There is No God but “That God…” and He’s the Same as Yours. Unless You’re Atheist…
How Social Studies Saved the World
“There’s terrorism in the world because they worship that god.”
“What God?” I ask.
“Their God, Allah.”
Stop right there!
Red flags fly when people use the mysterious “they.” “They” is the root of all separation. Separation leads to prejudice, prejudice to conflict, and conflict to suffering.
I always “stop right there,” when I hear “they.”
I teach. You might think my job is to make kids read and write, but my real job is to promote understanding, and lead people on the path to happiness. I challenge ignorance–dispel it. Ignorance is a dangerous thing–I replace it with knowledge and eventually respect.
I’m teaching kids to look for the root cause of big problems using The Six Sigma “Five Whys”. We can’t solve world problems, but if we ask “why” five times the last “because” should be something actionable.
“Six-figure execs do this.” I say. “It works. You have a money-making skill.”
Students love money. They forget this is work. They start dissecting the critical question, “Why is there terrorism?
Twenty kids, twenty answers. We look for red herrings, false correlations, non sequiturs, and logic flaws and we cross them out. We’re left with solid answers: bad politics, poverty, difference between the rich and poor, lack of education, inadequate medical care…
And, “Because their god…”
People are uncomfortable with the subject of religion and culture in the classroom.
“You can’t teach that!” kids sometimes say.
“I can. And I must… People shoot each other over religion,” though I’ve never found a holy book that tells anyone to do so. “Maybe people wouldn’t if they had a good social studies teacher.” When I discuss religion and culture, I teach with respect–as if every one were my own.
Students rarely know about religions and cultures other than their own. In many cases they feel a certain guilt learning about them–as if they’re selling their own heritage down the river. I explain they’re not.
“You need your own thoughts, belief, and faith, but you must understand where the other person’s coming from…and approach them with respect…” Respect should be the foundation of mankind.
“Learning about religion and culture is important,” I tell them, “Not just because you don’t want to put pepperoni on your Jewish friend’s pizza…Because you’ll find we’re all pretty similar when it comes to the important things.”
Over the years I’ve discussed Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism… Christian students sometimes struggle with minority Christian religions so I’ve taught the Protestant Reformation, the Great Awakening, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormon beliefs.
One year I brought holy books from several religions. A few students donated their books I didn’t have. Student reaction ranged from excitement and interest to fear and disgust that they might somehow be contaminated by the books and artifacts of others.
To ignore that fear is to sell out my real purpose as a teacher.
Social Studies teachers are the kids left out of the education kickball game–everyone’s all about math, literacy, and test scores, but in today’s climate where there’s disrespect or violence depending on which side of an ideology, race, or religion you’re on–even on our college campuses (see: Dartmouth and Yale)–never has there been more of a need. Social studies is a powerful subject to teach at the youngest ages.
“Who is ‘their God?'” I ask.
Stop right there!
“‘Their God’ is the same as your God. Unless you’re an atheist,” I say.
“It’s like when I say ‘Jesus Cristo’ in Spanish, and ‘Jesus Christ’ in English–same guy…Allah means ‘God’ in Arabic. It’s the same God you pray to when you don’t study for my test.” They laugh.
“Why don’t they believe in Jesus?” I explain “they” do believe Jesus. Many students are surprised to discover Jesus is a prophet in Islam, “but since God is God why would you need more than that?”
Students from several backgrounds begin discussing feelings, experiences, and beliefs–with respect and interest. Some classes have diversity, some do not, so the conversation takes on a different flavor each time. That’s what education is all about.
Not once do we discuss violence, misdeeds, or evil, although someone states that Christians stole the Ten Commandments from Jews. “Is that plagiarism?” I explain that it’s not. Proper attribution has been given… “and see… it proves we’re all pretty similar after all.”
It’s sinking in. Watching students educate each other is a beautiful thing. Fixing this God misconception is easy since it’s not based in intolerance–just a simple lack of knowledge.
This is the true reason for teaching. To have the flexibility–and ability–to recognize a critical teachable moment, and to go with that flow, leaving everyone nodding and understanding each other a little more in the end.
This draft was sitting on my desk when a girl of Middle Eastern descent came to me and said, “Miss, someone on Facebook said all Middle Easterners should be rounded up and shot.”
Most of us would’ve blasted back on social media fueling the anger. Not this girl. I asked her to read my draft. “Should I publish this?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. “You have to.”
And in two days, that girl arranged panel discussions with students of every religion meant to educate the entire community. Instead of responding with anger, she said “stop right there,” and chose love. Love–the key to enlightenment, education, tolerance, understanding and respect.
“Casey, you’re naive,” you might say. “You can’t solve this!”
No. You’re right. I can’t. But if we keep asking “why,” and look for the root cause, we’ll find the root cause can always be improved–if not solved–with love.
Sometimes the adults don’t get it, but a kid nails it and responds with love to make the world a better place.
That’s when I realize we really do have a shot after all.