In a country that historically has respected religious freedom, it's been important to keep religious teachings out of public schools.
Well, let me rephrase that. It's been important for public schools not to advocate on behalf of any religion or religious belief. That said, it's also helpful if such public institutions teach students about the history of how religious ideas -- good, bad and indifferent -- have helped to shape the nation. If they don't get that, they simply won't understand the U.S. and its development.
So public school teachers cannot legally promote Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism or any other religion. But is it the duty of such educators to parse teachings from any faith tradition and judge whether the students who hold those beliefs should be protected from hearing anything -- anything at all -- that may question the validity of such beliefs?
Believe it or not, a lawmaker in Oklahoma seems to be so worried that public school students will hear something that challenges their religious beliefs that he's introduced legislation to prevent that from happening. (Of course you believe that because you've probably heard that other states are considering similar bills, including a "parents bill of rights" in Missouri. And this know-nothingism is spreading across the nation.) Not only that, but, as the story reports, teachers who violate this bizarre proposed law could be fined "$10,000 'per incident, per individual' and the fines would be paid 'from personal resources' not from school funds or from individuals or groups."
The story also says that if the proposal becomes law, "parents can demand the removal of any book with perceived anti-religious content from school. Subjects like LGBTQ issues, evolution, the big bang theory and even birth control could be off the table." What about books that suggest the Earth is more than 10,000 years old? Will they be gone from the shelves, too?
Oh, heavens. We don't want our children to imagine that there's more than one way to think about things or that there could possibly be conflicting beliefs about faith, do we? Well, yes, we do. Locking children in protective cocoons will simply cause enormous problems later -- problems like we're already experiencing from people who are convinced that they alone have (or their religion alone has) all the answers.
What children most need to learn, in age-appropriate ways, is critical thinking. This bill would prevent that. If you have any influence in Oklahoma or any other state where this approach is being tried, please help defeat this nonsense. (And, no, it's not nonsense for parents to want to know what's being taught to their children. They should want to know that -- in some detail. But these laws really aren't about such disclosure. They're much more about closure.)
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WHEN EDUCATORS DON'T EDUCATE
Princeton University has canceled an exhibit by Jewish artists because, it turns out, some of them had deep ties to the Confederacy and its support for slavery. Oh, no, no, no. That's not how to deal with such controversy. Instead, Princeton should have used it as an opportunity to educate the public about the complexities of history and how it came to be that certain Jewish artists had forgotten or ignored their heritage of ancestors being slaves in Egypt. Instead, they backed the South in the Civil War. Princeton's foolish decision and others of equal imbecility is what created so-called "cancel culture," whose critics often rage about unimportant things.
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Sisters in the Mirror: A History of Muslim Women and the Global Politics of Feminism, by Elora Shehabuddin, professor of trans-national Asian studies at Rice University. When it comes to the advances that feminist activists have brought to the world, the last group many people imagine are part of this movement is Muslim women. The image of stifled, captive, shrouded women in Islam is pervasive, even if there are many ways in which it's merely a misleading stereotype. This new book explores the many reasons such an image is off the mark and often dead wrong. The author explores the history of several centuries to discover various ways in which Muslim women have been working to liberate women, which, of course, doesn't happen without that process also liberating men from old models of patriarchy. The book in some ways is an engaging compilation of stories from around the globe about Muslim women -- sometimes with help and encouragement from outside of Islam -- who are working to create a world in which all people are valued. Beyond that, it's a book that encourages all people to work toward that same laudable end.