Reader question: My kids are in a public elementary school that teaches them about religion. I’m concerned about this. What if anything should public schools teach our children about religion?
Rabbi Rami responds: By way of answering this question I need to ask and answer three others: Why must we teach our children about religion; What must we teach children about religion; and How must we teach our children about religion.
We must teach our children about religion for three reasons. First, human beings are intrinsically religious: for thousands of years we have inquired into the meaning of life, often expressing our thoughts in the form of religious myth, ritual, and theology. Teaching our children about religion helps cultivate the art of existential inquiry: learning to ask and answer the core questions of life: Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? and Why?
Second, human beings often use religion to justify warring against one another. Teaching our children about the human origins of religion helps them to resist religiously sanctioned violence.
Third, our children live in a world where working constructively with one’s neighbors requires an understanding of our neighbors’ religion. Teaching our children about religion helps them to build more stable and loving communities.
Our children should study the basic teachings, texts, teachers, and techniques of the world’s religions, with an emphasis on both the uniqueness of each religion and the common ethical ground most if not all of them share.
Public school education in religion should be fact-based and nonjudgmental, resisting the tendency to pit one religion against the others. At the same time, it should be personally enriching, allowing each religion to share its ideas with students in a manner that encourages the student’s own inquiry into the meaning of life. To accomplish this I would shape the exploration of each religion around the four core questions of life (Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? and Why?) In this way students would learn not only how to compare the world’s religions but how to do so in a manner that enriches their own capacity for existential inquiry.