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That religion should be taught in schools

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rippedpantsatberkelyrippedpantsatberkely (PRO)

First off, I would like to thank my opponent for joining this debate, especially because I am fascinated with religious studies and hope this to be an excellent debate.

That being said, I would first like to jump into how I am going to structure this debate with the current case statement. When it comes to the term “taught”, I am going to define it as not the indoctrination of students into a certain code of beliefs or practices, but instead frame it as the practice of educating students in all primary and secondary schools about the core tenets and doctrines of the major religions in modern times and the history behind them as well as their relations to each other. Furthermore, I am going to keep the intent of the poster’s definition when they say “all schools” and require that all schools, whether public or private, to teach their students about the different religions that they might come in contact with as they progress in society.

Now that the framework has been set, I will now go into my first argument, which is that the instruction of religion to children is quintessential to fostering a tolerance and understanding attitude in today’s chaotic world. As I pointed out in my framework, this case only suggests that teachers in primary and secondary systems should instruct their students of the main ideas, principles, practices, and history of the world’s major religions. These religions are included but not limited to Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, etc. One of the main reasons why these topics should be included is because it helps children have a better working knowledge of the world around them. As professor Joseph Laylock at Texas State University points out, students that do not have a basic understanding of world religions, “students will not understand the traditions and values of their neighbors and coworkers” and will have “no framework with which to assess claims about religion made by politicians and the media.” Moreover, there is a widely held belief that schools and religion should be completely separated, even if they are simply talking about it from an objective point of view as opposed to persuade people to join it. While my opponent may bring up the Establishment clause from the First Amendment requiring separation of church and state, Everson v. Board of Education ruled that schools must remain neutral on the topic of religion and must not promote one religion over another, which in this case, would not occur. The reason why this is so important is because if children are taught from a young age what exactly a certain religious group or sect might entail and learn about it for themselves, then when the time comes for them to be introduced to these other groups via media, the internet, or in face-to-face interaction, they’ll have some sort of understanding of what they actually might believe and be far less prone to being given false or biased information by politicians, the news, or even their friends and family. What this would do for our society in the long run is spread a much greater level of tolerance for people of different religions, so that harmful stereotypes and subsequent actions from those stereotypes can be avoided. For example, if the man who had killed Balbir Singh Sodhi, the Sikh gas station owner who was killed after the events of 9/11 because the shooter thought that he was Muslim due to his turban, would have known that Sikh people are the ones who are required to wear turbans as part of their religion, not Muslims, then that situation might not have ended up as tragically as it did.

Furthermore, it is important for children to know the historical implications and events that certain religions have dealt with, and how that might affect the way that they behave in their own and other societies. As John Seigenthaler, the founder of the First Amendment Center states, “It is no longer a question of whether schools should teach children about Islam. Theymust teach them about other religions as well. It is a responsibility, a duty.” Moreover, in order to have intelligent discussions about contentious religious issues, such as whether Islam is a religion of peace or violence, American citizens need to have a working knowledge of their core values. As Linda K. Wertheimer of the Washington Post explains, “We can’t effectively [these issues] until we first have a body politic that knows the basics.” More importantly, if schools would more openly teach world religions in schools, it is much more likely that these children would have a larger interest in further researching and learning about these religions, so that in the future, when this generation grows up to be the next wave of politicians, educators, and general members of society, they will have the sufficient knowledge to create policy measures that can positively affect our government’s interactions with other groups and find better ways to deal with issues with them.

From my framework provided, my opponent’s burden in this round is to prove why teaching about religions in primary and secondary schools would be detrimental to our citizens, school system, and the international community.

My sources are here:

  1. ://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/09/08/schools-shouldnt-preach-but-they-should-teach-about-religion/?utm_term=.dbd758d22250
  3. https://qz.com/383348/if-we-dont-teach-religion-in-schools-us-kids-wont-understand-the-rest-of-the-world/
  5. John Seigenthaler of the First Amendment Center

Return To Top | Posted:
2017-06-11 21:26:20
| Speak Round
Miles_DonahueMiles_Donahue (CON)
I thank my opponent for taking this debate. This is my first debate here, so I have no doubt I have much to learn, and I welcome any correction. 

As a point of clarification, Pro has the burden of proof. They must establish the resolution "religion should be taught in schools", while I have no resolutions to prove. Specifically, I do not need to prove "why teaching about religions in primary and secondary schools would be detrimental to our citizens, school system, and the international community", but merely that Pro's arguments do not suffice to issue in the resolution.

I. General Overview

What, then, of my opponent's case? Two general remarks. First, Pro extends the resolution to include both public and private institutions. Pro, then, needs to argue that Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, and other explicitly religious schools ought to be legally mandated to teach comparative religion. Therein lies my first objection: however strongly Pro has built his case for requiring public schools to educate students in religion, it is far from clear that the same case applies to private institutions. I think it far better to say that we ought to give private schools the latitude to structure their curriculum however they see fit, and leave parents to decide for themselves what kind of education they'd like their children to receive.

Second, the resolution includes the ambiguous word "should". I take it that we mean not merely that it would be morally good for schools to teach students about religion (I agree that it would be); rather, we mean that the law ought to mandate religion as part of the curriculum. So far as I can tell, Pro's comments would at most suggest the former, not the latter. For example, Pro writes that educating the next generation in world religions is "quintessential to fostering a tolerance and understanding attitude in today’s chaotic world." Even if we accept the point, it does not follow that the law ought to enforce religious education. The government, after all, could do all sorts of things to foster the moral development of its citizens, but it is far from clear that this is the role of government in the first place.  As the American Civil Liberties Union states, the current state of the law is that "students may be taught about religion, but public schools may not teach religion." [1] Why is the libertarian, for example, wrong in advocating for minimal government intervention in the lives of its citizens? Pro needs to answer this question if his argument is to succeed.

