Photo Courtesy of Seth Brady
There is just so much to think about in my learning today. It started with Linda K Wertheimer's Skype visit in which I was introduced to the idea of the "intersections in faith education and public education." To be honest I didn’t believe that it was okay for elementary teachers to teach about religion in public school. I honestly thought it was a taboo subject and one that was to be taken care of at home. I knew that it was acceptable to show an interest in my students' chosen religions but I felt that beyond showing interest was outside the bounds of my role as a public elementary school teacher. Mrs. Wertheimer helped to open my eyes to the learning opportunities that I can foster in my classroom that align with my SEL and academic goals for my students. In considering the 3B Framework, helping students to develop an appreciation and respect for the differing religious beliefs in my classroom will foster a better sense of global citizenship and community.
Then, Benjamin Marcus from the Religious Freedom Center helped to me to develop a more nuanced understanding of the First Amendment with his explanation of the case of Abington V Schempp. He helped me to understand that educators can teach about religion to inform, (just like teaching content), and not to promote one form of religion over another. I realized that I can do that! Mr. Marcus also discussed Haidt’s Religious Identity paradigm which illustrated how Beliefs, Behaviors and Belonging are all interconnected. It’s easy to think of them as distinct and separate from one another when really each one can and will influence the others. Also, there are times in one’s religious life where Beliefs may dominate and Behaviors and/or Belonging take a backseat and vice versa. This relates to the premise that religions are “internally diverse and not uniform.” I’ve come to realize that I have been stereotyping people based upon their chosen religion. I assumed certain behaviors and beliefs about others because of their place of worship and didn’t leave room for consideration of the individual interpretation and the sense that religion is constantly evolving and changing over time. I often assumed hypocrisy in a person’s actions when they differed from my understanding of what religion is all about. Now, I’m starting to realize that I was quick to judge and find fault, rather than realize that people are on a journey to develop their best selves within their religious beliefs. In other words, I assumed that all Christians were square pegs that would fit in a square hole, when in fact there are a myriad of shapes that fit in a myriad of holes when it comes to any religion. I understand that there are basic principles that are a part of each faith but there is room for interpretation and change over time. Religion is not as static as I believed.
Finally, we went to the Palatine Gurdwara and I was overwhelmed by the openness, kindness and generosity of the Sik worshippers and leaders that we encountered. I was quite nervous about attending this class and visiting these completely unknown to me religions and places of worship. I was walking way out of my comfort zone and was just thankful that there were a few familiar faces in the class! But the welcoming atmosphere and generosity soon made my anxiety subside and I began to feel comfortable listening and taking in the information that I was learning. Starting with the Langar, the gentlemen and children that served the food to us were so kind and there wasn’t a sense of needing to earn their respect, they seemed genuine in their desire to serve. As our tour guide explained numerous times throughout the presentation, being of service to others is one of the basic tenents. Immediately upon our arrival, these people embodied this belief in their behaviors and seemed peaceful and happy doing so. This sense of peace remained steady throughout our entire visit. Raj, our tour guide continually showed an openness to teaching us about his faith and showed me that it was acceptable, even encouraged, that I be curious and inquisitive. He was acting as a teacher/facillitator in teaching us about his religion. He didn’t preach to us, he encouraged us to be learners and to remain open to learning about Sikhism and what it means to him and the followers of Sikhism. He showed me what teaching about religion really looks like and feels like as a student.
To be honest, I was particularly fascinated with the sense of equality and lack of hierarchy that Raj expressed in regards to gender, race, socio economic status, etc. He explained how men and women are equal and that whatever a man can do, a woman can. I was caught off guard with this statement because I realized I had mistakenly assumed that because the religion originated in India and Pakistan men would have power over women and equality wouldn’t be an option. There was genuine sincerity in his words that I truly appreciated.
I was also struck by Raj and the children’s sense of forgiveness in the mistakes or ignorance of others about their religion. The children did not share any stories of times when they were mistreated or subjected to the thoughtless ignorance of their peers which I found unsettling and heartening at the same time. Having taught elementary students for a number of years, I couldn’t imagine that there weren’t instances of poor choices on the behalf of their peers because children make social mistakes all the time. Hopefully I’m mistaken but I got the sense that their religious beliefs encourage and guide them into forgiving the mistakes of others and in themselves. They continually work to become closer to God and therefore don’t hang onto the negativity or sense of ill will towards others, they move on.
Overall, I was unprepared for my experiences today. I am grateful for these experiences and the openness that was given to me as I moved a bit further in my journey to develop religious literacy in my own life.
After taking a look at Jessie's blog reflection, I found that I agreed that it is courageous for Siks to wear their religion on the outside. I found it interesting that it didn't seem that they felt it was courageous. I got the sense that wearing turbans and scarfs are a behavior that expresses their beliefs and also shows their belonging to the Sik community.
I felt that Melanie reminded me of some very interesting points on the day. I enjoyed her summary of her observations. It was such an interesting day! I was intrigued with the openness of the worship service being what the individual needs on any given day. It really embodies the equality and lack of hierarchy which is fundamental to the Sik religion.