Greetings from the Gurudwara!

Not exactly–it was over a week ago that I had the pleasure of taking my two World Religions classes to the Sikh Gurudwara of NC. This is the second year that I have taken students there, and our host, Kulpreet Singh, has also come to my school in the past to speak with them. It is, every time, a wonderful experience.

The gurudwara peeking out from behind the trees--picture courtesy of Google Earth.

The gurudwara peeking out from behind the trees–picture courtesy of Google Earth.

The gurudwara is located behind a Baptist church on the other side of town from our high school. The building itself is eye-catching on the outside, but fairly simple when you enter. The students make their way in through the ground floor into the langar hall, where the Sikh community gathers for food and fellowship. There the kids work on covering their hair and taking off their shoes (wrapping the scarves can be a tricky feat if you’ve never done it before). Then Mr. Singh takes us upstairs into the worship hall.

We are incredibly lucky in that our host, Mr. Singh, is warm, honest, and funny. He is an incredible teacher and introduction to the faith. I’ve taught his son, who shares the same silly and kind nature. Mr. Singh gives a very brief introduction to the beliefs and worship practices, and then lets the students guide the conversation. Every year, it is no problem filling up an hour and a half with this exchange of ideas.

Mr. Singh does a lot to emphasize the commonalities among religions, and among people. He uses the analogy of droplets of water in one big ocean to illustrate the way that we are all one. His message, a colleague pointed out, was especially meaningful to hear now when so much of the news has been focused on black vs. white and the powerful vs. the oppressed. While he shows the kirpan (the small sword that all Sikhs wear) and walks students around the Guru Granth (the scripture that is revered as the last guru), well aware of how eye-catching these items are, mostly his message is about how his faith emphasizes respecting the perspectives of others, finding commonalities, and reaching for equality. Again, his description of the kirpan as a reminder to fight against injustice, anywhere, was a timely one. How inspiring for a faith to wholly emphasize the protection of others.

The rest of this week has been a whirlwind of testing and grading, wrapping things up before everyone heads home for three weeks of much needed rest. My students that were unable to join us that day completed their own, online, version of the trip by doing this Ted-Ed lesson that I made. Today, after their test on Indian religions, my students wrote thank-yous and reflections on the past unit. Their notes reflect a sense of gratitude for the opportunities we have in our community, to visit with people of other faiths and other cultures, and to bring that learning back home with us (and also an appreciation for getting a couple of hours off of school). I echo those feelings, and am also further impressed by how welcoming the various faith communities in this city are–I have never failed to hear back from a house of worship or a speaker, but rather am always overwhelmed by the time and care given by those that share with my classes. Thank you.

What’s going on?! A brief run-down of the last few weeks

Photo by Nikolas Wall

It’s not what it looks like. Photo by Nikolas Wall

It’s been kind of a long week. Or two, actually. It started for me last week, with the non-indictment in Ferguson. While not entirely surprised, I was, and continue to be, pretty broken-hearted about the situation. As I shared with my students, to watch images of protesting and anger and to know that so many people don’t feel safe in this country, protected by the police, or served by its government, makes me incredibly sad. That the experience of life (and justice) in this nation for blacks is so different from my own experience isn’t news to me, but last week’s events were a stinging reminder.

The non-indictment led to a heartfelt and thoughtful discussion in my first period class the next day. School teachers (and maybe journalists) are the only people I know who have to read about the news and formulate a response and a way to discuss it with thirty teenagers before 7:30 that morning. Our talk was good, heartfelt and honest, but given the subject matter it was not particularly happy.

What was happy, though, was my 3rd period World Religions class and the moment you see captured above. I mentioned this in my last post, but Reverend WonGong So came to visit our class and delivered an awesome presentation on Won Buddhism. The best part, though, was when she got 36 kids to stand up and led them through walking and moving meditations. My favorite times teaching are when you can get students to completely abandon their teenage self-consciousness and fully embrace a goofy learning moment. (And you can see that they did! They were doing arm circles in that picture, not heiling Hitler, which unfortunately it kind of looks like).

Fortunately, last Tuesday was followed by a relaxed and wonderful visit home with family. Coming back this week to little annoyances (unruly kids, progress reports), and more examples of the troubling state of race relations in our country (the Eric Garner non-indictment and the story about Lennon Lacy in Bladenboro, NC) have been a bit of a let down, but hopefully there are some good things coming up. Next week, World Religions goes to the Sikh gurdwara, and I think we’re making progress in APUSH. I’ve got some projects in the work for the blog, as well. Stay tuned, and thanks for putting up with my emotions this week!

Question, because I am curious: How have you dealt with the Brown and the Garner cases in your classrooms?

What You Don’t Know (according to Stephen Prothero)

I’ve slowly been working my way through two Stephen Prothero books this fall: God is Not One: the Eight Rival Religions that Run the World and Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know–And Doesn’t. While I’m using the first as a resource and referring to chapters when they complement my teaching, the latter I read straight through. Upon reading the introduction, I felt a sense of satisfaction (the feeling you feel when someone incredibly smart agrees with your point of view). Parts of Prothero’s introduction read like a much better written version of my course syllabus. As he argues for the promotion of religious literacy, he states:

…I write here not as a believer (or unbeliever) but as a citizen. My purpose is not to foster faith or to denigrate it. Neither is it to advance the liberal arts or to boost high school students’ SAT scores (though these are both laudable educational ends to which religious literacy might be put). My goal is to help citizens participate fully in social, political, and economic life in a nation and a world which religion counts. (p. 15).

Yes!!! Like Prothero, I encounter huge gaps in my students’ religious knowledge, both in my elective course and as I try to wade through the American history curriculum. And, like Prothero, I strongly believe that increasing religious literacy is critical to building better citizens (and just better people). But while we agree on the problem facing America today, and I appreciated his scholarship on why exactly religious literacy has declined,  I do differ with Prothero when it comes to the solutions he suggests.

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