II. Analysis of Pro's Case

Now, down to the specifics. Pro, as I see it, presents three arguments for the resolution.

a. The importance of tolerance - The first argument is that educating citizens is "quintessential to fostering a tolerance and understanding attitude in today’s chaotic world." Pro elaborates on this point by explaining that education gives people background knowledge with which to evaluate statements made by politicians, the media, and so forth. From that more knowledgeable stance, society will move towards tolerance as it throws off "harmful stereotypes." Three rejoinders.

First, while I agree that we ought to work to rid the world of harmful stereotypes, I'm skeptical that religious education is the way to do it. Why think that putting students through courses on world religions will lead to the grandiose changes in society that Pro imagines? Take the very example Pro cites: the man who killed Balbir Singh Sodhi. The attitude of hate and fear that it takes to shoot a man point blank wouldn't have been removed if the man knew turbans don't correlate with being Muslim. It might have saved Balbir, but it would have only pushed the man on to a genuinely Muslim victim. 

Moreover, Pro assumes that intolerance is primarily a result of differences in religious belief. On this assumption, it's no surprise that propositional knowledge is the means by which tolerance comes about. However, if intolerance has more to do with broader cultural differences, then merely knowing others' beliefs won't cut it. Many times, we judge people based on the way they look, talk, or act, and knowing what their beliefs happen to be wouldn't necessarily diminish our prejudiced reactions to these other factors. Instead, direct, human interaction with the people we do not tolerate promises to do far more in building tolerance. Intolerance is built on stereotypes, and stereotypes meet their demise when confronted with the flesh and blood people they supposedly categorize. Schools, then, ought to work to give their students opportunities to experience the culture of a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Catholic, and so forth. As students interact with a whole body of diverse people, hate can't take hold, and tolerance can breath.

Second, Pro's case unjustifiably assumes that most people would tolerate world religions, if only they understood them accurately. As a purely sociological point, this assumption is not necessarily true. For example, a good many scholars, not least among them philosopher and historian William Lane Craig, have argued that Islam is not a religion of peace, but is instead predicated on violence and bringing the world into submission to the House of Islam. [2] If this is the case, then there is no reason to think that a greater knowledge of Islam's teachings would lead to tolerance. Indeed, it might lead to greater intolerance! Now, I am not claiming that Craig is correct, but merely that Pro has not shown him to be incorrect. For that reason, Pro's case is incomplete.

Third, Pro gives little reason to think that students, confronted with false claims by politicians, would trust their earlier education rather than the media. A person in this situation has two conflicting claims, one from their previous schooling, and the other from this or that news outlet. Why think that most people would trust the former and not the latter? They may be less prone to fall in line with the media when compared with someone who knows nothing about world religions, but to what extent? Specifically, to the extent that society itself will become more tolerable and open? What we want here are sociological studies, numbers and statistics that substantiate Pro's claims. We haven't seen those yet.

b. The importance of intelligent conversations - I agree with Pro that Americans need to have a working knowledge of Islam, for example, if they are to have an intelligent contribution to the public discussion. My objection is that religious education in primary and secondary schooling will not accomplish this goal. Pro's argument assumes that students will remember what they've learned as they grow up and become doctors, politicians, policy-makers, and so forth. I disagree. A few years ago, Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post reported that of fifty highly accomplished adults asked to take a Rhode Island standardized test, 60% failed. More than half scored a grade that would "put a student in jeopardy of graduating from high school." [3] Take a look at who these fifty people were: "state legislators, council members, scientists, engineers, reporters, professors." In short, I find it unlikely that primary and secondary education is the means by which we ought to elevate the level of political discourse. 

c. The importance of further research - Pro makes that final argument that religious education will help students form a "larger interest in further researching and learning about these religions", leading to a generation of leaders, politicians, and policy-makers more understanding of the diverse world of culture and religion. This argument really is nothing more than a hunch on Pro's part. I see little reason to think that taking a course in comparative religion will have a sizable impact on the number of students who decide to continue that study independently, or that those who do will become politicians, leaders, and so on. Again, the really pertinent thing here is studies and evidence to support these assertions, things we have not seen.

In short, none of Pro's arguments establish the resolution that religion should be taught in schools.


  1. https://www.aclu.org/other/joint-statement-current-law-religion-public-schools
  2. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/concept-of-god-in-islam-and-christianity
  3. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2013/03/19/sixty-percent-of-adults-who-took-standardized-test-bombed/?utm_term=.17e8f287110b

Return To Top | Posted:
2017-06-13 16:21:52
| Speak Round
rippedpantsatberkelyrippedpantsatberkely (PRO)

I once again thank my opponent immensely for having such a debate and hope to debate them in the future. This has been a great round so far and religious studies is a truly fascinating topic to me.

Section I. General Overview

As much as I applaud Con for doing quite a good job responding to my general arguments, I very much disagree with how he has approached the thinking behind this resolution. First off, in a debate, the wording of the resolution are one of the most important parts of how the discussion progresses, and unfortunately I believe that Con has misinterpreted its meaning to a point where it skews the debate. The case given verbatim is: "That religion should be taught in schools". Notice how it specifically states the word "should", instead of ought to. What does this mean? It means that for Pro, it implies that this is a proposition of policy, which means that my burden is to actually show why instituting this would maximize the benefits of the education system. Con mixes up the definitions and says that "ought to" is to be implied instead, but using that diction would imply that my burden is a proposition of value instead of policy. To make it clear for all parties involved, the case implies that my burden is to show how this policy would create a net benefit for the school system, international relations, our society, etc.

