Politics and Religion
If it is generally true that co-workers and family members try to avoid talking too much with each other about politics and religion, this is especially true during a presidential election year. The purpose of today’s blog entry is to examine this phenomenon through the lens of elementary school curriculum.
We are all familiar with the terms that are used to describe the traditional division of school curriculum into what we call disciplines or subject-areas: these include reading, writing, math, language arts, social studies, science, art, music, drama, foreign language, and so on. These are not terrible terms, but I do believe that they have skewed our understandings of human potential in some unfortunate ways.
Were we to rethink our assumptions about elementary school curriculum, I would urge a serious consideration of the existing terminologies. As an alternative I would propose primary emphasis on science, religion, and art. Such a proposal would not diminish the importance of foundational literacy in reading and writing, nor in mathematics and engineering; on the contrary, I am merely proposing that we consider a unified curriculum rather than a fragmented one.
My guiding assumption is that all human experience is simultaneously fact-based, belief-based, and feeling-based. Differentiation among cultures notwithstanding, young people all over the world tend to be observant. They make observations all the time, and little can prevent them from drawing inferences and sometimes making conclusions. This is the part of our biology that benefits from systematic instruction in the scientific method.
Young people also tend to form opinions at a surprisingly early age. Sometimes they arrive at these opinions on their own, and sometimes they adopt their ideas from peers or from adults. I do not believe that a child’s development can be complete without exposure to as many different belief-sets as possible. Rather than worrying too much about the teaching of dogma, I believe that systematic instruction in religious thinking can provide a bulwark against fear and mistrust.
Finally, while there can be little doubt that young people have unique and important aesthetic/expressive sensibilities, it is not clear that these are fully integrated into their overall education. I recognize that good schools provide ample opportunity for students to express themselves both in cross-disciplinary projects and in specialized programs, but I worry that such so-called artistic expression is typically divorced from other important literacies.
I celebrate the fact that human beings are curious and analytical about their data (science), passionate and loyal about their beliefs (religion), and unique and dynamic about their feelings (art). Those of us entrusted with the education of young people are already confronted with multiple demands. My hope is merely to propose a more integrated way of thinking about these three essential aspects of human experience.