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Religion - an essential discussion for Alberta classrooms

Apr 13, 2018
L to R: University of Alberta instructor Salima Versi, Rabbi Kliel Rose, Indigenous advisor Veronica Graff, Rev. Susan Oliver, and Nakita Valerio of the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council.
L to R: University of Alberta instructor Salima Versi, Rabbi Kliel Rose, Indigenous advisor Veronica Graff, Rev. Susan Oliver, and Nakita Valerio of the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council.

Avoiding discussing religion in public school classrooms leaves students in the dark, religious scholars and education representatives said at a King’s-hosted conference on April 11.

The conference—Teaching about Religion in Alberta Public Schools—was unique in its kind across Canada. The gathering brought Alberta public school education and religious representatives together to discuss a tricky subject: teaching religion in public classrooms.

“Good education needs to focus on religious literacy,” said Dr. Alan Sears, Professor of Social Studies Education at the University of New Brunswick. “The levels of ignorance are astounding, and they are not helpful. We need to be able to talk to each other with some level of empathy and understanding.”

Margie Patrick, associate professor of education, organized the conference which dovetails with her ongoing research on the same topic. King’s welcomed over 50 individuals from social studies teachers, religious representatives from the community, principals, King’s education faculty and students, and others across Alberta education to debate and discuss if and how religion should be approached in education.

Sears opened the discussion by saying, “Religion is an important part of the civic or Canadian conversation, and I don’t think we’re doing very well at it.”

A sense of grace, empathy, and humour permeated the panelists’ speeches. All expressed that teaching about different religions should be an important part of Canadian classrooms and would help begin addressing ignorance of religion which often leads to fear of religion.

To wrap up, Margie shared preliminary findings from her research into the topic on teachers’ beliefs and perceptions about teaching religion in social studies. Her co-researchers include Mike Ferber, King’s Vice President of Student Life and Dean of Students, and Carla Peck, associate professor of education at the University of Alberta.

The panelists and group discussions had very similar take-aways as their final message. Adding discussion about religion into classrooms, with an open sense of empathy, would better equip students to understand each other, their Canadian context, and the world around them.

“It dispels myths about religious traditions,” said Rev. Susan Oliver. “When we teach religious education, we can start to dispel these myths.”

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