Moreover, I do not think that Con has yet fully lived up to their responsibility in the round as the opposition side. They state that they do not have to prove that the resolution would not produce the most benefits in society, the education system, and the international community. However, given that this is a policy round, the burden of proof in policy rounds is "net benefits", which is the idea that the Pro's resolution would produce the most benefits for the discussed topic. Con's burden of proof is to poke holes in my analysis and use empirical evidence to show why my arguments do not hold grounds. Not only has Con made unwarranted claims about what might happen, but has used irrelevant evidence to try to bridge a link between claims and impacts.

Section II. Responses to Con's Independent Arguments

a. Private Schools

Although Con didn't really make this an independent point on its own but instead wove it into their overview and responses, it is still a big enough claim that requires my response. In their overview, Con states that it is "far better to say that we ought to give private schools the latitude to structure their curriculum however they see fit, and leave parents to decide for themselves what kind of education they'd like their children to receive", implying that the government has no ability to govern what private institutions might be able to teach. Even though private schools have a much broader control of their curriculum, even they are not exempt from some regulation on safety, teaching certification, and yes, curriculum. In fact, the majority of states have a basic core curriculum that even private schools are required to meet for their students, according to the Department of Education [1]. Even more, the Louisiana Department of Education specifically requires that "A maximum of four units in religion shall be granted to students transferring from state-approved private and sectarian high schools who have completed such course work. Those credits shall be accepted in meeting the requirements for high school graduation." [2] These courses that are required in private education in the state include Religious Studies I-IV, as well as a class on World Religions and History of Religion in order to graduate.

Furthermore, Con delivers the burden that I must prove why it is okay for the government to do this. As long as the education system is not indoctrinating students into following certain beliefs and practices, the study of religions in both private and public schools is tantamount to the study of history. There are a lot of people in our modern society that still believe that the South was justified in seceding from the Union and that the Holocaust did not happen. However, the state has ruled that such opinions, even if they are constitutionally held, are false and dangerous to be taught to growing minds. A child may be told their entire lives in their household that the Holocaust was a hoax or that Hitler did nothing wrong, but the school is still justified in positing the opposite, because not only is its acceptance widespread, but the facts of the case are irrefutable. If a child questions either of the beliefs from the household or school, then they are much more likely to want to figure out the truth and do the research for themselves. Therefore, almost the same in history, a child can be told that “Jews want to drink Christian blood” and that “Islam advocates for the murder of non-Muslims” in their own household for their entire lives, but by allowing schools to teach the texts, history, and modern practices of such religions, kids are then able to be skeptic of any bold-face claims and look for the truth on their own. It is the responsibility of the state to make sure that its future citizens not only have a basic knowledge of certain concepts that help prepare them from society, but to force them to think critically and challenge any sweeping generalizations they may have been accustomed to, especially when such claims might cause potential harm to individuals or a group of people down the road.

b. Teaching Religion should be separate from Teaching about religion

This was not a major point of their argumentation, so I won’t spend too much time on it. In their first general paragraph, Con brings up a quote from the ACLU saying that the instruction of religion should be approached very carefully in the sense that “students may be taught about religion, but public schools may not teach religion.” [3] I do not see why this was brought up in the first place, considering that I even stated in my own speech "I am going to define it as not the indoctrination of students...but instead frame it as the practice of educating students about the core tenets and doctrines of the major religions in modern times and the history behind them as well as their relations to each other.” Furthermore using that exact same webpage from the ACLU that my opponent references, not only does the author point out that the Supreme Court has exclaimed “[i]t might well be said that one’s education is not complete without a study of comparative religion, or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of society”, but the ACLU itself remarks that “It is both permissible and desirable to teach objectively about the role of religion in the history of the United States and other countries.” [3] It is near impossible to adequately teach children about our national and international history without discussing our influence from religious ideas, including but not limited to: the Christian ideas of liberty and free will that influenced the Founding Fathers in crafting the Constitution, the religious ideology of autonomy of the abolitionist movement, and most important of all, Rv. Martin Luther King’s extremely religious motivation behind the civil rights movement.

Section III. My responses to Con’s Responses

a. The importance of tolerance

As a three-fold response to my first argument, Con does an adequate job of analyzing of what I said. Therefore, I am going to respond to each of his sub-points.

i. The feasibility

The first thing that Con attacks is the idea that teaching students about the religions of the world would increase an attitude of tolerance in their mindset. While I will introduce evidence later, this alone only needs a logical response to cancel it out. With such a contentious topic in today’s society that is able to spark violence in minutes after its mentioned, there needs to be some way that future citizens are introduced to it in an objective manner that teaches them how to be skeptical of larger claims based on actual understandings of the history, culture, and religious texts that make that religion what it is.

ii. Religion is not the issue

My opponent then goes on to say that intolerance itself is not caused by a difference in religious belief, but in fact a difference in culture. First off, this debate is solely about religion; I am not in any sense trying to address the problem of ethnicity or race through this resolution. Second of all, as they even mention themselves, the idea that “Islam is a religion of violence” has sparked a panoply of bullying incidents throughout the country, including a teacher telling his Muslim students that they are likely to be the next terrorist [4]. Furthermore, they state that “instead, direct, human interaction with the people we do not tolerate promises to do far more in building tolerance” and that as “students interact with a whole body of diverse people, hate can’t take hold, and tolerance can’t breath.” Two responses to this

First, the idea that people can build tolerance through “understanding what it is like to be part of a different culture, ethnicity, race, or religion” is the exact reasons that this is referred to by minorities as a “liberal ally” concept. As a person of a minority faith, even with all the time in the world, I would never be able to make a person of a different faith know what it feels like to be of that certain religion in a society that generally shows a negative attitude towards it. Furthermore, it is faulty to think that just by putting a diverse group of children in a school for 6 hours a day will cultivate a sense of understanding for that group. Given that school is primarily for learning in a classroom and only a very small portion of that is social interaction, even if there was an adequate proportion of each major and minor religion in the school, there simply would not be enough time to get even an inkling of that experience.

