Faith in our schools? A study in portraiture of three teachers of religion
Author: Garfield-Eliza-Newell Date: 2000 Institution: Harvard-University (0084) Subject:Religion Language: English
Abstract: American classrooms at the dawn of the twenty-first century are as religiously pluralistic as they have ever been, yet like the public sphere they are preparing their students to join, classrooms are often the sights of religious controversies, misunderstandings, and prejudice. In the last decade of the twentieth century, controversies involving religion and schools have drawn increasing attention—in the press, in the courts, and among many diverse constituencies affected by issues of religion and education. Amongst this increasingly loud debate two constituencies are often overlooked: teachers and students. This study looks at three teachers of religion, one each in public, private and parochial schools in the Boston, Massachusetts, area who teach religion either as a subject area or within another discipline, in this case World History. The teachers were chosen via “snowball sampling” and the recommendations of their peers. The teachers are: Susan McCaslin of Phillips Academy, Andover; Jack Heidbrink of Lexington High School, Lexington; and Jonathan Yu-Phelps of Bishop Fenwick High School, Peabody. The courses I studied were—New Testament (McCaslin), Religion Units in World History (Heidbrink), and New Testament and Islam Unit in World Religions (Yu-Phelps) in their respective schools. The methodology of the study was Portraiture as described by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot. The study includes a brief description of the relationship between the three American school systems and religion historically. This history sets the stage for the work that the three teachers do and explains the relationship between religion and education at the end of the twentieth century. The study finds that teachers of religion are providing students with unique opportunities to ask and discuss “ultimate questions” and to become religiously literate citizens. Reflecting the work of Charles Haynes and the First Amendment Center, I suggest, that the teaching of religion can in fact help us “teach Americans to live with our deepest religious differences.” The study also explores the reasons and goals, of teaching religion, “natural inclusion” versus the academic study of religion, and the role of teacher training and biography and faith.