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Faith Ed: Teaching About Religion in an Age…

Faith Ed: Teaching About Religion in an Age of Intolerance

by Linda K. Wertheimer

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I think I was reading this at the wrong time in American history. The discussions on problems within American society around the subject of religion and the human condition made me downright angry such that I had to put the book down many times and walk away from it. The words in the title: "in an Age of Intolerance", were particularly appropriate during this election cycle (2016) but, on thinking back through my readings on the US Presidents, it has been thus on many occasions.
I have finally gotten through the book and am encouraged by the concluding two chapters which discuss the practice of teaching young Americans the facts of religious participation in society at schools in Modesto, California. Perhaps California really is a different country from a collective of the remaining states. ( )
  gmillar | Jan 21, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Well-meaning, but ultimately doesn't accomplish its goals. Instead of investigating one case in depth, the book hopscotches from one controversy to another, and doesn't spend enough time anywhere to go beyond teachers trying to educate vs. overanxious parents and paranoid critics. Also, "Faith Ed" only sporadically goes into the broader history of teaching religion in the public schools, a context that I would've found helpful. My final issue concerns the author herself. She clearly wants her own son to grow up with a knowledge of different religions, but it appears she wants schools to do that for her, instead of reading up on them herself and passing on what she learned. As with so many other things, education on values and tolerance start at home. ( )
  bostonian71 | Dec 29, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Can teaching American children about different religions in the public schools prevent intolerance later? That is the thesis the author explores. Through interviews across the country she explores what is currently being taught, what is working, and how to overcome objections. Recommended for all educator and parents that would like a more equitable society going forward. ( )
  BookWallah | Oct 13, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A series of case studies advocating for the teaching of world religions in schools at the primary and secondary level. Posits that more knowledge about all religions can make people more tolerant, less likely to bully, and provide basis for forming more meaningful dialog and relationships. The recommended approach is purely factual, and integrated into geography and history as a cultural-awareness curriculum. Issues addressed are how much 'participation' is acceptable, who are appropriate teachers/speakers (e.g. is it better for the classroom teacher to neutrally instruct, even in faiths not their own, or is it better to have 'experts' from that faith community do the instruction), and what ages are appropriate.
  wademlee | Sep 8, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Those of us who care about separation of church and state, and about religious tolerance and accommodation in American life ¬often wish that knowledge of the beliefs of the major religions could be taught in schools, in order to lay the foundation for respect of alternative viewpoints. Linda K. Wertheimer (not the Linda Wertheimer from NPR) describes in Faith Ed a number of attempts to do just that, from her own experience in fourth grade with “The Church Lady”, a well-meaning lay teacher of weekly Christian lessons in the public schools of rural Ohio, to many unsuccessful and a few effective programs from Massachusetts to Texas, Florida, Kansas, and California. Wertheimer does not begin with her own unfortunate experience as a Jewish ten-year-old, confused and traumatized in a situation beyond her understanding and the control of her parents, but with the story of a Lumberton, Texas teacher who, using her own resources, provided Islamic garments such as burkas and hijabs, thwabs, and chadors for her students to try on as part of her geography classes. While one could argue that there are few communities more in need of objective information about religious diversity than Lumberton, it proved also to be extraordinarily refractory when it came to acceptance of those ideas. The episode ends with the religious garments destroyed by the teacher herself, an anti-Muslim reaction on a national scale (thanks to Fox News), and a community even less tolerant than before. It seemed that educational practices that are exemplary in other fields are fraught, when applied to comparative religion in a conservative community.
Another practice that is often successful when applied in other fields is the use of “field trips”. Why not take students to visit a cooperating nearby minority congregation? Such a lesson ought to have an especially good prognosis in an affluent Boston suburb like Wellesley, home of Wellesley College and with a secular community environment. Not so! The behavior of children is notoriously unpredictable, and when some sixth-grade boys were videotaped participating in prayer at a Mosque (which was apparently ok with the Muslim community) the resulting storm in the blogosphere required the Wellesley Middle School teachers to substantially modify their program, to make the student visits at a time when prayer would not be occurring, and improving communication with parents about the content of the lessons and the goals of the program. It evolved into what proved to be an effective unit, as determined by follow-up interviews by Wertheimer with teachers and students one and two years after the lessons had been taught.
Even if it is agreed that teaching about religion in public schools is a desirable thing to do, and even if one can avoid pitfalls in the methods used to present this hot-button topic, there remain important questions that must be addressed by any teacher or school who would want to do so. At what age should lessons about minority religions be taught? Should instruction begin as early as possible, or should it wait until children have a foundation in their own tradition? Which minority (or majority) religions should be included - only those with adherents in the local community, or the major religions of the world? How should teachers be prepared for this task, since few are formally trained in comparative religion, and how much latitude should they be given?
Wertheimer maintained a clinical relationship to the schools, teachers, administrators, and communities she visited and on which she reports. By remaining non-judgmental, she provides valuable insight into the thinking and the motivations of her interviewees. In doing so, she has written a valuable guide to any to anybody who might be considering an informational religious unit in a public school. It is full of both sage advice and cautionary tales. ( )
  hcubic | Aug 31, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0807086169, Hardcover)

An intimate cross-country look at the new debate over religion in the public schools
A suburban Boston school unwittingly started a firestorm of controversy over a sixth-grade field trip. The class was visiting a mosque to learn about world religions when a handful of boys, unnoticed by their teachers, joined the line of worshippers and acted out the motions of the Muslim call to prayer. A video of the prayer went viral with the title “Wellesley, Massachusetts Public School Students Learn to Pray to Allah.” Charges flew that the school exposed the children to Muslims who intended to convert American schoolchildren. Wellesley school officials defended the course, but also acknowledged the delicate dance teachers must perform when dealing with religion in the classroom.

Courts long ago banned public school teachers from preaching of any kind. But the question remains: How much should schools teach about the world’s religions? Answering that question in recent decades has pitted schools against their communities.

Veteran education journalist Linda K. Wertheimer spent months with that class, and traveled to other communities around the nation, listening to voices on all sides of the controversy, including those of clergy, teachers, children, and parents who are Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Sikh, or atheist. In Lumberton, Texas, nearly a hundred people filled a school-board meeting to protest a teacher’s dress-up exercise that allowed freshman girls to try on a burka as part of a lesson on Islam. In Wichita, Kansas, a Messianic Jewish family’s opposition to a bulletin-board display about Islam in an elementary school led to such upheaval that the school had to hire extra security. Across the country, parents have requested that their children be excused from lessons on Hinduism and Judaism out of fear they will shy away from their own faiths.

But in Modesto, a city in the heart of California’s Bible Belt, teachers have avoided problems since 2000, when the school system began requiring all high school freshmen to take a world religions course. Students receive comprehensive lessons on the three major world religions, as well as on Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and often Shintoism, Taoism, and Confucianism. One Pentecostal Christian girl, terrified by “idols,” including a six-inch gold Buddha, learned to be comfortable with other students’ beliefs. 

Wertheimer’s fascinating investigation, which includes a return to her rural Ohio school, which once ran weekly Christian Bible classes, reveals a public education system struggling to find the right path forward and offers a promising roadmap for raising a new generation of religiously literate Americans.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 06 Jul 2015 19:25:27 -0400)

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