End Division in Secondary and Higher Religious Education


End Divisions in Secondary and Higher Religious Education

By: Lauren DiPiero

For children, religious education emerges as just one of the many ways that one may distinguish themselves from others. Studying religion itself is not a problem, but the methods in which schools, and unfortunately parents, teach or don’t teach, children about religion poses a number of issues. 

From a very young age, parents teach children about the family’s religion. Whether Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist, etc., almost all families implement a belief system. Many families worship some form of God, while others’ beliefs are based on a belief in the universe and others believe in the tangible and do not adhere to a religious belief system. Passing on belief systems is often an attempt to carry on family culture and tradition. However, most teachers and parents unintentionally fail to teach children about the differences between their religion and all others’. This creates divisions between religious beliefs that are often negative. 

My experience with Catholic grade school during was primarily teachers talking to students about the Catholic faith, history and beliefs beginning in preschool. My mom had always taken my sister and me to church and had spent time teaching us about her faith, so the fact that religion class was part of school felt natural. However, for students without Catholic or Christian backgrounds, the environment may have felt unintentionally condemning. Of course, the school had deemed itself Catholic and had the right to teach any material it wanted. They were teaching within their rights, but it would have been better if the school had chosen to cover the similarities between different religions rather than individualizing and emphasizing the uniqueness of one group alone. 

In about sixth grade, my history teacher started to teach us about religious groups outside of the Catholic faith, specifically Islam. He outlined the foundational principles of the religion, which are centered around love for God, treating others with respect and maintaining peace and love with others. A student in the class asked my teacher, “Isn’t this basically the same stuff that Catholics believe?” My teacher smiled and told her, “Yes.” Aside from differing rituals, celebrations and terms for describing God, most major religions have the same foundation. They promote love of others, love of God, and respect for both. Learning that Catholicism and Islam share the same basic principles and values was one of the first steps in transforming my worldview. Humans and the systems we create have far more similarities than differences. 

Later in life, I started to cultivate my view of belief systems furher. I recognized that atheism, while some may argue means lack of belief in anything, is a distinct form of belief: one that there is no God. While everyone’s beliefs appear different, they all begin with the human desire to believe in something. Beliefs that incorporate a higher power in the form of God all preach love for one another. Beliefs in the universe or in humanity preach the same ideals. 

Teachers and parents should make an effort to teach children, early on rather than later in life, that major religions are often preaching the same message in different words and that all belief systems share a common basis or motivation. Emphasizing the human connection in this way will lead children to view all of humanity as the ingroup, rather than all divisions of humanity that appear different from their own as the endless outgroups.