Are there opportunities for teacher education in study about religion?

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Teacher preparation and good academic resources are needed in order for study about religion in public schools to be constitutionally permissible and educationally sound.

The First Amendment Center supports initiatives in several regions of the country designed to prepare public school teachers to teach about religion. The most extensive of these programs is the California 3Rs Project (Rights, Responsibilities, and Respect). Co-sponsored by the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association, the project has created a network of resource leaders and scholars throughout the state providing support for classroom teachers. Teachers trained by the project give workshops for their colleagues on the constitutional and educational guidelines for teaching about religion. Religious-studies scholars from local colleges and universities are linked with school districts to provide ongoing expertise and periodic seminars on the religious traditions that teachers are discussing in the curriculum.

The Utah State Office of Education co-sponsors a Utah 3Rs Project that is currently building a network of resource leaders in all of the state’s school districts. Other states and districts have similar programs in various stages of development.

Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania offer master’s level programs that are excellent opportunities for both current and prospective public and private school teachers interested in learning more about the study of religion and religious-liberty issues in American public life.

(For more information about the Program in Religion and Secondary Education at Harvard University, contact the Divinity School, 45 Francis Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138. Attention: Nancy Richardson, director. Inquiries about the Religion in Public Life Certificate Program at the University of Pennsylvania should be addressed to Janet Theophano, associate director, Master of Liberal Arts Program, College of General Studies, University of Pennsylvania, 3440 Market St., Suite 100, Philadelphia, PA 19104-3335.)

Other colleges and universities offer assistance to teachers, including in-service programs focused on teaching about religion. A notable example is the Religion and Public Education Resource Center at California State University-Chico. This center provides resources, including curriculum guides and sample lessons in several subject areas. (Contact the Religion and Public Education Resource Center by writing to Bruce Grelle, Dept. of Religious Studies, California State University-Chico, Chico, CA 95929.)

Other organizations, such as the Council on Islamic Education, offer academic resources and workshops on teaching about specific religious traditions. (The Council on Islamic Education may be reached at 714/839-2929.)