This post is a week or two overdue, but it’s finally happened…. I have a thesis topic!
I’ve been really interested in the role that religious history has played in Philadelphia (and in Pennsylvania as a whole). This is a state that was founded as a haven from religious persecution, and it has been fascinating to learn about the legacy of this founding, at least from the Jewish perspective at NMAJH. But so many religious groups have interacted — sometimes embracing, sometimes struggling — with religious liberty in Philadelphia, and it would be great to celebrate this in schools.
Especially with the amount of religious diversity within Philadelphia public schools, studying the history of religious liberty can help students to learn about each other, in addition to learning about the past. This is a benefit that Linda K. Wertheimer explores in her book, Faith Ed: Teaching About Religion in an Age of Intolerance, which includes interviews with students about how they’ve benefited from learning about religions other than their own.
Thus, for my thesis, I’m going to be creating a set of lesson plans for teachers, with each lesson focusing on a different instance of religious liberty fought for and achieved. These lessons would also center around resources from local museums and other historic sites, using artifacts and documents and also helping teachers to connect directly with these institutions. Unsure about grade level and class target yet; I’ll determine that information once I dig a little more into the PSD curriculum, to see what connections I can make.
Here are some potential topics of things I’m thinking of, with the disclaimer that I’ve done no research at all yet about other potential examples, what lessons already exist, what objects and other resources are available, etc:
- Kosher table at the parade celebrating the ratification of the Constitution
- Founding of Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church
- Something with religious newspapers like The Christian Monitor and The Jewish Exponent
- The split-off of the Free Quaker Meeting House from the Arch Street Meeting House
- The history of the building for Masjidullah, which has also been a synagogue and church in addition to a mosque
I have been tasked with developing 3-5 full lesson plans, and proposing about 5 additional ones. Probably in the proposed lesson plans, I absolutely intend to explore the histories of non-Abrahamic faiths in Philadelphia.
One of my biggest challenges, I think, will be how to talk about religious history with students who may be unfamiliar with the religion itself. What will these events mean to students who know nothing about Judaism or Quakerism? (Especially having gone through that — I confess it took me the longest time to realize the difference between Protestantism and Catholicism, which made most of European history really confusing….)
Wertheimer spends most of the book, which focuses on controversies in classes on religion from around the country, exploring this problem. How have teachers tried to educate their students on unfamiliar religions? Are guest speakers acceptable? Visits to houses of worship? How young is too young? And how much input should parents have?
Another issue specific to my thesis is, how much time should I be spending on basic religious education? What does it say if I assume that students will need to learn about Judaism but not Christianity? What else am I assuming about PSD students?
In the end, my project will have several goals:
- To see how effective William Penn’s vision of religious liberty was (and perhaps see how that changed or was enhanced by the Constitution…?), while celebrating Philadelphia’s religious diversity
- To connect classrooms with museums and other historic sites
- To use and promote object-based inquiry in the classroom
Obviously I have a lot left to figure out and research — this post is really my initial jumbled thoughts. But I’m excited for what’s ahead! Get ready to hear all about all of this for the next several months (and, friends working at religious historic sites, get ready for me to reach out to you…. 😉)