Religion Taught In School

One of last month’s comics from Tatsuya Ishida jogged my memory of high school.  I, like I’m sure many of you, attended one of Virginia’s numerous public high schools.  Mine was Harrisonburg High School.  It’s amazing the growth in the school in the eleven years since I was there.  Here are just a few random observations and questions.  They have a new building far removed from the center of the city that is just huge.  When I visited it, I found myself wandering the corridors feeling like a rat in some sort of lab experiment.  I have read that the numbers of non-native English speakers have exploded.  I would guess that such a statistic would prove an additional challenge to teachers and administrators.  Why is it that according to Wikipedia that our only notable alumni are sports athletes?  I’d like to think that our school serves to enrich both the body and the mind?  But, now I’m getting off the topic of religion in school.

If you look at the webcomic I mentioned, you might wonder how that comic has anything to do with my high school.  Well, in sophomore year, I took biology.  Let me say upfront that I really liked my biology teacher.  He was a personable guy and always took steps to make the lessons both informative and entertaining.  However, during the school year (way back in 1995-96), he mentioned to the class that he would soon discuss the topic of human evolution, not merely as theory, but as fact. These were the earliest days of my political activism having come to political awareness in the later half of 1994 and I was uncertain what I should do.  Evolution ran counter to my own religious beliefs, and I worried that my fellow classmates might fall prey to his arguments.  I believed that evolution is a theory in the same way that traditional creationism is a theory.  Both seek to explain the beginning and purpose to human existence.  Both have scientific data that support and run counter to them.  Both cannot fully be proven using empirical evidence.  Therefore, both require faith.  As a result of requiring faith, both creationism and evolution are facets of larger religious movements.  Looking back, I would expect that my facial expression on hearing such news of evolution in the classroom mimicked Seymour’s in the last panel.  I believed then, as I still do now, that theories of creationism and evolution seek to annihilate one another and using the forum of public schools and our children’s minds to achieve such ends is wholly unacceptable.

Now it would be entirely different if the teacher merely stated that he or she believed in evolution (or creationism) and taught from an equal perspective, but teaching one as a fact stifles the debate and gives school children only one side of the argument (possibly a side that differs from the wishes of their parents and their religion).  The position of a teacher can be very powerful in the minds of impressionable students and offers tremendous credibility to his or her ways of thinking.  After I had a bit of time to think, I began to gather information in favor of creationism in order to provide this balance.  Perhaps some will say that it was merely the foolish idealism of youth, the thought that a student could rebuff a teacher and his or her classmates, but I ardently believe that at any age one must stand up for his or her religious or political beliefs lest they be swept away by the popular currents of the day.

I kept waiting for the day when the teacher would bring up the subject of human evolution.  I lugged around scientific and religious texts, as well as a recorded sermon from my pastor on the topic to and from my locker.  Yet, the day never came.  Perhaps, he ran out of time to discuss the issue, or decided against such a controversial issue, or maybe, just maybe, he noticed one of his students dutifully carrying around materials opposing his point of view.  I doubt I’ll ever know.  Yet, I strongly encourage students, in a respectful manner, of course, to question their teachers, fellow students, or anyone else when they offer up teachings that run contrary to their own values.  My advice to high school and college students is simply this:  You can make a difference.  Be strong and don’t be intimidated.  And beware religion taught under the guise of science in school.

4 Replies to “Religion Taught In School”

  1. myron teaches over at emhs now…
    i’m sure he’d be very happy to have this discussion.

    my issue is that your piece here seems to present evolution and judeo/christian creationism as the only two possibilities. it puzzles me that christians can be so certain that their creation story is equivalent to evolution, but then apparently completely discard creation stories from cultures around the world (many much older, and more in line with the direction of modern science).

    i agree that it takes a certain amount of faith to completely believe evolution or religiously oriented creationism. to me though (and call me a relativist if you will), each culture’s creation story is just as valid as the next, and if you want to really preach and understand creationism, you need to go well beyond genesis.

  2. Come on you can’t be serious. The notion that one cultural theory “is just as good as the next” isn’t even relativism; its utterly absurd. They can’t all be true, and to declare such is tantamount to denial of the true origin of man whatever it is.

    Those who would take Genesis on a purely literal or fundamental level are as equally niave as the pure Darwinist, or the believer of random selection. Scripture is a multi level literature that goes deeper than the written word. Somewhere between the pure science and the deeper spritual meaning of Genesis, lies the true origin of species whether it took 7 days or 7 eons for man to evolve from the earth. Any rational person, Christian or otherwise must realize that much. As a Christian myself, it is a simple matter of faith, God created man in His own image. How He did that is really unimportant to my own faith. It only seems important to those who are so quick to ridicule it.

  3. i am serious.

    the point is that none of them are literally true, they’re only different culture’s ways of explaining what is and will likely continue to be inexplicable (for the record i’m on board with the notion that the truth of our origins lies ‘somewhere between science and sprituality’).

    what seems utterly absurd to me is that it’s so easy to convince people that the explanation of the culture in which they happened to be born is the fundamental truth.

  4. Right! I see what you mean. At first reading you seemed to be going off in that nebulous “one religion is as good as another” happy talk. Ill agree that there are common threads in all religion, that possibly lead back to a common origin somewhere in the dim past.

    Perhaps the tendency to be parochial in our beliefs is as much a matter or social survival as it is spiritual.

    I have found a lot to like and learn from Buddhist teaching that is not nearly so wound up in where we come from as to how we take care of our life in the here and now in preparation for the when and where ever. Can’t argue with that much.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *