It’s been a long, long, time.

Hi friends. I haven’t been posting here in many many moons, but I wanted to share a few details about why, and a few resources for where you can go to find great (and similar) content on teaching World Religions.

The why: So many things! But mostly motherhood (the little peanut is almost 8 months now) and a new position as a coordinator and coach for the Smithsonian Learning Lab. It’s a entry-point into the Smithsonian Institution’s digitized resources (including video, artifacts, images, magazine articles, texts, and lesson plans), designed for teachers and students to explore and create their own collections. It’s been a really interesting adventure into the world of learning with digital media and a great opportunity to work with wonderful museum educators and classroom teachers.

The plug for where to go: I’m still so interested in learning more about World Religions, and I keep my blog feed stocked with several sources. The best one out there has got to be World Religions by George S. Coe. He has a teacher’s eye and does a wonderful job of finding interesting and accessible resources on a variety of religions. I encourage you to check his site out.

In addition, I’ve pulled together some collections of World Religions materials within the Learning Lab site, and I’d love to share those with you:

One of the great things about the site is its flexibility. Each of the above collections are designed so that students can independently access museum materials and learn from them. However, there are also a number of collections that are aimed at teachers and gather materials and teaching ideas around particular topics. I’ve created one of these on Sacred Texts that might interest some readers. You’ll also just want to explore–there is so much to engage with and excite your curiosity!

So, this is goodbye. Thanks so much for all those that read my posts over the past few years and shared ideas here. I’m sure I’ll keep writing somewhere, just not here, so I’ll borrow a closing line from one of my favorite podcasts: “see you on the Internet!”

 

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Teachers Pay Teachers and My Ambivalence

Teachers Pay Teachers, the website described as “sharing economy”  for teaching professionals, has always felt a little strange to me. One of the joys of teaching, for me, has been developing and sharing materials with other like-minded colleagues–that has been one of the impetuses for this blog, after all. I believe in the quality of my materials, but I also believe in professional collaboration, and I learned, through the years, that sharing in the labor of developing lessons and assessments makes both the more mundane tasks of teaching less tiresome and the more creative tasks more invigorating. Therefore, I’ve never felt that I need to sell them in order to feel they have worth, or that sharing them freely is a mistake.

There’s also just my own cheapness. Why would I pay for a worksheet I can make myself? (Which is basically how I feel whenever I do my own googling for lesson ideas and come across something that someone has posted on TpT). That makes it hard to believe that others would pay a buck or two just to save time, but the reality is, many teachers will. Some don’t have the support of colleagues or many resources at their disposal, and some just would rather spend a couple of dollars than reinvent.

A few things recently have caused me to reconsider TpT, and (spoiler alert!) open a store of my own. First, I have two friends that are total pros: History Gal and Writing by Rachel. Their materials are high-quality, their stores are professional-looking and complete, and they enjoy the creating that they do for the site. Second, I’ve been out of the classroom and I don’t have many opportunities to share work, collegially, with friends. While I wholeheartedly believe that new teachers shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel, I also like to share with folks who are contributors, who I trust to use the materials well, and who will genuinely appreciate the help. (My Dropbox files are open and available for any former colleagues meeting the aforementioned description–my items are free for you). But why shouldn’t I take advantage of a platform where maybe I can help those teachers who are short on time or in creativity and perhaps make a little fun-money on the side? (Emphasis on “a little” bit…most items sell for $1, of which you might take home 85 cents. I’ve made about $9 in two months).

So, I’m selling some of my teaching materials. My teaching experience has been so collaborative that it can be tricky to separate out what is mine and what belongs to others, but I try to be strict about using only what I produced myself, and what I haven’t already shared with my district or created for other grants (an issue discussed in this earlier NYT article on the subject). It’s also hard because you realize that so much of classroom magic is not in what’s put down on the handouts or in the assignment description, it’s in the live-action bits: the class discussions, the lectures, the bad jokes…the reasons that teaching can’t simply be reduced to a computer interface or workbook of exercises. A lot of what I have used in the past simply can’t be put into a format that will sell on the site–it wouldn’t make any sense.

It’s tough to advertise, too, when honestly I would give away most of it to anyone who asked nicely. But perhaps the few friends who are reading this might share it with a few more friends who need good United States History or World Religions resources, and they might pass it along (or pin it! or tweet!) We’ll see how it goes, and I have faith that the fun-money will add up eventually, and I’ll be able to buy some new books or something!

Oh yeah, the link! Creative Instruction. Check it out!