Second, Con seems to forget that this resolution is talking about elementary, middle, and high schoolers in the United States. Let’s just assume, for the sake of argumentation, that one would be able to know the experience of another’s ethnic, racial, or religious identity through interacting with them at their school. Even then, an important thing to remember is that children typically do not freely move between different groups or commonly have diverse friend groups. In short, as many people reading will know quite well, school children in the United States are very cliquey, usually only having groups of one or two ethnicities, races, and religions. Even in very diverse schools, a quick visit would show you that black people usually tend to associate with other black people, Jewish people tend to associate with other Jews, etc. Moreover, since this is a policy round, there would be no enforcement mechanism whatsoever and absolutely no agency to ensure this is even attempted. At least in the current resolution, children will actually be taught a basic understanding of what these religions have done and believe in, so that when people close to them like friends and family, give conflicting remarks about said religion, they can correct them and explain to them why that idea is false and dangerous.

iii. Understanding does not mean tolerance

Con’s main premise in this response is that children would not necessarily learn to tolerate other religions through a basic understanding of them through school. They bring up Craig’s controversial assertion that Islam is a religion of violence, and for some reason, that alone would teach children to not be tolerant. There are many problems with this argument. First, I made it clear in my definitions that all these courses would be teaching would be the core beliefs of the religion, the religious texts that they follow, their common practices, and their history and interactions with other religions and cultures. It does not make sense that even a secondary school system would be teaching such a controversial position as fact to children, especially considering that Craig has been lampooned by others in his field for being too general and definitive in his opinion. Second of all, even if for some reason this was presented to children outside of an educational environment, the point of my arguments is to show that a general understanding of what Muslims believe and the experience of actually reading the Quran would allow these students to either a) challenge that view, or b) not be convinced of either since they know both sides, and then research more on their own to get a better understanding.

iv. These people would not necessarily trust their education over the media

I have already responded to this multiple times, but just to reiterate, if a child is presented with two conflicting views, they are more likely to independently research it on their own in order to find the truth, and then make their own opinion from their findings. Even if they come to the conclusion that Islam is a religion of violence, then they’ll be able to discuss it in a civil and open manner without any use of physical violence and have a civilized discussion with someone else as a part of the marketplace of ideas.

b) The importance of intelligent conversations

Here Con states that simply teaching children about religious studies in school will have no long term affect on how they interact with each other in society. First, to address the report regarding standardized tests, I believe that this evidence is quite irrelevant to this discussion. The purpose of standardized tests (supposedly) is for the teachers to show that they can have their students memorize facts and events in order to represent how well theteacher is doing, not the success of the student. In this case, however, this would just be another part of the curriculum that the school would be able to approach in its own way. Therefore, because the pressure is not on the teacher just to get results, but to actually foster an interest in the material for the children, I maintain that the comparison is inapposite in this context. Second of all, this is where I would like to bring in a real life example of this idea working. In her book “Faith Ed.: Teaching About Religion in an Age of Intolerance,” Linda K. Wertheimer, “a veteran education and religion journalist,” went around the country to study how schools approach the teaching of religion to students. When she went to the Modesto School System in California, the only school system in the United States that requires every high schooler to take a world religions class as a graduation requirement, she found that the religious minorities in this school system not only felt more welcome in their school, but found more friends of different faiths through that class. As she said it herself, "Students in Modesto would tell me if they were Sikh or Muslim or Hindu that this course made them feel a little more accepted among their peers and a little prouder of who they were. At the same time they and some of their Christian peers talked about how the course taught them to stand up for the rights of the smallest minorities. One student told me that he heard someone at a family function say something that he knew was totally wrong about Hinduism, so he stuck up and said this is what I learned in high school class, and he immediately dispelled their stereotype.” [5] This example alone from the only high school that has done this proves that the skepticism that Con shows over its positive effects on tolerance have no grounds. When children are shown that they are not the only ones who make up their society and told that others believe in certain things and why they believe in them, in allows them to develop a better sense of camaraderie among their peers and maintain a different outlook as they grow older.

c. The importance of further research

I have already refuted this argument earlier in my responses. Cross-apply what I previously said about how interaction through the medium of a school helps tolerance grow.

To conclude, Con has not given a shred of evidence or relevant data to effectively illustrate why schools should not teach about religion in school, and will have to find such evidence contrary to empirical evidence I have provided in order to win the round.


  1. https://www2.ed.gov/admins/comm/choice/regprivschl/regprivschl.pdf
  3. Title 28:LXXIX, Bulletin 741: Louisiana Handbook for Nonpublic School Administrators
  5. https://www.aclu.org/other/joint-statement-current-law-religion-public-schools
  7. http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/03/29/515451746/muslim-schoolchildren-bullied-by-fellow-students-and-teachers
  9. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/can-teaching-about-religion-reduce-intolerance/

Return To Top | Posted:
2017-06-14 05:16:07
| Speak Round
Miles_DonahueMiles_Donahue (CON)

I second Pro’s fascination with religious studies, and I appreciate the seriousness with which they have interacted with my criticisms. I completely agree with Pro that my “burden of proof is to poke holes in [their] analysis and use empirical evidence to show why [their] arguments do not hold grounds.” That just is another way of saying that Pro must establish that resolution, and my only requirement is to show why he does not. It is clear enough to me that he has not.

