Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Festive Greetings

Merry Christmas to All Visitors!

My festive greeting is noticeably late. But for many students of minority (or, in many western countries, non-Christian) faiths, classroom recognition of their religious celebrations is either late, or does not occur at all. This is despite the fact that, for students, the classroom is on par with the home in terms of its significance to their lives.

I attended government schools throughout my primary and high school education. At primary school, we studied Christianity-centred Religious Education (RE) involving a great deal of bible studies, singing and some praying. However, for me, the most memorable and all-time most valuable RE lesson was in year nine at high school. The school chaplain made a visit to our health class and, although he was decidedly Christian, he openly discussed in detail (as opposed to merely mentioning) the non-Christian religions of the world, including their central beliefs and celebrations. Understanding is the easiest path to respect and this chaplain knew that.

In Australia the school year finishes in the final days of the lead up to Christmas. Many primary classes, particularly in the younger years, engage in theme days, arts/crafts and concerts based on this Christian celebration. It is easy to forget to recognise other religions' significant dates, or provide a superficial mention of them as an afterthought of the yearly Christmas celebrations. However, if you prefer to receive your Christmas greeting on December 25, imagine how a Muslim student feels when you start explaining Ramadan (July) in December!

If Christian events such as Easter and Christmas are likely to be a focus in your 2012 classroom, it is important to gauge the religious diversity of your students early in the year. Where one or more students celebrate non-majority religions, as their teacher I would recognise the significant events of their religions as a matter-of-course. This doesn't mean an arts/crafts session on Hanukkah, but it does mean at least a brief class discussion on or very close to Hanukkah, including its origins, significance and common methods of celebration/worship for followers of Judaism.

How you include the student who celebrates that religion is very dependent on their disposition. If they are shy, it is best to discuss the event as a general topic of interest to the class. If they are outgoing, you could offer them the opportunity to present the event to the class themselves.

As I outlined above, reflecting upon my own RE, this serves as a beneficial and educational experience for the whole class and, in a multi-faith world, accepting the presence of other religions within the school serves as valuable foundation for mutual respect in the wider community. Even if your school is completely secular and does not even acknowledge Easter or Christmas, it is important to have an awareness of students' religions as events requiring fasting can affect a child's mood and performance at school.

From my scan of freely available online multi-faith calendars, this one was the most comprehensive and includes links that explain the nature of each event:

This was the most brief but useable in terms of including only the major celebrations of many religions:

What are your views on the concept of a multi-faith classroom?

Will you be using a multi-faith calendar to recognise the religious celebrations of all your students in 2012?


Stephanie said...

Hi Anna,
Interesting post as a teacher in a New Zealand state school we are strictly secular which means that I didn't have to think much about Religious Education. On one placement the start of Ramadan was noted in the staffroom as some students were fasting but there didn't seem to be any inquiry around it (however I was only at the school for a few years).

However I went to a private Anglican school as a child where we had a specific time set aside for religious instruction. Interestingly I remember spending year 7 touring both a local synagogue and mosque as part of finding out more about religion.


Anna Kapnoullas said...

Hi Stephanie,

I was wary that this post might be restricted in its appropriate audience since some countries take a strictly secular approach within the government school system. Interesting to hear that NZ is one of them.

I'm not sure of the official approach Australia/Victoria has taken (will have to find out - anyone reading know?) but I have seen many Christmas activities of late so, if the policy is strictly secular, it certainly isn't in practice. I have also heard of Christian-based religious education in government schools only this year, so I doubt Victoria has taken the same approach as NZ yet, but one would think it might be on the cards in a few years given the increase in both atheism and multiculturalism.


K Lirenman said...

As the only Jewish person in my 600+ person school I think it's important for everyone to feel comfortable sharing who they are. My students are often perplexed when I tell them that I do not celebrate Christmas. However, I take the time to learn what is important to them. For many their religions (and I have a variety of religions in my classroom) are very important to them. I celebrate this with them.

Other ways I try to incorporate what is important to my students is by including their special holidays on our class calendar. When we celebrate a birthday we sing the "happy birthday song" in many different languages. I encourage them to teach me, and others in our class a little bit about their cultures. I encourage children to share what's important to them, but to be aware that what is important to them may not be important to others and that's okay.

We all need to learn that there are people that believe differently then we do, and we need to be okay with those differences. Imagine if everyone in the world could do that? I may not be able to influence the entire world. but I will certainly do my very best with the students in my classroom.

Anna Kapnoullas said...

Hi Karen,

That is exactly what I was hoping to hear from an educator. The idea of singing the birthday song in their languages is awesome! So is the respectful and tolerant culture you describe in your classroom.

It is a difficult task to create such a delicate balance where students feel able to listen to and respect the views of other students, but simultaneously feel confident and secure in their own values.

Thanks so much for sharing,

Sam Goodman said...

I always ensure that we research and discuss other faiths. I must admit as many other teachers would that I could always do it better.
A standard activity (especially in the 5/6 area) is to investigate how Christmas is celebrated across the world. This then is evolved into what other religious celebrations are there and what is there significance.
This year we were so fortunate to have a Buddhist student in the class who was more than willing to join in the Christmas celebrations, however when we asked her about what celebrations she had throughout the year, she was so excited to share. The look of amazement and interest on the other students faces was fantastic. She then brought in photos of lanterns etc. that they use int heir celebrations. It is such a valuable real life learning experience which values the differences in our classes.
So fantastic to see such an enthusiastic and reflective new educator - well done!

Anna Kapnoullas said...

Hi Sam,
I love that you say it was 'fortunate' to have a Buddhist student because that is exactly the type of outlook I hope to adopt when I am a fully-fledged teacher. That sort of sharing is great to hear and the students would be so much more engaged in learning about another culture when it belongs to and is taught by one of their peers.
Thanks for commenting,