It’s difficult to think about all of my learning throughout this past week. I didn’t know what to expect when I entered the classroom on the first morning and now that I’ve left the classroom for the last time, I realize that my learning has just begun. At least now I have a sense of what I don’t know and as the saying goes, “the more you know, the more you don’t know.” I feel that I am beginning to understand how each of the religions are similar to one another and that there isn’t the great divide that I had always thought there was prior to class. I now understand that each of the religions that we studied this week encourage followers to better themselves through certain religious practices as well as to essentially live by the Golden Rule of treating others as you want to be treated. I hadn’t realized there was so much crossover and commonality between religions but then again I really didn’t know much beyond the Christian wedding services I had attended over the years.
I was surprised by how much variation there is within religions as well. I guess I just assumed that because there were specific religious behaviors/rituals that congregants participated in across like houses of worship that the beliefs and communities would be nearly homogenous. I couldn’t have been more wrong! The guest speakers, student panels and site visits showed me time and time again that each congregation would have subtle differences from other congregations of the same faith. I guess I had in my mind that each religion was like a cookie cutter and all of the beliefs, practices and communities within one religion would be the same. I should have known better after having worked within 4 different elementary schools in my tenure as a teacher. Individual differences within a group of people will mesh together to create a unique community. For example, I teach towards the same standards with my students as any other fifth grade teacher in Illinois but how I get my students to master those standards may look very different than another teacher’s lessons.
I would say one of my biggest setbacks/challenges of this week has been my misconceptions about non-Christian religions, as well as my firm belief that women should be treated equal to men. I found myself quick to making judgments about what I was observing that affirmed what I felt I already knew. I had to continually remind myself to remain open to what I was actually observing and act more like a scientist making observations and looking for patterns. There were several times where I was offended when I felt that women were being marginalized or treated unfairly and again had to remind myself to continue making observations without judgment. It helped to remind myself to examine the intent or the reason for the behavior. Some of the experiences this week helped me to more fully realize that I have some non-negotiables as far as the need for equality and support of women and the LGBTQ+ community.
My essential question centered on trying to figure out how a religion could cause a person to behave in certain ways. After repeatedly reflecting on the 3 B’s, I’ve come to realize that religions are more than the sum of their parts. Based upon my learning this week, beliefs-behavior-belonging are like the threads of a woven cloth. It’s difficult to tell where one thread begins and another ends. Any one thread by itself isn’t nearly as strong as when it’s woven together with the other threads. Faith is much like that and the communities we observed, the followers worked together to build a place that was welcoming and a home away from home where people in the faith community can find support and love. That to me is what causes people to be drawn to a religious community and to follow the practices of that community. The practices (behaviors) reinforce the faith (beliefs) which can increase the sense of community (belonging) and so it goes on and on and in any order.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, my son will be taking the Comparative Religions class at NCHS in the Fall and I’m very much looking forward to our discussions. I am also looking forward to discussions with future students in which I’ll be able to ask better questions about how they practice their religion and to open up a dialogue with students that I’ve avoided in the past. I now know it’s okay to talk about and help my students to learn about different religions. In these ways I’ll be able to continue my journey to becoming a religiously literate person. I also have a close friend who is deeply religious and I’ve always avoided talking about religion with her and I’d like to think now I could bring up the subject and talk respectfully about her beliefs and her sense of community at her house of worship.
In my teaching practices, I feel that this course has reminded me of the importance of creating a learning atmosphere that is free of judgment and is open to hearing and sharing differing points of view. When students are in fifth grade they are making the transition from being children to teenagers and they are often quick to pass judgment upon one another and themselves. As a result, many become hesitant to share out their thinking for fear that they are wrong in front of their peers. They also tend to begin to be less open to points of view that are different than their own and consequently miss out on learning opportunities. I learned that first hand with my own learning this week when out of habit I would look for confirmation of what I thought I knew. I’ll be able to share more stories about my own life experiences this week that will help to illustrate the importance of lifelong learning and to remain open to continuous learning that will in turn help to develop a positive learning environment. Also, when I am teaching folktales and fables, I will encourage my students to bring in their own culture’s folktales and fables to share with all of us. Finally, I think it’s important to take the time to have students share their interests, experiences and outside of school happenings with one another. Our schedule will be changed up in the coming year so that each classroom teacher be able to start each school day with a morning class meeting. These meetings will provide opportunities for students to share out important happenings, what’s on their mind, etc while also helping them to make the transition from home to school. I’m certain these meetings will provide an opportunity for religion to come up organically in our conversations so that we can learn from one another. They will also provide students with an opportunity to ask respective, inquisitive questions of one another to learn more.