P.S. Also, if anyone from TpT is reading this, why is it so cumbersome to add new materials? The worst part is labeling what type of resource it is and what subjects you teach. Instead of a drop-down everytime, it should recognize that most teachers reuse the same labels each time and allow you to choose from those. Just an idea! Thanks!

P.P.S. Anyone out there reading have a store? Or thoughts on TpT? I’d love to hear–please leave a comment below!

In North Braddock, a Derelict Church Offers Signs of Hope | Carnegie Museum of Art: Blog

Source: In North Braddock, a Derelict Church Offers Signs of Hope | Carnegie Museum of Art: Blog

 

More on the revitalization and reuse of former churches–in this case the project itself is part of a renaissance in a town that desperately needs it. My favorite is the photo below:

See my earlier post about this trend in Pittsburgh, and have a wonderful day!

Maureen Fiedler is my hero.

I’ve talked about her radio show before, Interfaith Voices, which is wonderful and informative. But today as I listened to a recent podcast, I heard her challenge Ben Carson and Donald Trump on their bigotry, and was just inspired again by her intelligence, feistiness, and open-minded approach to religion and religious issues. Nuns are awesome, aren’t they? Truly, I admire her independence, her thoughtfulness, and her curiosity about the world and I always learn from her show.

Read her editorial here: No religious test for public office | National Catholic Reporter History nerds will note an allusion to my favorite Abraham Lincoln speech and a great rundown of religion in politics.

Enjoy!

How Indigenous People’s Stories Help Scientists Understand Earthquakes in The Pacific Northwest – The Atlantic

This is a great article from The Atlantic about how scientists and historians have begun to use the myths of the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest to inform their understanding of earthquakes and tsunamis.

In each of the indigenous communities, scientists found incidences of stories retelling a particular earthquake in 1700.  This has helped to solidify the notion that this region is ripe for another such natural disaster. While the myths don’t necessarily give solid advice for survival or preparations, they do offer a sense of the peoples’ resilience, especially when you consider how they have been orally transmitted from generation to generation. For example:

Younker thinks his uncle told him that story partly so that Younker could tell even younger people how to prepare, and partly to say, “make sure you keep your ropes long and your connections to home are well-maintained so you can pull yourself back to home. Because you really can’t separate the past from the present.”

If you teach about indigenous religions, you undoubtedly talk about myths and how they help reveal the ways in which a culture understands the world. What I like about this article is that is shows myths being used in a meaningful way by current researchers (not just as a quaint relic), and also that it offers some reasssurance about cultural and physical survival, in the face of natural or human-induced disasters.

Read more here: How Indigenous People’s Stories Help Scientists Understand Earthquakes in The Pacific Northwest – The Atlantic

Another day, another opportunity to talk about religious bigotry…

By now I’m sure you’ve seen the news articles and clips about Ahmed Mohamed, the 14-yr-old engineering whiz whose homemade clock was mistaken for a bomb, causing his arrest when he brought it to school to show off to his teachers. If you haven’t, a good overview of the story and subsequent fallout is available from the Dallas Morning News.

It’s another chance to talk with students about profiling and misperceptions–how would this have been treated differently if Mohamed had a different religious background? Or gone to a school elsewhere in the nation, or in the world?

Mohamed’s thank you tweet to supporters is bittersweet–appreciative of the outreach he’s gotten (even President Obama invited him to the White House and encourage him to keep pursuing science) but cognizant of the challenges faced by Muslims in the world today:

Ahmed Mohamed's thank-you tweet

Ahmed Mohamed’s thank-you tweet

Hopefully the online support he’s recieved will translate into real-world encouragement and appreciation, especially since STEM is all the rage these days in the education world. I have a hard time know how to respond to Ahmed’s tweet–how to tell him there are many people who do really care about him, who want all young people to stay curious and inventive. I’d love to hear how high-school and middle-school students would respond to Mohamed’s tweet. How do they think they might respond if they were in his shoes–with an overwhelming sense of rejection, or a push for resilience?

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Good advice on Digital Literacy from EdSurge News

Last spring, I wrote about lessons in my World Religions class that veered away from simply being about religion and religious bias to thinking about how we read, interpret, and interact with what’s on the web. This article reminded me of some of those lessons and gave me some ideas to take it farther next time. Enjoy the excerpt below and keep reading at the link…

Twenty-five years ago, the term “literacy” was synonymous with the printed word. Today, that definition has evolved and being literate necessitates more than simply interacting with text. We must be digitally literate, too…

Source: Three Techniques for Teaching Digital Literacy | EdSurge News

Stunning Photographs of the World’s Last Indigenous Tribes | Brain Pickings

If you are teaching a comprehensive world religions course, you most likely start off the year with a look at indigenous religions around the world. This books is well worth checking out of the library and lugging home (and do use the library! Unless your school will pay for it…) for its beautiful portrayal of a variety of indigenous groups.

