Friday, November 26, 2010

A subject that is avoided

As part of a scavenger hunt in my school library fifth grade students were asked to find a book related to their religion.  The students were directed to notice the Dewey hundreds posters above the non-fiction shelves before they began, so there was a strategy provided for finding these books.  To my chagrin, many students couldn't find anything appropriate (in their minds) in that section and instead returned with books about Italy, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica.  It hadn't occurred to me that the word "religion" would be a vocabulary word! 

On reflection I realize that the "R" word is almost never spoken in school - despite the inclusion of the "G" word in our daily recitation the Pledge of Allegiance.  I flashed back to a lesson I co-taught last year to a third grade class.  We were using Google-Earth to explore Jerusalem, a city that is studied for one month during the third grade.  We were identifying certain important buildings in the city, and the question arose of the meaning of certain symbols in Google-Earth.  I ended up making a chart for the class with religion / place of worship / symbol.  A lot of important vocabulary was discussed and the students left with a sense of excitement around learning more about this fascinating city. I thought I had done well by this class.  As the class was leaving an adult (an educational assistant that was assigned to one of the students in that class) pulled me aside and said "I can't believe that you just went there!"  The concern seemed to be that I might get into trouble for mentioning what seems to be a taboo subject. 

Perhaps we (teachers and librarians) should not be shy about teaching about things that exist.  Religion is a big part of news almost every day, and our students deserve to know what is meant by words like religion and faith.  Confusing religion, nationality, and culture is not acceptable if our young people are going to have a chance of knowing what is going on. 

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