I. General Overview

I gave two, general objections to Pro’s case for the contention that religion should be taught in public schools.

1. Pro’s case at most shows that teaching about religions would be morally good, as opposed to legally obligatory – In response, Pro alleges that I confuse should with ought to, and he characterizes me as implying that they need to prove a value judgement as opposed to a value-neutral statement of policy. Not at all. I tried to make this exact distinction in my first objection: it does not suffice, nor is it relevant, for Pro to prove a value judgement; he needs to prove that a policy ought to be adopted as the law (not because it is the morally good thing to do, but because, in his words, “it would maximize the benefits of the education system”). In short, Pro and I agree on this score, and in any case, none of my objections are predicted on this alleged misunderstanding.

So has Pro succeeded? At issue here are two conceptions of the role of government: paternalism and libertarianism. The former holds that the government can justifiably enact policies that, it its estimation, better the lives of its citizens (think here of mandatory voting laws, seat belt laws, and so forth). The latter, on the other hand, holds the government ought to respect the liberty of its citizens as much as possible, even to the point of allowing them to make stupid decisions. My objection is this: Pro’s argument assumes a paternalistic approach to government, and he has yet to justify that assumption. As such, the argument is unconvincing.

2. Pro’s case inappropriately implicates private schools to teach a course on comparative religion – Why is this outcome objectionable? Because private schools afford parents the opportunity to have a say in the type of education their child receives, and the more we restrict that private education, the more we deprive parents of that option. Now, Pro reminds us that “the majority of states have a basic core curriculum that even private schools are required to meet.” Sure! That’s a very good thing, and I in no way implied that private schools ought to be given free reign over the content of what they teach. What I object to is the extension of those otherwise reasonable restrictions into the domain of religious education. Many parents may feel that introducing their child to world religions at so early an age will influence them to hold no higher regard for their own religion compared with any other. At issue here is religious conscience, and my claim is that pushing private schools into a religious curriculum could very well violate many parents’ religious consciences. One may disagree with the reasonableness of their specific claims, sure, but those claims still ought to be respected.

Pro, as I read them, presents two counter-objections: (i) Pro turns the tables and argues that various courses in world religions are already enforced in certain private schools (e.g., Louisiana), and (ii) Pro argues that forcing the hand of private schools is justified because it is “the responsibility of the state to make sure its future citizens not only have a basic knowledge of certain concepts…but to force them to think critically and challenge any sweeping generalizations they may have been accustomed to.”

Turning to (i), two rejoinders. First, the question at hand is not, “Does the government enforce comparative religion in private schools?”, but rather, “Should the government do so?” Pointing to Louisiana at most answers the first question, not the second. Second, Pro misreads his sources. The Louisiana Department of Education nowhere requires students to take any courses on religion, much less the full purview of Religious Studies I-IV, history of religions, and so forth. Private schools may in fact choose to teach them, but they are not required to do so (anyone who disagrees can look at page seventeen of the word document linked by Pro). [1] Rather, the relevant section makes clear that these courses qualify for one credit in social studies, should the student have taken it at a previous school. Indeed, it would be odd if Louisiana had any such requirements, given that Pro argued that Modesto in California was the only school system in the United States to have religious education requirements.

Turning next to (ii), we can all agree with the first part, but the second is not so obvious: is it really the government’s job to challenge any sweeping generalizations we may have? Pro’s arguments, if valid, would require schools to teach courses, not only on religion, but on philosophy, ethics, and even politics. These three areas of thought encompass the issues that divide us just as much as religion. And yet, it doesn’t seem right to say that the Department of Education ought to mandate a course on philosophy, going through arguments for and against the existence of God, the reality of the soul, the meaning of life, and so on, or that they should mandate course overviews of normative ethical theories like utilitarianism, Kantian ethics, and applied ethical issues (abortion, capital punishment, and so on). As beneficial as these courses might seem, it seems right that they fall under the purview of the private life, rather than a mandate of the education system. Offer them? Absolutely. Require them? I think not.

II. A Fresh Look at Pro’s Argument

I realize that Pro attributes an argument to me in his own “Section II”, based on the distinction between teaching religion and teaching about religion, but this is based on a misunderstanding. I fully admit that I misread the quote from the ACLU, and this understandably misled Pro. So I don't intend to make any such argument. We both agree that Pro presents principally three arguments for the resolution.

1. Comparative religion courses breed tolerance – In my reply, I presented three objections.

i. The final source of intolerance is may not be differences in religious belief, but rather, differences in culture. Right off the bat, we can dismiss Pro’s claim that “this debate is solely about religion”, so that somehow my objection isn’t relevant. The point is, Pro claims that teaching students about world religions would lead to greater tolerance. My objection is that this argument assumes intolerance springs from differences in religious belief, and this assumption is unjustified because intolerance may very well stem from broader, cultural differences. If that is the case, then educating students would do nothing to increase tolerance between Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, and so forth. Pro has yet to meet this challenge.

Now from here, I went on to sketch a way that schools might go about breaking the bonds of intolerance: “Schools, then, ought to work to give their students opportunities to experience the culture of a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Catholic, and so forth. As students interact with a whole body of diverse people, hate can't take hold, and tolerance can breath.” Even if Pro’s objections to this suggestion prove lethal, that does nothing to turn back the force of my objection. He has the burden of proof here to show that intolerance results from religious belief and not cultural differences. My offering a scenario where schools could meet the challenge of intolerance goes beyond the call of duty, so to speak.

