Monday, 18 November 2013

Religion and the Making of American Citizens

This past weekend my colleague Lucien Ellington and I organized an institute entitled, "Religion and the Making of American Citizens: Past, Present, and Future," for local high school teachers. We arranged for seven scholars to talk to two dozen distinguished teachers on the importance of including religion in American history courses. I thought that all our presenters--Tracy Mckenzie, Daniel Dreisbach, John Fea, Donald Clark, Wilfred McClay, Molly Worthen, and Michael Cromartie--did an excellent job. Other than Fea and McClay, I had not met the other speakers before the weekend institute.

John Fea has recently offered his reflection on the weekend institute over at his blog, providing his two cents on Tracy Mckenzie's talk, "The Place of Religion in American Education" (on a side note, I was shocked when Fea told me that some 1,200 people visit his blog each day). For the most part, I agree with Fea. I don't recall ever telling my students what my personal religious views are, and I am extremely reticent about pronouncing one particular religious view as good or bad. I feel as though I am doing a good job teaching if I am able to represent both sides of the argument well enough that students have no idea where I stand on that subject (I once had a student approach me after a lecture on the varying forms of Christian thought and ask what she should believe. I informed her that she would have to make up her own mind, and suggested that she spend time studying more closely the different options). In the classes that I teach on Christianity, I want conservative religious students to appreciate Liberal Protestants as sincere Christians who care about the ethical and moral teachings of Jesus, and I want non-conservative students to view even the most strident of twentieth-century Fundamentalists as motivated primarily by the saving of souls. In sum, I believe that it is important not to indoctrinate students, but rather teach as objectively and fairly as possible the information, allowing young people to make up their own minds on what is good and bad about religion. It is difficult to trust people who teach with an agenda. I think that it can have the opposite desired effect.

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