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"Let There Be Light!”: Teaching About Religion, the Nexus with Character Education, and Implications for Upper Elementary/Middle School Students Open Access

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Since 9/11, the repercussions of religious intolerance have reached center stage, highlighted by religious hate crime statistics, governmental policies, and documented cases of increased anxiety. Religious illiteracy is also highlighted as a phenomenon across the American landscape. Conceptual arguments hold that knowledge of other religions can promote religious tolerance through intercultural discourse and understanding, elements of a proper civic education. Beyond a practical gap between religious intolerance in the United States and the educational measures taken to resolve the issue, little empirical evidence exists concerning teaching about religion in public education. These gaps elicited the main research question of this study: What are the implications of teaching about religion to sixth grade students at a public charter school who learn about religion through the Core Knowledge Sequence? Two subquestions subsequently arose during data collection: (a) What practices and strategies are utilized by teachers and administrators to prepare for and implement a unit on religion? (b) What perceptions do students, teachers, and administrators have on the interplay between teaching about religion and character education?I conducted a single, descriptive case study of a sixth grade class engaged in a history unit on Judaism and Christianity at a school that utilized the Core Knowledge Sequence to answer these questions. Daily character education lessons were also integral to the school curriculum and were included in the case. Through a combination of observations during both instructional and noninstructional periods, interviews with students, teachers, and administrators, and collection of pertinent documents related to the unit and school environment, I illustrated the case with rich, thick description. Data analysis began concurrently with data collection through open coding, with patterns identified. Further open and axial coding collapsed patterns into categories before three themes emerged that informed the presentation of the data findings and interpretations of the study: promoting understanding, maintaining respect, and preparing for the future. Potential recommendations based on findings were reflected in a theoretical model for a school and included increasing and tailoring professional development, implementing inquiry-based learning (IBL) strategies with the C3 framework, and fostering a respectful school and classroom environment through character education. As a primarily exploratory study, these findings served to augment the empirical literature on religion and public education for further research.

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