In any case, does Pro succeed in defeating my suggestion? I think not.

In the first place, lampooning my policy suggestion as that of a “liberal ally” is nothing more than argument ad hominem and may be dismissed.

In the second place, Pro’s response is filled with assertion on top of assertion: “even with all the time in the world, I would never be able to make a person know what it feels like to be that religion”, “Given that school is primarily for learning in a classroom and only a very small portion of that is social interaction….there simply would not be enough time to get even an inkling of that experience.” Really? We can just take Pro’s word for it here? I don’t think so. In my experience, at least, school has been just as much, if not more so, about the social dynamic. That’s an assertion, yes, but it is just as valid as Pro’s. Moreover, Pro misrepresents my scenario: I didn’t mean that schools ought to cultivate diversity among its students and that by itself will do that job; rather, schools ought to sponsor trips outside the classroom into different cultural settings (mosques, churches, temples, and so forth). That, principally, is surely worth attempting in the fight against intolerance.

In the third place, my suggestion, properly understood, is immune to Pro’s final objection: that in middle and high school, students form cliques and don’t interact with people different than themselves. It’s about cultivating interaction with the broader world rather than merely what goes on inside the confines of the classroom.

ii. It is not obvious that students would tolerate world religions if only they understood them – Here I argued that some world religions, such as Islam, may not be tolerated when properly understood. This quite a modest objection: as a purely sociological claim devoid of how students ought to respond, the claim that students would tolerate world religions if only they understood them properly is under-supported. It may well be the case that when students read verses in the Qur’an that condone violence, half of them will respond with indignation and an unchanged attitude, and half will look for ways to reconcile those verses with other verses that suggest a more tolerant Islam. In such a case, the overall composition of tolerance vs. intolerance remains the same. Ergo, Pro’s policy is ineffective. Now, I’m not claiming that this would happen. Who knows? Rather, the claim is that Pro does not show that it wouldn’t, and therefore we have no reason to accept that key premise in Pro’s reasoning.

The rest of Pro’s objections aren’t persuasive. For example, Pro responds that they make “clear…that all these courses would be teaching would be the core beliefs of the religion”, and not judgments upon those religions. Fine; I’m not claiming students would be taught that Islam is violent, for example, but rather that they may very well draw this conclusion themselves and thereby respond with intolerance. This seems perfectly possible, and Pro has given little reason to suggest otherwise.

I find it interesting that Pro lists two ways in which students, upon reading the Qur’an, could respond to the view that Islam is violent and intolerant: they would either “a) challenge that view, or b) not be convinced”. Oh, but of course, this leaves out an option: (c) they conclude that this view is correct! It is precisely because option (c) is a real, sociological possibility that Pro’s argument is presumptuous and under-supported.

iii. Pro provides little reason to think that students would trust their prior education rather than the media – I think Pro has given a decent response to my objection here, so I have no issue dropping it.

In short, we are left with two objections to Pro’s first argument based on tolerance: (1) Pro gives no reason to think that intolerance stems from differences in religious belief proper, and (2) as a sociological point, it may be that students respond to more knowledge on world religions with more intolerance.

2. Comparative religion courses lead to more intelligent conversations – As I reflect on it, there a couple reasons this argument does not establish the resolution.

First, this argument puts a tremendous amount of stock into the ability of the United States education system. It is plausible that school is, to a large extent, what you make of it, and instituting a course overview on the religions of the world may prove interesting to some, provoke further conversations in some, and may do some good for some people. But to argue that even most students would respond positively to it requires evidence, some sociological studies that give evidence of students’ heightened response to a course like this. That evidence is lacking in Pro’s presentation.

On the contrary, the evidence indicates otherwise. In 2011, the Sam Dillion with the New York Times published the results a history proficiency test given to students in the United States. The results were alarming. According to the article, “20 percent of fourth graders, 17 percent of eight graders and 12 percent of high schoolers demonstrated proficiency on the exam.” [2] The vast majority, then, failed. This is especially pertinent, given Pro’s claim that a course on comparative religion “would be tantamount to history.” If Pro thinks that merely instituting a course in school would automatically increase students’ understanding of world religions, he owes us some powerful evidence, for the evidence we do have undermines Pro’s case.

Second, I pointed to another study published in the New York Times that suggested the general tendency for knowledge garnered in high school to fade away over the years. [3] Pro responds that “the purpose of standardized tests is for the teacher to show that they can have their students memorize facts.” This doesn’t blunt the force of my objection. To rephrase, the study illustrated that when fifty high-level individuals sat down to take a graduation-required exam on material they themselves learned in high school, about sixty percent of them failed. That knowledge, presumably there originally, was gone. This implies that knowledge learned in high school (not to mention middle school) does not stick with time.  Therefore, even a course of comparative religion taught pre-College would not stick with time, so that its long-term impact on intelligent conversations is called into question.

For these two reasons, Pro’s second argument falls flat.

Now, Pro does point to the education system in Modesto, California and Linda Wertheimer’s experience there as evidence against my claim. That experience has been positive, I conquer. But if this is meant to be an argument for the general conclusion that world religions ought to be taught everywhere in the United States, it fails. Pro is asking us to make an inductive generalization based on our observation of one test case (i.e., Modesto). The base of the inductive inference is just too narrow. When we consider the fifty states, varied geographically and demographically, it is not reasonable to argue that because x works in Modesto, California, therefore x will work everywhere in the United States.

3. The importance of further research – Two reasons why this argument isn’t very powerful: (i) it assumes that many students would take a personal investment in the material brought to their attention, and (ii) it assumes that those same students will go on to become politicians and leaders in the world. Both assumptions are open to challenge and have gone undefended by Pro.

