Teaching about Religion in National and State Social Studies Standards (2000)

This study by the Council on Islamic Education and the First Amendment Center analyzes the standards and program frameworks in seven national curriculum documents, most of which were published in the early 1990s, as well as the academic standards documents adopted or undergoing adoption by most of the 50 states. State standards documents will decisively impact content in teaching, textbooks and testing for the foreseeable future.

While the report shows positive signs for the future of teaching about religion in public schools, it also reveals some important limitations in the standards, raising the question of whether the subject is being pursued with much seriousness or depth. Among the weaknesses in the state standards documents identified in the study:

  • Coverage of religion in the early grades is mostly superficial.
  • Many American history courses largely ignore religion after the Civil War.
  • In world history, the major world faiths each receive a thumbnail sketch, but, with the exception of Christianity, historical developments in religious thought and institutions are often omitted.

The report also warns that the presence of religion in the standards will not necessarily translate into serious academic treatment of religion in the curriculum. The report makes a number of recommendations for reform, including knowledge about religion as test items in assessment, improving treatment of religion in textbooks, and offering in-service and pre-service educational opportunities for teachers in religious studies.

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