Religious Studies Recognized as Essential Part of K-12 Education

NCSS RFC logosToday, the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) added a supplement to its College, Career and Civic Life (C3) Framework for the academic study of religion in K-12 social studies instruction. The “Religious Studies Companion Document for the C3 Framework” recognizes religious studies as an essential part of the social studies curriculum. The C3 Framework is  widely used by state and school district curriculum experts for social studies standards and curriculum development. The new Companion Document and the entire C3 Framework are now available on the NCSS website.

NCSS Executive Director Lawrence Paska said, “The Religious Studies Companion Document expands the C3 Framework as a robust and living resource for social studies programs. It further guides the social studies as a place where inquiry draws on multiple disciplines in appropriate, evidence-based ways to help us ask and answer questions about our cultures and the wider world around us.”

The C3 Framework pairs fundamental college and career education with civic life, uniting students and educators to build upon NCSS’s longstanding position that citizens must acknowledge the past, understand their changing cultural and physical environments, and act in ways that promote the common good. The Companion Document—which is the product of a teacher-led initiative that launched at a conference for educators at Prospect High School in Mt. Prospect, IL—was developed by educators, school administrators, and subject matter experts from Harvard University and Rice University, with the support of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and of the Religious Freedom Center (RFC) of the Newseum Institute.

“I commend NCSS for sending a strong message that religious literacy is not an add-on or afterthought,” said Charles Haynes, founding director of the Religious Freedom Center. “Religious literacy is critical for sustaining the American experiment in religious liberty and diversity. Only by educating students about religions and beliefs in ways that are constitutionally and academically sound can the United States continue to build one nation out of many cultures and faiths.”

“The timing could not be more apt,” added AAR Executive Director Jack Fitzmier. “The rise in religious misunderstanding accompanying global migration, world conflicts, and religious identity politics signifies the need for a renewed focus on the academic study of religion.”

The Companion Document builds upon the “AAR Guidelines for Teaching about Religion in K‑12 Public Schools in the United States,” published in 2010. The academic approach used in the NCSS Supplement—initially articulated by James V. Panoch and adopted by the First Amendment Center—encourages student awareness of religions, but not acceptance of a particular religion; studying about religion, but not practicing religion; exposing students to a diversity of religious views, but not imposing any particular view; and educating students about all religions, but not promoting or denigrating religion.

NCSS, in partnership with the Religious Freedom Center, plans to develop a professional development program around both the Companion Document and religion studies instruction within the K-12 curriculum.

The Companion Document also builds upon a 2014 NCSS position statement on the “Study About Religions in the Social Studies Curriculum.” In the statement, NCSS affirms that study about religions should be an essential part of the social studies curriculum, and that knowledge about religions “is necessary for effective and engaged citizenship in a diverse nation and world.”

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