Adam and Eve. Cain and Abel. Sinners and forbidden fruit. This is the Bible from an “outsider’s” point of view. The logistics and details of the stories are completely foreign to many students all across America, even to those students one would traditionally consider “Christian.” And yet, the American school systems still require texts in which a deep understanding of specific biblical references is crucial to the plot. Books by authors students are forced to read, such as William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and even JK Rowling.
I am not opposed to reading the Bible. In fact, reading the scripture would be very interesting and helpful. However, if the roles were reversed, and a story alluded to the Quran, Bhagavad Gita, or the Torah, no one would read those scriptures for school. Yet students are plagued with comments such as, “You should read the Bible on your own time.” This comment is something that I always hear. It is very hard to go home and tell my parents that I need to read the Bible to understand content I am taught in school. I understand that the Bible is incredibly useful to know for future literature classes and higher education. However, students should not be pushed to understand a religion on their own. They should have a choice to take a class to help them learn about the religion. The concern is that students are told to have a good understanding of the Bible in order to understand the content given in class.
According to a poll by LifeWay Research, only about 12% of Americans have read most of the Bible. Despite the low percentage of Americans who have not read the Bible in its entirety, schools all across America assign pieces of literature that require a good command of the Bible.
I always vividly remember the times in English when we discuss a book that deals with Biblical references, and I am completely lost. English Department Chair Colleen Calvey said that it is a student’s responsibility to research a reference they do not understand.
“If students come across an allusion they do not understand, they should be equipped with the skills about where to go and find that information, so they can understand the context in which they are reading,” Calvey explained.
While this may be true, students should also have the choice to read books that may not be so demanding of their knowledge of a holy scripture. While this is hard to come by, it helps students understand the modern world around them better.
Students should not be pushed to understand a religion on their own. They should have a choice to take a class to help them learn about the religion.
However, this phenomenon does not only occur in the English classrooms. It is a growing issue in the Social Studies curriculum as well. Social Studies classes such as U.S. History and World History explore the past, and with that, comes religions. In the curriculum, teachers often dwell on the Christianity aspect of history, leaving other religions to be studied less and concepts to become underdeveloped. Students know all about Christopher Columbus, but nothing about Native American culture. Students know about the spread of Christianity and the history of Easter, and Christmas. However, ask them about any other religion, and they will know none of its holidays. However, students have no idea about other religions, and think that they can get away with only knowing the basics of Christianity.
Social Studies Department Chair James Vera said that although the curriculum has evolved with the changing world, there is still a need for representation of different cultures in the textbooks.
“I think a lot of what we are learning in history is changing, and it is so outdated. That’s why we don’t just rely on the textbook, because that is a historical issue,” Vera claimed.
In AP Human Geography, a class I took my freshman year, students get a total of a few days to learn about religions from around the world. The curriculum tries to teach students about Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and so many other religions, in just a matter of days. The curriculum does not allow for enough time to truly learn about the religion.
With about 44.1% of students at East being ethnically diverse according to the Illinois Report Card, one may think that students would learn about more than the snapshot of other religions. This is untrue, in that most students do not know anything about another religion beyond their own. This not only goes to those who know the bible, but to all students.
Obviously, students well-versed in the stories of the Bible have an advantage when it comes to knowing all the answers about the scripture and its application to the world. However, the other portion of students who do not know the Bible are subjected to an unfair amount of knowledge obtained by students who know the Bible.
As well as being an unfair advantage, asking students to read soley the Bible builds ignorance in their character. When the 9/11 attacks occured, America shut Muslim people out of society. They thought that all Muslims were terrorists. Many Americans are uneducated when it comes to Islam and other religions. Islam is a very peaceful religion, as seen when a person actually reads the Quran. However, without even knowing this, America jumped to conclusions and treated those who practiced Islam very differently. According to Pew Research, the amount of hate crimes and assaults on Muslims from 2000 to 2016 increased by a total of 115 crimes. The number in 2016 (127 crimes) surpassed that of 2001 (93 crimes).
America was very ignorant and remains to be when it comes to foreign religions and cultures. In 2017, the country saw this ignorance in action by the travel ban imposed on Islamic countries. Had Western culture possessed a more accurate understanding of Muslim culture, it would have been much less likely that Muslim peoples would be discriminated against or seen simply as terrorists, when the faith actually champions peace over violent extremism.
Ignorance is the reason schools should establish a World Religions class. Knowing only the Bible, and thinking that it would help with school is not enough. A World Religions class would simply teach about the fundamental values of each religion, and help students grasp the understanding of each religion.
Knowing the Bible is not enough. According to Pew Research Center, agnostics and people who do not only focus on their religion score higher when it comes to knowing about others’ religions.
A World Religions class would not impede on the first amendment because simply talking about religions is different than forcing religion on a person. A class such as this would be helpful in bringing about an end to religious ignorance, and teach the basics of being a human. Having empathy, not being greedy, and all the simple lessons one can learn from reading holy scriptures are benefits of studying religions from all over the world. If students have to know the Bible for English, or social studies, or any other class, they should have the opportunity to take a class that teaches them about it. The class would provide a way in which knowing the Bible will not be an unfair advantage. Studying a religion does is not a synonym for practicing a religion. Learning about religions not only close the gap in the curriculum that encompasses biblical references, but will open a student’s eyes to a world that they may not have seen before.
Namratha Prasad is the Feature Editor for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl