THE BLOG
09/23/2015 02:46 pm ET Updated Sep 23, 2016

Teaching About Religion in Schools Need Not Be Daunting

As the school year across the country is well underway, many school districts, administrators and teachers continue to grapple with how best to teach about religion in their classrooms.

Part of this struggle is due to our politically charged climate when it comes to teaching -- or even talking -- about religion. As comments made by Dr. Ben Carson over the weekend and those made by Kawika Crowley several years back about Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard suggest, we still have a long way to go before we can get past xenophobia in our public sphere.

Still, teaching about religion is one of the most important tools at educators' disposal to overcome xenophobia, prepare their students for an increasingly globalized and interconnected society, and ensure that every student -- regardless of whether they ascribe to religion or not -- is at least aware of the basics of each faith tradition and their role in societies.

To help address some of the lingering questions about how teachers can incorporate an inclusive teaching approach in their classrooms, the Religious Freedom Center, Tony Blair Faith Foundation's Face to Faith, Tanenbaum, and the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) partnered with the National Council for Social Studies (NCSS) to host a four-part webinar series called "Religion, Social Studies, and You." The goal of the series was to get teachers, particularly those in less diverse districts, to better understand their freedom in teaching about faith.

The webinar will be featured as a live clinic at the NCSS conference in November, which will provide educators an opportunity to interact with nationally renowned experts like Charles Haynes, the Rev. Mark Fowler, and Kristen Looney. In the meantime, it's also important for educators to know that they have plenty of resources available to them, thanks to the tireless efforts of some great organizations focused on empowering teachers to better teach about religion in the classroom.

Here are just a few of the organizations that are working to make sure that classrooms become better equipped to teach about religion, diversity and pluralism.

Religious Freedom Center at the Newseum Institute:
The nation's foremost organization in educating the public about the role of religion in America's schools, and the Constitutional implications of church and state separation, the center has long been at the forefront of ensuring that schools do not shy away from teaching about religion. Haynes is one of the most influential scholars and experts on religion and schools, and the center's diverse programming is a must for any teacher seeking to expand her/his understandings about the scope of faith in public life.

Tanenbaum: Tanenbaum offers a diverse array of resources, ranging from teacher training to conflict resolution. Fowler, a former teacher, is one of the nation's best at explaining how to integrate diversity and inclusion into teaching approaches. Tanenbaum's Seven Principles are a great guide for teachers and community members.

Face to Faith: The Tony Blair Faith Foundation's commitment to U.S. education is exemplified in Face to Faith, which connects classrooms across the world with each other. More importantly, Looney is one of the best at working with teachers to help them navigate through interactions among diverse cultures. Her sense of empathy as a former teacher (and ordained minister) shows in the workshops she leads.

Hindu American Foundation: HAF's Hinduism 101 program is designed to dispel stereotypes and misconceptions about Hinduism, while empowering teachers to teach about Hinduism as a living tradition rather than as a relic of past eras. Vetted by academics and teachers, the program works to help teachers get a better sense of how to teach about Hinduism while helping them deal with outdated textbooks and curriculum standards. HAF also collaborates extensively with other faith-based and secular organizations to maximize learning.

Islamic Networks Group: For over 20 years, ING has been one of the nation's top organizations in helping educators become more comfortable in teaching about Islam. But ING's teacher trainings are only one part of their programs. The organization, based in the Bay Area with affiliates across the country, also organizes interfaith speaker panels to ensure that educators and communities can better engage with diversity.

Anti-Defamation League: The ADL's work in combating bullying and intolerance in schools has been groundbreaking, and they continue to build upon that legacy. Dealing with diverse issues such as homophobia, xenophobia, racism, ageism, classism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice, the ADL works with diverse constituencies and is often one of the first organizations called to deal with conflict resolution in the classroom.

Sikh Kid 2 Kid: One of the youngest groups (in the age of the organization and its members) in this effort, Maryland-based Sikh Kid 2 Kid has earned national acclaim for the work they do in peer education and combating stereotypes in classrooms. Hana Mangat and her mother Dr. Harminder Kaur, along with a team of committed youth and parents, have done amazing work in raising awareness about Sikhism and how educators can better teach about it.

These organizations are just a small sample of the expanse of local and national groups working to mitigate and ultimately eliminate educators' fears in teaching about religion in the classroom. Hopefully, in these turbulent times, they are among the first calls teachers make when help is needed in understanding the increasingly diverse world in which we live.