The other day I was in my placement working with a group of third graders in their classroom. As a reward they were allowed to play reading-based board games. The one game that I played with my group was a simple game where you rolled a die, moved ahead those spaces, and if you landed on a certain space you had to pick up a card. These cards had a paragraph telling a short story and then the children had to answer a multiple choice question about what they had read. The stories were about history, dinosaurs, and sometimes legends. But, one question in particular threw me for a loop.
One child pulled a card that I immediately knew was pertaining to religion. It was about how we started using the A.D. dating system and how the first year in this system was the year that Jesus Christ was born. The child was reading and struggled initially with the Latin words anno domini. He made it past these unbelievably tricky terms for a third grader, but when he came to the name ‘Christ’ he was stumped. He wasn’t sure how to pronounce it and finally ended by saying it similar to the name ‘Chris’ with a sharp ‘t’ sound at the end.
I knew that he probably was not exposed to the name before. I assumed his family weren’t church-goers. I did not judge him for his lack of knowledge in this religious area. I have never gone to church either and to this day do not know much about the religion my family is a part of. What surprised me was when every other child in the group of six, except for one had no clue who Christ was or what the paragraph was about. I didn’t know whether to correct his pronunciation or attempt to explain who Christ was. As a student myself I wasn’t sure how to tackle such a religious topic without stepping on toes or crossing lines. So, I let him continue to read. Then one child piped up and said, “I know who Christ is! If you went to church you would know who he is.” All of the others seemed very confused and bored. They didn’t like this card because nothing about it was concrete for them. I decided to say, “Yes, if you went to church you would probably know about Christ, but not everyone does and that is okay.”
The rest of the day I pondered about this occurrence. In my education classes we talk about diversity and how so many families are different and children have widely varying knowledge bases, religion, socio-economic background, etc. So, naturally, I never thought it would surprise me as much as it did. When I was a child, it seemed like everyone except maybe one of my peers knew a lot about Christ and the Christian religion even if they didn’t go to church, practice the religion, or have a religion at all. As I said earlier, I’ve never been to church, but I had learned from other people enough to know who Christ was and what his life was like. This incidence made me see how different things are today in the world and in teaching. I think maybe things are so radically different from my childhood because society is trying to be politically correct. Many people do not play Christmas songs, celebrate religious holidays in school, or mention religion at all because they are so afraid of shaping the minds of these impressionable children. This brings up a question in my mind: at what age is it acceptable to teach children about religion?
I think it is totally fine to teach children about differing religions. By spreading knowledge and understanding about different beliefs, I believe it spreads tolerance and allows people to get along with those who have varying ideas. There is a way to teach about religion without trying to sway a child to believe one is more correct or that they should practice one belief system over another. I believe today we worry so much about offending others, or possibly teaching too much about a topic so that a child’s views might change from what their parents wish them to believe that we lose sight of an important goal. Teaching about differences and more specifically, similarities helps children to feel comfortable with those they interact with. Knowledge really is power. It helps us understand, feel compassion, and coexist with one another.
When a child does not have an understanding of another’s beliefs, abilities, interests, traditions, language, etc. it has a tendency to make them fear and exile what is foreign to them. I think adults follow this as well. Discrimination, prejudice, and intolerance quickly grows from this fear and misunderstanding. This is why I think it is important to teach children about the many types of diversity as well as the many things we all have in common.
Maybe with time we will find the perfect formula to teach diversity while avoiding offense. I look forward to that day, but I fear it might be beyond our grasp.