Faith Ed: Teaching About Religion in an Age of Intolerance by Linda K. Wertheimer
I was acquainted with the author through a Facebook group, so I knew that she had published this book. I had no plans to read it, however, until a controversy erupted here in Augusta County, Virginia, over world religions class in a local high school. Having spent time on other religions, the course turned its attention to Islam, and one of the exercises including copying a bit of Arabic Islamic calligraphic art. The mother of one of the students went ballistic–she didn’t like it when she saw that it was Arabic and she really didn’t like it when she learned the words were from the Quran–and created a stir, calling meetings of other parents (held in a church, of course), complaining to the superintendent, demanding that the teacher be fired, etc. Some people in the area thought the mother went overboard but that the teacher had used poor judgment. My personal view is that the assignment was a good thing. The content–about Allah–was harmless and beside the point. We need to do everything we can to open the minds of kids in this area. They are so sheltered, and it is obvious that they and their parents are ignorant about the world beyond the county. One wonders–but can easily guess–where they get their information.
The incident brought Wertheimer’s book to mind, and in fact when it became national news she was asked by several news outlets to comment. So I got a copy, and am very glad that I read it. The book is a series of case studies, including the author’s own experience, about the teaching of religion in schools. The first one in the book, in a chapter called “Burkagate,” occurred in Lumberton, Texas, but is very similar to what happened right here. Other cases also involved teaching about Islam, but Wertheimer also addresses the issue of teaching Christianity in public schools.
It is a beautifully written, well-researched book that reinforces for me the need to expand the minds of Americans. We need more education about world religions and cultures, not less. I highly recommend this book.