How (and Why) to Talk About Holidays and Religion in Your Classroom

How (and Why) to Talk About Holidays and Religion in Your Classroom

In this blog, we revisit how to talk about the holidays and religion. While these tips are especially applicable right now, they can be used to help us understand cultural celebrations any time of year. Cue singing children:            It’s that time of year… Christmas is so near… Wait! Can we say that in a public school?! The holidays are a time for tradition. For instance, it’s the annual time of year when educators grapple with questions of faith and inclusion in their classrooms and schools. What is appropriate to celebrate? What decorations are allowed? Can the choir sing “Silent Night” in the Christmas—oops!—holiday concert? To avoid potential controversy, some schools ban the mention of holidays or religions altogether. Yet, in this divisive atmosphere (hate crimes against Muslims were up 67% in 2015, and hate crimes of all kinds spiked after the election), it’s even more important to know how to talk about this and not just sweep it under the (prayer?) rug. With the fire (from the Yule log?) burning so hot, it is understandable to not want to add any fuel. However, in an increasingly diverse society, schools have an obligation to help students collaborate across cultures and religions. We can’t learn about other beliefs by pretending they don’t exist. Give students the gift of understanding this holiday season, and let them help guide how we handle these questions. Three of our favorite strategies for real learning—not just feel-good gestures—when discussing holidays and religion in school: Give students a voice: What do you know about the traditions and celebrations that are important to your students? Provide opportunities for students...
Beyond Celebrations: Culturally Responsive Teaching and Citizenship in a Multicultural Society

Beyond Celebrations: Culturally Responsive Teaching and Citizenship in a Multicultural Society

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is here and no doubt many schools will observe the day with instruction on diversity and Civil Rights. Perhaps it will be a speaker, a cultural heritage celebration, or posters prominently displayed in the hall. These activities can help students become more aware of race and other dimensions of diversity. But is “awareness” enough to create a more just society—the one envisioned by Dr. King? Realizing this vision requires culturally competent citizens. Renowned multicultural scholar James Banks conceptualizes a “citizen” as an agent of social change – an active, engaged, and caring individual able and willing to advance democratic goals (2001, 2007). To get our kids there, curriculum should help them acquire the knowledge, dispositions, and skills needed to: Participate in personal, social, and civic actions that will help make our nation more democratic and just. Interact positively with people from diverse groups, whether based on ethnicity, race, culture, class, sexual orientation, gender, or other social groups. Develop a commitment to act to make their communities, the nation, and the world moral, civic, and equitable.   How can we make this happen? Culturally responsive teaching (CRT) offers a framework to reach the above goals. CRT uses the cultural knowledge and experiences to make learning more appropriate and effective (Gay, 2010). Becoming a culturally responsive educator involves a range of skills impacting curriculum, pedagogy, and school climate. Here are a few: A culturally responsive educator can: Identify their own biases and recognize their impacts. Challenge the deficit thinking that assumes students of color are less capable and motivated. Identify how biases and deficit narratives manifest...
Teaching the Holidays, Religion, and Common Core: Three strategies to bring it all together

Teaching the Holidays, Religion, and Common Core: Three strategies to bring it all together

Cue singing children:             It’s that time of year . . Christmas is so near . . .   Wait! Can we say that in a public school?! It’s the holidays, a time of year when educators grapple with questions of culture and inclusion. With a diversifying student body, what is appropriate to celebrate? What decorations are allowed? Can the choir sing “Silent Night” in the Christmas—oops—holiday concert? It’s tricky territory. Some schools ban the mention of holidays or religions.  But we can’t learn about other beliefs by pretending they don’t exist. In a diversifying society, schools have an obligation to help students communicate and collaborate across cultures and religions. The holidays can be a great time for building these skills. And—surprise! You do this while meeting Common Core. Here are three strategies: Give students a voice: What do you know about the traditions and celebrations that are important to your students? Provide opportunities for students to speak and write about what matters to them. Student projects can incorporate personal narratives, interviews, oral histories, videos and more. Use these projects to support peer-to-peer teaching, with students sharing their work through exhibits or other venues. This provides multiple opportunities to meet Common Core standards for analyzing texts, presenting information in multiple forms, and speaking and listening. Go ahead—talk about religion. Holidays are a great opportunity to explore the values and beliefs of faiths. Students deepen their understanding of their own faith as they learn about others. Imagine a holiday concert that included Christian, Jewish and secular songs in the spirit of celebrating and learning about a range of traditions. Why...