In conclusion, then, we are left with precious little reason to affirm the resolution, and at least one reason to deny it.


  1. http://www.doa.la.gov/osr/LAC/28v79/28v79.doc
  2. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/15/education/15history.html
  3. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2013/03/19/sixty-percent-of-adults-who-took-standardized-test-bombed/?utm_term=.17e8f287110b

Return To Top | Posted:
2017-06-19 04:21:37
| Speak Round
rippedpantsatberkelyrippedpantsatberkely (PRO)
First off, a few remarks unrelated to the debate. I would like to say that I am incredibly thankful to Miles for being so lenient and understanding with my time limits. I just finished a very lengthy application for school this morning and he was kind enough to extend my time for more than a week, since I was not even able to write a basic outline until today. Thank you for a very good debate so far and I hope to have more with you in the future. That being said, let's get into this.
Section I. Overview
I believe that by this point, there's been enough belaboring of the burdens and kind of debate that this round entails, so since both sides have accepted it, I believe we can move on.

In his overview, Con presents me with the burden of justifying why exactly paternalism can be valued over libertarianism. While I cannot speak for every issue, in this specific scenario, paternalism can be justified. Why exactly is this the case? Well, as I've said many times before, when people are not aware of specific issues that might result in violence or intolerance, it can be taken by the government as a duty to make sure that they can minimize the harms of this. Take for example the civil rights issue in the late 20th century. The very people who were arguing against desegregation in schools were making the same exact arguments that it was an intrusion of individual's rights on behalf of the government to dictate what schools have to teach or who to admit. Although Brown v. Board applied only to public schools, as private schools started to segregate, a series of federal court rulings and IRS penalties against such institutions for segregation maintained that these :policies were seen as indirect, covert efforts to evade or disrupt public school desegregation and “significantly encourage and involve the State in private discriminations." (1).  While the teaching of religion in schools might not be as extreme as discriminatory admission standards, I've already been able to point to an instance where the state intervened in the practices of private education because they saw it to be a potentially dangerous way to sidestep an important issue. The next step in proving why paternalistic actions in mandating religious studies can be justified is showing how exactly the teaching of religion could help tolerance, a hotly contested issue in this round. In a world completely dominated by the voices of social media and news networks, it makes sense to say that a lot of people get their information from online or television sources. Moreover, in a post 9/11 world, any time an impressionable young child turns on the television, they are bombarded with scenes of violence by ISIS in the name of Islam, Hindu terrorism in India and Pakistan, or images of the dozens of Buddhist monks in Tibet setting themselves on fire. For a child that only has this information to run on, an absence of any understanding of the literal text and history of these religions to show any counterclaims to the idea that these are fully representative of the religion could lead to them internalizing that very thought. Furthermore, as Kimberly Keiserman and Marisa Fasciano point out quite well, "Young children are curious about differences and interested in exploring their own and others’ identities. Lessons about religious differences can encourage this innate curiosity and cultivate a respectful approach to asking questions and learning about others, providing a foundation for more complex learning at the secondary level and preventing the development of misconceptions and stereotypes that can lead to prejudice and bullying." (2) Not only have I already shown that government can be justified in intervening in the business of private schools, but with the apparent benefits of teaching religion in schools, I have illustrated why they should.

ii. Con's Argument As to Why Teaching Comparative Religion Would be Bad
Really the only point of offense that Con brings up in his arguments is the statement that parents should be able to choose the "education their child receives, and the more we restrict that private education, the more we deprive parents of that option." Essentially, Con is arguing that this would be a bad idea because parents would object to it and would rather teach their children their way with this. However, isn't this argument reminiscent of the segregated private schools established immediately after Brown v. Board? The same kind of logic applies. Back then, parents didn't feel comfortable with having their children go to the same school as black kids, so, just like Con posits, private education offered them a separate avenue to bypass an idea that is today generally accepted as a good thing. Moreover, the problem with this argument is that there's no real impact to it. Let's just assume that Con is correct in his assumption and accept that parents would be mad. So what? If parents wanted to have their children believe in a certain way, one could probably assume that the child would already have that set of beliefs instilled in them from the moment they were born, and if the parents wanted to make sure that their children accepted that, they could even go further and teach them their religious conscience before and after school. Remember, kids spend way more time at home being nurtured in certain beliefs than in school. Even then, by using Con's own logic to an example I pointed out earlier, does this not mean that schools should be able to teach about the Holocaust, given that a lot of people in the country believe that it never happened? Who is to say that schools should be teaching the Holocaust to a child of parents that deny it? Given that these courses would only be teaching core texts and history of the religion, rather than subjective opinions, it's an accurate parallel to Con's argument.

Quick aside: I am happy to drop the evidence regarding the Louisiana curriculum. That was a mistake on my part and it does not add much to the debate.

Finally, Con tries to trap me in my own arguments by saying that "if valid, [Pro] would require schools to teach courses, not only on religion, but on philosophy, ethics, and even politics." Two responses to this. First, I would not at all be opposed to instituting these classes in the education system in addition to religion. Secondly however, the topic is "That religion should be taught in schools"; what this means is that we are only debating on whether religion should be taught in all schools, not any of the other topics. If the case were "Religion should be taught in schools instead of philosophy, ethics, and politics", then this would make sense, but given that this isn't the case, that is an argument for another debate. Right now, we are only debating on the issue of religion in schools, so this point can be dropped.

