California Educator

December / January 2017

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Liebke explains to parents: "It is necessary for children to understand our world and the people in it before they grow up and cast their votes and make decisions about the world." Ayisha Benham sends a letter to parents of her 12th-grade American government class and her ninth-grade cultural geography elective at Sylvester Greenwood Academy School in Richmond at the beginning of the year. She believes the letter, which explains how and what she will be teaching about reli- gions, helps prevent misconceptions. Providing a global perspective Benham, a member of United Teachers of Richmond, takes pride in not presenting information in her class from a Western point of view when it comes to how religion, race and culture have influenced politics and culture. But she keeps a small Christmas tree on her desk every year to maintain holiday cheer. "As a teacher, you have to have balance, and you want to be fair. You want all students to feel safe and to feel comfortable." Sometimes students learn that others have been perse- cuted by religious zealots, or that certain religious groups have not given women equal rights. But what may seem to be repressive in one culture may not be viewed that way in another, students discover. Recently, she asked a Muslim student (privately, without pressure) if he would explain why Muslim women wear a hijab to cover their hair. He agreed and explained to classmates that in his culture, wearing a hijab was a source of pride for many women, including his mother. Benham says she and her stu- dents learned a great deal, and many changed their perspective. She recently went to a training called "Faith to Face," a pro- gram that connects students in the classroom of one country with students in another to discuss how their cultural beliefs impact their lives During the training, students from America discussed with students from a Middle Eastern country how they show appre- ciation and give thanks. Americans described anksgiving and stuffing themselves, while the Middle Eastern students spoke of Ramadan and fasting. "It was interesting to see two cultures giving thanks in v e r y di f f e re n t w ay s ," s h e l a u g h s . "An d i t w a s a v a l u a b l e opportunity for interesting discussions in the classroom." "Religion has influenced how we behave and what we value, and I couldn't imagine teaching history without including it." —DAVID FULTON, FAIRFIELD-SUISUN UNIFIED TEACHERS ASSOCIATION Guidelines for Teaching About Religion • The approach is academic, not devotional. • Educators strive for student awareness of religion, but do not press for student acceptance of any religion. • The class educates about religions, but does not promote or denigrate any religion. • The school may inform the student about religious beliefs, but does not seek to conform a student to any particular belief. • Students should not be put on the spot to explain their religious or cultural traditions, or asked to be a spokesperson for his or her religion. Source: National Council for the Social Studies 55 D E C E M B E R 2 017 / J A N U A R Y 2 018

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