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Virginia Journal of Education

Your Classroom

How To Teach About Religion
in Public Schools

Growing numbers of educators throughout the United States recognize that study about religion in social studies, literature, art, and music is an important part of a well-rounded education. A number of leading educational groups have issued their own statements decrying the lack of discussion about religion in the curriculum and calling for inclusion of such information in curricular materials and in teacher education.

Three major principles form the foundation of this consensus on teaching about religion in public schools:

1. As the Supreme Court has made clear, study about religion in public schools constitutional.

2. Inclusion of study about religion is important in order for students to be properly educated about history and cultures.

3. Religion must be taught objectively and neutrally. The purpose of public schools is to educate students about a variety of religious traditions, not to indoctrinate them into any tradition.

Encouraged by the new consensus, public schools are now beginning to include more teaching about religion in the curriculum. In the social studies especially, the question is no longer “Should I teach about religion?” but rather “How should I do it?”

The answer to the “how” question begins with a clear understanding of the crucial difference between the teaching of religion (religious education or indoctrination) and teaching about religion. “Religion in the Public School Curriculum,” a set of guidelines issued by 17 religious and educational organizations, summarizes the distinction this way:

  • The school’s approach to religion is academic, not devotional.
  •  The school strives for student awareness of religions, but does not press for student acceptance of any religion.
  •  The school sponsors study about religion, not the practice of religion.
  • The school may expose students to a diversity of religious views, but may not impose any particular view.
  •  The school educates about all religions; it does not promote or denigrate religion.
  •  The school informs students about various beliefs; it does not seek to conform students to any particular belief.

Classroom discussions concerning religion must be conducted in an environment that is free of advocacy on the part of the teacher. Students may, of course, express their own religious views, as long as such expression is germane to the discussion. But public school teachers are required by the First Amendment to teach about religion fairly and objectively, neither promoting nor denigrating religion in general or specific religious groups in particular. When discussing religion, many teachers guard against injecting personal religious beliefs by teaching through attribution (e.g., by using such phrases as “most Buddhists believe…” or “according to the Hebrew scriptures…”).

--from “A Teacher’s Guide to Religion in the Public Schools,” published by the First Amendment Center. For more information, visit Used with permission, First Amendment Center, 2009.

VEA Seeks Support for
‘Partnership for 21st Century Skills’

In the global economy of the future, basic skills and a good memory aren’t necessarily going to be enough. If our students are going to compete for the best jobs—and succeed in them—they will have to develop an array of skills, including abilities such as thinking creatively and critically, being flexible and adaptable, solving problems, and understanding the communications and media environment that surrounds them.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) is a national organization that pulls together educators, policymakers and business groups to promote the teaching and learning of higher-level skills. States can join the partnership, but only if a formal request is made by both the governor and the state superintendent. That has not happened yet in Virginia, but delegates to the 2009 VEA convention went on record in support of the commonwealth joining P21.

“I am committed to Virginia becoming a state partner because I believe the time has come for us to move our curriculum beyond the basic memorization that is the bedrock of the Standards of Learning movement toward the infusion of skills that our students need in an ever more rapidly changing world,” says VEA President Kitty Boitnott.
I am certainly not suggesting that we replace the SOLs because I know that for better or worse, they are here to stay,” she says. “But I do propose that the skills promoted by the Partnership be infused into the standard curriculum so that our students can learn critical thinking skills, how to work and problem solve in teams with colleagues, how to find information that is valid, credible, and free of bias, and how to be innovative and creative in their approach to world problems. Those are the skills needed by the students of the 21st century. The fact is that students can now look up in a few seconds many of the ‘facts’ that they are now being required to memorize and tend to forget almost as soon as the test sheets have been scored.”

Currently, 11 states have joined the partnership, with several other applications pending. States signed on are Arizona, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

P21 breaks 21st century skills into four major categories: Core Subjects and 21st Century Themes; Learning and Innovation Skills; Information, Media and Technology Skills; and Life and Career Skills. The partnership’s curriculum challenges teachers to change their practices and rethink how and where students learn.

For more information, visit P21’s website here.

‘PBS Teacherline’ Offers
Learning Round-the-Clock

If you’ve got access to a computer with a reliable Internet connection, you’ve got access to some quality professional development through Virginia’s PBS TeacherLine, which offers nearly 150 courses anytime, anyplace. Here are some details:

• PBS has worked with organizations such as the International Society for Technology in Education and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics to develop practical courses.
• All courses are aligned with state and national standards.
• TeacherLine courses are facilitated by Virginia educators and content specialists.
• VEA members receive a discount on courses.
• Courses feature a variety of assignment types, including reading, writing, video and interactive technologies.
• Facilitators and help desk staff are always available to answer questions.
• You can earn continuing education units, professional development points, and graduate credits from James Madison University and other colleges.

For additional information, visit

Organization Spreads
Word About RTI

Response to Invervention (RTI) is an instructional method featuring a multi-tiered approach for struggling learners. Students are closely monitored throughout the process to determine the need for further research-based instruction and/or intervention in general education, in special education, or both.

The RTI Action Network is a program of the National Center for Learning Disabilities, and its website,, strives to make information available to help educators implement the RTI approach from preschool through secondary education. The site features background information about RTI and its use; plans for creating and putting in place an RTI strategy in your school; and professional development information, including online forums, videos, podcasts and Web seminars.

Through the site, you can also network with colleagues using RTI through a discussion board, blogs and an “Ask the Experts” section.

The NEA is one of the founding partners of the RTI Action Network.

Help Create New

Small businesses are a significant foundation of the American economy and of every local community, and many of your students will end up working for or running one. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) wants to help you and your students with that transition through its Entrepreneur in the Classroom (EITC) programs, which introduce the principles of entrepreneurship to high school students in multiple disciplines. The classroom curriculum is free.

For more information, visit the NFIB website at



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