The Texas Board of Education, the nation’s second largest purchaser of public school textbooks, is revising its K-12 social studies curriculum and deciding how to characterize religion’s influence on American history. Three consultants have recommended emphasizing the roles of the Bible, Christianity and civic virtue of religion. As America’s children go back to school, how would you advise the Texas board? How should religion be taught in public schools?
The best advice for the Texas Board of Education’s revision of its social studies curriculum comes from the Apostle Paul, who writes to the Galatians that you will know the true spirit of religious faith by its fruits, and these are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness…” (Gal 5:22)
In other words, construct your social studies curriculum to teach about those who have tried to help their society and their fellow citizens through expanding civic and religious tolerance. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness–these are the characteristics of tolerance. No question about it. Teach tolerance and you will capture the spirit of religion that motivates us to try to build a better society.
The Texas Board of Education does not even have to go out and find someone write this new curriculum for them. Facing History and Ourselves has already done this; so has the Southern Poverty Law Center. There are tons of excellent materials already online to get this new curricular revision in Texas done in an excellent way.
On their Web site, Facing History describes the basis of their work as “the premise that we need to — and can– teach civic responsibility, tolerance, and social action to young people, as a way of fostering moral adulthood.”
Foster moral adulthood. Now there’s a curriculum revision we can all get behind. Check out the 6th Grade Social Studies “Identity and Community” curriculum from the Facing History Web site.The study plan, done for schools in Memphis, starts with where every budding adolescent starts, with the question “Who am I?” They then go on to show how individual and community identity are related, and delve into the specific history of the Memphis community. “In-group and out-group” dynamics are well known to 6th graders; but the same “insider/outsider” dynamic in terms of race has had a big impact on the history of Memphis. How do some people find the strength and wisdom to cross these barriers and create moral community? That’s the goal of this lesson plan and it is a good one.
Teaching Tolerance is a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Southern Poverty Law Center, founded in 1971, was originally a small, civil rights law firm. Today, SPLC is internationally known for its tolerance education programs, its legal victories against white supremacists and its tracking of hate groups.
The Teaching Tolerance teaching kits and handbooks are FREE to teachers. There is an entire K-12 curriculum, and fortunately, social studies is one of the subjects. Think of the savings for the Texas Board of Education. They could just get the SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance curriculum and pop it right into the textbooks.
From activities to deal with anti-Muslim prejudice in schools to the role of religious conscience in the Civil Rights movement, the Teaching Tolerance curriculum has much to offer in terms of how civics education for a religiously pluralistic nation should and can be done.
This is my advice to the Texas Board of Education: teach tolerance. You could do a lot worse.