(Originally Published on Corkstudentnews.com in March 2010)
In my previous article, here, I discussed the approach to religious education in Ireland and the various problems, failings of the system that is currently in place and how it is currently changing. In this week’s follow on article, I will be discussing the same things but this time my attention is focused on America.
The American Dream?
In the United States, there is no religious instruction whatsoever within the public education system. Whilst this has been the norm for many years, there are certain religious organisations who have been challenging this in recent years, however, I digress.
The reason for this is The First Amendment of the American Constitution. The Amendment makes it quite clear that there is to be a complete separation of church and state unlike here in Ireland where the church, as already mentioned, was afforded a special place within the Irish Constitution. The First Amendment made a clear cut distinction between Government and Religion when “after years of debate, the bill for establishing religious freedom passed the Virginia Assembly in 1786, ending the colony’s 180 year Anglican religious establishment and placing all religious bodies of the state on an equal footing – free of state influence and wholly dependent on the resources they could raise from the voluntary contributions of their members and friends rather than state government tax dollars.
This clearly cut all the ties the Government and various religious institutions had to each other and therefore, religious influence on the public education system. It allows the various religions in the United States to act without Government influence in their affairs and vice versa. In 1802, Thomas Jefferson, the man who wrote the bill that was passed in 1786, wrote that “their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and State”. However a problem has arisen from all of this, especially in more recent years, where certain groups and religious organisations have been pushing the boundaries of the interpretation of the First Amendment. The problem that arises is one when “in the minds of American Christians…there can be no true education without religion” and simply put, there are “those who believe that religion has a supreme place in the education of a child, and that provision should therefore be made for it in its school life”. It would appear that despite the “modern” era that we live in, we find there are those who wish to see the public school system in the United States revert to the same type of system here in Ireland where Christian dogma is preached to the detriment of someone from another denominational background.
One of the methods currently being used to introduce religion into public education in the United States is through the use of creationism/intelligent design. These “theories” are passed off as a scientific challenge to Evolution and Natural selection when in fact they are simply the book of Genesis in a different form and are in no way scientific in nature. While on a recent visit to UCC, world famous biologist PZ Myers noted the efforts of religious organisations and people in Texas, who were at the time engaging in a concerted effort, to get the content of school textbooks changed in such a way that they would contain references to creationism/intelligent design. They have recently succeeded in their efforts and this will have huge consequences for the country as a whole. This is because Texas is the largest purchaser of school text books in the United States and what is decided for the curriculum there, is effectively what is decided for the rest of the country as the publishers give in to demand. So now what we now have is the very real possibility that Christian ideals will be taught not only in Texas but across the entire school curriculum, rather subversively, in the United States.
This is a rather insidious development on two levels. Firstly, and obviously, it has serious repercussions for the future of informed and simply correct education in the United States. Children are going to be taught incorrect and simply fallacious information that is being passed off as scientific fact. This leads into the second point. All of this is a further attack on science in the United States. Science suffered under the Presidency of Bush Junior and it was believed that with the election of Obama, the stifling of science would now be a thing of the past. This new development shows otherwise. Certain groups within the United States are intent on indoctrinating the youth of the nation with bare faced lies. These certain groups, as a particular Oxford educated Biologist likes to call them, are nothing more than “yapping terriers of ignorance”. These same people have also altered the History curriculum within the school system of Texas. The already mention Thomas Jefferson and his achievements is to be played down and instead pro-slavery Confederate leaders are to take his place due to their “significant contributions”. The Civil Rights Movement and the Slave Trade is also to be played down with the latter now being referred to as the “Atlantic triangular trade”. It seems these “yapping terriers” are now ensuring that the youth of today are being turned into “yapping terriers” of their own.
In the previous paragraphs and my previous article, it has been clearly shown that the approach to religious education in Ireland has been rather one dimensional simply in the sense that it was always from a Christian point of view. The church was afforded special status and was given the running of the schools within this country for the last few decades with no consideration to those from a non Christian background. In the United States it was the opposite. When it came to the public education system, the approach to religious education was simply non-existent; meaning that there was no religious instruction or interference whatsoever in the education system unlike Ireland. While this may be seen as rather lacking, at least it meant that there was no discrimination, even inadvertently, due to someone’s particular religious beliefs or lack of belief. This has begun to change in recent years as “religious pressure on the schools has taken several forms and degrees. Most commonly it has been merely the demand that Bible reading, Bible stories and the Lord’s Prayer be made regular parts of the day’s school work. Some states have been refused court assent to such programs, while others have been successful in getting approval or have avoided litigation challenging these arrangements” and as already mentioned, creationism/intelligent design has successfully made it into the curriculum in Texas.
This is obviously a completely regressive step where previously there was complete freedom in the education system from religious instruction. While the United States is regressing, we seem to be moving forward as Educate Together offers multidenominational education where religious instruction takes place outside of the regular school hours. Religious education, or the lack of it, needs to be all inclusive. To quote Ninian Smart, “One fallacy is to suppose that our vision – our faith – has the whole truth. Unfortunately Christianity, like other religions, often supposes that its scriptures are wholly true. This is enough to alienate sensitive people”. For education to be all inclusive, the approach to religious education needs to be sensitive to the beliefs of others and not simply dictate what they are or are not supposed to believe.