It does not focus on religion per se, but by capturing so many different cultures in their native places, it gives insight into the deep link between religion, geography, and traditions that can be difficult to dissect from one another when studying indigenous spiritual beliefs.

Each set of images shows how a group survives, what is important to them, and is complemented by some basic historical and ethnographical details. It would be useful to complement case studies assigned in class, or simply as a beautiful book for students to look through in the minutes before class is starting or as things wind down each day. Some of my favorite images are included in this post, and a link to where I first found the book, on the wonderful blog Brain Pickings, is below.

Source: Stunning Photographs of the World’s Last Indigenous Tribes | Brain Pickings

Preservation with Purpose

Since moving to Pittsburgh, I’ve been thinking a lot about historic preservation. Everything here is old–from the house we bought to the streets to the infrastructure (see: falling apart Greenfield Bridge. Thanks for the press CBS!). And there are an enormous number of former churches and religious buildings that have been both preserved and repurposed, in a way that I had not seen much of in the South. This makes sense, right? In the Triangle, the population is growing rapidly and there’s lots of space, so you see storefront churches and megachurches and new religious buildings all of the time. Pittsburgh, while it may be currently on the rise, has suffered from population loss and as congregations dwindle, folks must decide what to do with the buildings they once used.

In our neighborhood alone, Highland Park, there are several examples of religious buildings that have been repurposed, many of them former synagogues.

This is perhaps one of the most impressive buildings, now used as a charter school by the Urban League of Pittsburgh.

Former Congregation B’Nai Israel, now a charter school.

As you can see, there have been almost no changes to the exterior. This picture is from the 1950s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other synagogues in the neighborhood have been put into private use. The one below, Torath Chaim, was the last to close in Highland Park and is now in use as an artist’s studio. This Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article shows some interior pictures from more recent years, while some from 1980 are available at the Rauh Jewish Archives of the Heinz History Center.

The former Torath Chaim in 2015.

The former Torath Chaim in 2015.

Others in the area are now, as far as I can tell, private homes.

Former Machsikei Hadas synagogue, now private home (?).

Former Machsikei
Hadas synagogue, now private home (?).

And of course, there is the Union Project a former church now realized as community space for art classes, yoga, gallery shows, and more.

Stained glass window of the Union Project.

Stained glass window of the Union Project.

Highland Park is one of many neighborhoods in Pittsburgh where these transformations are taking place. Neu Kirche is a Northside gallery slated to open soon, housed in a former Methodist Church. There are hotels, restaurants/breweries, and even the Altar Bar and Mr. Small’s Funhouse, where you can catch some decidedly unholy [musical] acts. Depending on where you live, seeking out this type of reuse could be an interesting class activity. What does it say about population changes or religious communities in the area? About changing values within the urban landscape?

Using the built environment like this also encourages students to really consider the meaning and symbolism in the buildings themselves. Does a congregation, in any religion, need a building to create space for worship? Or can the community itself create that space. Judaism answers this with a hard and fast rule–all you need is ten adult Jews to make a space fit for public worship–nothing is said about the state of the building. In other religions, there may be no set number, but the facility is often secondary to the people that would use it. (Are there exceptions to this in certain faiths?)

Generally, I like these examples of creative reuse. In most cases, they allow the buildings to continue to serve as community meeting places and often act as shelters for new projects and new ideas.  But, this could also be a point of discussion among students. Is it right to use old religious buildings for certain purposes (a bar, for example)? Is commercial development in these formerly sacred spaces in poor taste?

Some additional resources I found regarding reusing religious spaces:

  • Partners for Sacred Spaces is an organization dedicated to helping congregations determine what to do with their buildings and how to best preserve them
  • Repurposing Dying Churches by Ministry Matters argues for using development or repurposing as a way to save buildings and congregations–some spaces can be used part-time for worship and part-time for other activities
  • Hagia Sophia, the original example of repurposing. Might be useful in making the point to students that this is not necessarily a new idea.
  • fancy modern architecture version that is just beautiful to look at.
  • And an opposing point of view, if you want to discuss why some people might be against the redevelopment of sacred spaces.