction, beneath greed, power and wealth is fear—fear of what we refuse to take the time to understand, learn from and potentially embrace.

There are many philosophies on the purpose of schooling and education, but I think the majority of us can agree on at least a few objectives. Education is meant to intellectually develop our children, assist them in entering the workforce and cultivate a sense of social membership and moral responsibility.

How can our children act socially and morally responsible on the global spectrum or within their own communities if we have denied them a complete understanding of our social context and skewed their view of the land?

Our social world is made up of diverse norms, mores and folkways that define cultural identities. These socially defined customs dictate what is right and wrong, power relations and appropriate social behavior (formal and informal) ultimately, all ways in which we perceive ourselves, each other, the world and how we relate and interact in our relationships with each.

Despite what many people tell themselves to maintain comfort, these social rules are not ‘the way things have always been’ or ‘what everyone does.’ These rules, oozing with historical context, make up the social construction of reality in which we live. Reality, and the rules that define it, are always transforming, morphing and changing. We have influence and impact on how reality is constructed and that makes us, as the care takers of our children, responsible for the lens they view the world through.

We have a responsibility to teach our children about how the world has come to be the way it is. How can we conceive of teaching history or social studies without talking in depth about religion? It is manipulative, irresponsible, dangerous and riddled with lies. How can we expect our children to understand, empathize, respect difference and collectively inhabit the global community if we refuse to educate them about the diverse foundations and contexts of their world? It is absurd.

How our children socially construct their world view has a direct impact on how they act socially and morally. When we ‘falsify’ or attempt to completely remove religious beliefs from our children’s societal lens, we are blindfolding them from an integral facet of the world’s social discoursea world they will, one day, be in charge of. We are wrongfully manipulating their construction of reality.

Our world is inundated with ignorance and fear. Dangerous generalizations, lack of education, ingrained nonacceptance and judgement in our children will only precipitate the already existing misunderstanding, ill treatment and neglect of the beauty of diversity we have on this planet. We are perpetuating arrogance, ignorance and fear that, based on history and present day, we don’t handle wellwe bully, inflict pain, segregate, destroy and kill. When we approach or discuss religion with angst, tension, negativity and judgement, we are pre-defining, in a detrimental way, how our children conceptualize, understand and mentally construct a powerful force of our history, present day and our future.

Religion is not simply something of the past. There are approximately 7 billion people living on this planet and over 80 percent of us have labelled ourselves as religious or adhering to some level of faith. For some perspective, approximately 14 percent of the population have cars, roughly 7 percent have completed university and about 42 percent are employed. More people have a definitive faith than all individuals who drive cars, complete university and are employed and that is assuming those three categories don’t overlap (which of course, they do).

Religion, faith and belief systems have a way of stirring up a sense of anxiety and fear within many of us. There are no definite answers or proof to be found that any one ideology is the right one. This notion, the numerous ways in which religious texts are interpreted and fear have been a ‘perfect storm’ for hatred and war. So, we fuel this by refusing to talk about itrefusing to shed some light and understanding on what ‘all the fuss’ is about?

Continuing to keep our children in the dark about religion is perpetuating our own ignorance and fear onto them and disabling them in the global community we have created for them. Our community is filled with diverse ways of engaging in the power of faith and it is an integral part of that landscape. This is a treasure for our children if we enlighten them instead of oppress them.

Oppressing our children by keeping the diversity of religion and faith in the dark suppresses their internal, innate desire to believe, question, investigate and explore the meaning of their existence. That is an injustice.

Deepak Chopra puts it beautifully when he says,

There is a light within each of us that can never be diminished or extinguished, it can only be obscured by forgetting who we are in the words of Carl Jung, as far as we can discern our sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being. We are far more than mere beings, we are brilliant enlightened spiritual beings created with a divine spark that can light the flames of love and joy throughout the world.

Do not doubt the capacity of your children. Believe in them and empower them to embrace the world through knowledge and education. Do not endanger them with the bigotry, ignorance, judgement and fear that has been historically ingrained in us. Religion is not something we should be afraid of nor should it make us feel threatened.

The idea that our children may choose to redefine their faith if they are exposed to the world religions often leads to discomfort or fear. Children should not be indoctrinated into any religion; they should be educated about them in all of their diversity. Our education system should embrace a program that allows a safe, open, calm and enlightened environment for all religion and faith to be critically discussedthat includes their own as well. Participation in any religion should be done from a position of full understanding of its history and context. Children have a right to know that there is more than one way to live life. Just because they were born into a specific family, that does not mean that the rest of the world has got it wrong.

Acknowledge your resistance and own it.

Be aware that the lens you view the world through has been culturally definedthis means if you were born in another part of the world, you construction of reality would be different. Provide your children with the knowledge and development they need to engage with the diverse world they are entering into.

Our children are not growing up in the same world context that we did anymore than we did relative to our parents. Each generation cultivates change from what ‘isn’t working’ for the time while simultaneously attempting to ‘set up’ a ‘better situation’ for our youth. While we discard some of the past, earlier generations resist that change.

Resistance is based in attachment and fear; two converging paths to pain and unhappiness.

If you are going to be afraid of anything, be afraid that, for self serving needs, we continue to manipulate the lens in which our children see the world, we are disabling their agencytheir ability to cultivate their genuine selves.

Do not attempt to extinguish their internal light and innate desire to be a part of something bigger than we can fully understand. Guide them, offer them support, strength and confidence so they can cultivate understanding, empathy, peace and faith in our time here. Maybe we can find the strength and courage to join them.


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Ed: Sara Crolick 

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Stephanie Sefton