Religious Diversity in Classrooms

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Grace Pisano

Grace has a bachelor's degree in history and a master's degree in teaching. She previously taught high school in several states around the country.

Too often, religious diversity is treated as a taboo subject in the classroom. However, with the proper structure, discussing religious diversity is an excellent way to promote learning and development for all students.

Why Religious Diversity Matters

As the population of the United States grows increasingly diverse, so does the level of cultural diversity in the country. With the increase in cultural diversity, we also see a rise in religious diversity, the coexistence of more than one religion in the same setting. Today, we will be looking at the role of religious diversity in one specific setting: the classroom.

Depending on the grade level you teach (or, hope to teach), the impacts of religious diversity will be different. For teachers of younger children, religious diversity may lead you to have conversations about why some students do not eat lunch during specific times of the school year. Perhaps you will explain the different types of celebration that will take place over winter break. For teachers of older students, students may engage in conversations that are more personalized to their beliefs and you may find yourself leading discussions on the role of religion in wars throughout history or how a person's beliefs guide their life. In this lesson, you will learn how religious diversity impacts the classroom.

Role of the Teacher

As a teacher, you may feel nervous about discussing religious diversity, but this does not mean you can omit it from the classroom. If you ignore religious diversity, students may think it is taboo or scary. The role of the classroom teacher is to educate about different religions without supporting one religion over another—you must stay neutral with your personal beliefs about religion.

There are four guidelines that teachers of all grade levels can use to structure conversations on religious diversity:

  1. Present only facts about a religion.

  2. Use primary sources. This not only gives a window to the beliefs associated with a religion, but it also opens the door to conversations about point of view and bias.

  3. Regardless of the beliefs represented in your classroom, do not make value statements (positive or negative) about any religion.

  4. As with all other conversations on diversity, ensure that students understand that a difference of religion is not bad. It is just something that makes people unique! Religious conversations should be built on respect—make sure this is established before broaching the subject.

Equipped with these tools, a teacher can effectively use religious diversity to promote learning and development for students with diverse backgrounds.

In every classroom, teaching about religious diversity not only prepares students for conversations in the real world, but also helps meet Common Core objectives. Let's talk about specific strategies to use in different grade-levels and how these strategies meet national objectives.

Application In Elementary School

In elementary school, students are learning about their own uniqueness and the uniqueness of their peers. Religion is just one way that students will be different and diverse. Having developmentally appropriate discussions and class readings will teach students about different religions around the world and in the classroom.

One way to do this is by listening to a song or poem about freedoms. After listening to the words, start a discussion on things people may want the freedom to do and why, in America, this is acceptable. Ask students to share their thoughts and opinions.

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