This week Montgomery County Public Schools’ Board of Education missed the mark when they removed all references to religious holidays in the 2015-2016 school calendar. Following requests to include Muslim holidays, the Board voted instead to erase all religious holidays from the school calendar- conveying a message that religious differences are too toxic to touch.
The stakes are high – not only for Montgomery County but for classrooms across the nation. By choosing to ignore religious differences, these schools are sending a flawed message in three key ways. First, religious differences do exist and they can’t be papered over. Second, recognizing, understanding and even appreciating religious and other differences are key skills for any student who hopes to succeed in the 21st century. And finally, truly educated people recognize that religion is a force in society and an important identifier for many people – one that influences the arts, history, social discourse and even politics and policies.
By papering over our religious differences, Mongomery County’s Board of Education is turning away from its responsibilities to educate while simultaneously masking reality and stirring fears. To keep our schools from becoming a breeding ground for the bullies and haters of tomorrow, public schools need to help students explore and appreciate religious differences.
We call on the Montgomery County Board of Education to respectfully acknowledge the many ways the people in its community are different – and to teach their students that these differences are normal.
At Tanenbaum, our curricula, webinars and free lesson plans offer educators “how-to” guidance in building respectful classrooms that celebrate cultural and religious diversity.