Parents send their children to school each day with the full expectation that they will learn literature, mathematics, science and history – subjects that will help them advance their life goals and ambitions. However, in districts across the country, children are learning subjects that their parents do not agree with. When such controversial curriculum is taught in public schools today, it typically raises concerns among students, parents and teachers. Check out these three subjects that have come under significant scrutiny – and even wrath – in some schools today.
Does Bible Teaching Violate Separation of Church and State?
The teaching of the Bible as literature has ruffled the feathers of educators, parents and lawmakers in school districts around the country. Texas is currently grappling with the debate over introducing the Bible into schools as a new study from Southern Methodist University explores the constitutionality of such teaching. The study, authored by Dr. Mark A. Chancey, targets a class at Eastland High School in Eastland, Texas.
According to the New York Times, Dr. Chancey has used this new study to examine a class taught by Gay Hart at Eastland. Based upon Dr. Chancey’s assessment, the Eastlan class would not pass constitutional muster. Hart’s class explores the Bible, as well as other religious teachings, including Judaism and Muslimism. However, the Bible is the primary focus of the class. To participate in the study, Hart sent Dr. Chancey some of her teaching material. However, Hart did state that Dr. Chancey never actually visited her class before making his assessments.
Dr. Chancey determined that while Hart’s teaching does include a “sympathetic appreciation” for other religions, the class is taught from an evangelical Christian perspective. Dr. Chancey, who conducted a similar study of curriculum in Texas schools in 2006, adds that Hart’s approach is not all that different from other instructors who have used an elective class to “pole vault the wall” separating church and state in schools. Dr. Chancey believes that while the intent may be to teach the Bible from a purely academic perspective, that is not usually the result in class.
“So many people who love the Bible and read the Bible, especially in America, under the influence of Protestant sensibilities, read it as a historically accurate text,” Dr. Chancey explained in the New York Times.
Do Yoga Classes Teach Religion in Schools?
While Texas grapples with the separation of church and state in terms of teaching the Bible, other school districts are facing a very different kind of debate. As yoga has been introduced into physical fitness programs nationwide, some parents are complaining that the Eastern influence of the discipline may be trickling down to the students. Constitution Daily reports that a lawsuit has been filed against the Encinitas Union School District in San Diego because schools in the district have been implementing yoga programs in elementary schools.
The lawsuit alleges that because yoga gets it roots from Eastern religions, including Buddhism and Hinduism, those metaphysical beliefs inherent in the religions are being taught to students along with the positions and breathing exercises. Because yoga is not considered a religion on its own (there is no “Church of Yoga”), the question has arisen through this lawsuit how the courts define religion. The U.S. Supreme Court defined religion in a 1944 decision as “the right to maintain theories of life and of death and of the hereafter which are rank heresy to followers of the orthodox faiths.” In this case, the court will need to look at whether yoga institutes any sort of morality and whether it is sacred or secular to determine whether it qualifies as a religion under the constitution.
Should Sex Ed be Taught in Kindergarten?
While other school districts across the country are grappling with issues involving religion, Chicago Public Schools if facing quite a different kind of curriculum controversy. The school district recently announced plans to bring a set amount of sex education to all grades, including kindergarten. ABC News reports that under the new school policy, kindergarteners will be introduced to the basics about anatomy, reproduction, personal safety and healthy relationships.
“It’s important that we provide students of all ages with accurate and appropriate information so they can make healthy choices in regards to their social interactions, behaviors and relationships,” Barbara Byrd-Bennett, CEO of Chicago Public Schools, told ABC News. “By implementing a new sexual health education policy, we will be helping them to build a foundation of knowledge that can guide them not just in the preadolescent and adolescent years, but throughout their lives.”
The new policy also introduces information about gender identity and sexual orientation in grades five through 12. The purpose of this addition is to promote attitudes of awareness, understanding and tolerance towards LGBT students, and to prevent bullying of those students. Students in these grades will also be instructed on sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDs, contraception (including abstinence), bullying and reproduction. Parents of students may opt out of the sexual education program if they do not wish to have their children participate.
While this is not an exhaustive list of controversial curriculum taught in public schools today, it does touch on some of the biggest issues facing parents, students and educators. As courts become involved in at least some of these controversies, it is possible that schools will receive more legal direction in the future on what is considered “appropriate” classroom teaching according to the Constitution of the United States.