Section II. Responses to Con's Critiques
1. Tolerance
i. Cultural Education over Religious
Although I realize that Con spent a lot of time on this response, I think it is time that we drop this matter completely. Just cross-apply what I said above; first of all this isn't mutually exclusive. I am definitely not opposed to teaching both religious and cultural classes in schools. However, contrary to what Con might say, any talk of cultural teaching instead of religious studies is irrelevant to this round. It is impossible to say that religion is not a contributing factor to intolerance and hatred in this country, just like it is impossible to say that culture is not either. This isn't how debate works. For example, if I have a headache and a broken arm, and I only have one Ibuprofen but it will only fix my headache but not both issues, it would be counterintuitive to not take the pill because it doesn't resolve both issues at once. Therefore, both this argument and any of my previous engagements with this argument should be dropped.

ii. Religious studies would not necessarily help tolerance
There are quite a few problems with this argument. First off, Con even admits that "It may well be the case that when students read verses in the Qur’an that condone violence, half of them will respond with indignation and an unchanged attitude, and half will look for ways to reconcile those verses with other verses that suggest a more tolerant Islam." This is not a very strong argument for him, and even more, this actually helps prove my point. What Con is saying here is that no matter how hard we try, there is still going to be intolerance in the world. Of course there will be. I never said that this will get rid of all intolerance in the world, and it is ludicrous to think that hatred and intolerance due to religious, cultural, and racial differences will ever cease to exist. However, the mere fact that this course would actually change the views and help the non-ignorant people develop a proper way to look at religion in society, I see absolutely no downside to instituting this. As I already pointed out in my previous post, the Modesto School System's religious studies requirement has helped foster a general attitude of respect and tolerance. Obviously, there are some students that will still be intolerant, but that fact alone is not enough to prove any harms. As the framework of the round is net benefits, and my arguments and evidence have shown that more tolerance would come out of this than intolerance, this argument still stands.
Furthermore, Con tries to make the case that children could be convinced of a potentially harmful view on religion, such as whether or not Islam is a religion of violence. He states that it is possible that children might accept that view as fact, but as I've already pointed out "intolerant people are still going to be intolerant", I do not see how this is relevant. Sure, they might develop an intolerant viewpoint, but if they have both sides of the story rather than a biased opinion from a relative or media outlet, it is a lot more likely that they might contest it and research it.

2. The Importance of Comparative Religion for Intelligent Conversation
The first thing that Con tries to do here is attack the possibility that this would be a net-benefit in implementation. Throughout this debate, Con has kept asking to see any actual implementation of this in the United States, to which I provided the Modesto School District. Moreover, as Con points to later in this argument, Modesto itself cannot be representative of results as a whole. I find this line of reasoning a bit of abusive. As of now, Modesto is the only school system to have required religious studies in it's curriculum, and as I referenced in my previous post, the results have been enormously positive. As this is literally the only place in the U.S. to require it so far, there's no way for me to cross-reference it with any other implementation, because there is none. Yes, Modesto California is not representative of the rest of the country, but since I am the only one to bring conclusive evidence regarding this exact phenomenon into the round, it is up to Con to bring in a case study or sociological experiment to prove it wrong. Also, while this was not a district-required class but a Project-Based-Learning course for a middle school, a world history project assigned by a teacher in Pennsylvania conveyed that "[the children's] intellectual curiosity and sustained inquiry showed their ability to respect the topics and to make the connections between current events and religion in the scope of world history. Students understood these issues are not easy, and neither are the answers as to how to eliminate bitterness. Many students chose to use more resources than I required, demonstrating their commitment to the quest for reliable information in a sea of misunderstandings in current media." (3)

Next, Con tries to link any attempt at teaching religion in schools to failure by providing evidence of poor scores on a standardized test. First off, using that very same article that Con provides, they even explain "Jack Buckley, commissioner of the statistical center at theDepartment of Education that carries out the tests, said on Monday that because the assessments in each subject were prepared and administered independently, it was not really fair to compare results across subjects." Saying that the study of history is the exact same to the study of religion is simply wrong. They are two different subjects that students respond to in different ways. Furthermore, again in that very same article, the author highlights the fact that these results are most likely due to a "neglect shown to the subject by federal and state policy makers, especially since the 2002No Child Left Behind act began requiring schools to raise scores in math and reading but in no other subject", as well as racialized discrepancies in the education system. (4) This is mostly a problem due to the way that non-STEM courses are taught in the public education system, not about religion. By this same logic, because kids don't do well on subjects on standardized tests, science and math shouldn't be taught either, because the U.S. keeps scoring low on standardized tests in such areas. (5) This is a critique of the general education system, not anything to do with the topic at hand.

3. Going beyond the scope of the classroom
Not only have I shown in my previous arguments why it is likely that kids will contest views contrary to what they have learned, in the Pennsylvania middle school project, the author specifically mentions how "students chose to use more resources than I required, demonstrating their commitment to the quest for reliable information in a sea of misunderstandings in current media." There is also an example of this that I brought up in my previous post with the Modesto case, as well. These are two separate occasions where children researched a controversial topic on their own to learn more about it, whereas Con has brought up nothing to disregard those.

To conclude, Con has no real offense in this round and all of his responses are either too vague or flawed for this topic, meaning that all of my original arguments stand and his only offensive argument moot.

1: http://www.southerneducation.org/Our-Strategies/Research-and-Publications/Race-Ethnicity-Landing-Pages/A-History-of-Private-Schools-Race-in-the-American.aspx
2. http://www.uscatholic.org/articles/201508/teach-more-tolerance-30319
3. https://www.bie.org/blog/how_i_used_pbl_to_promote_tolerance_for_religions
4. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/15/education/15history.html

Return To Top | Posted:
2017-06-29 03:59:57
| Speak Round

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