Editorial: Important guidelines for teaching about religion will have a suburban touch

It is always gratifying to note when people from the suburbs are making a difference on the national or world stage. It can be especially so when you see that the difference someone is making has a timely and unique importance.

Case in point: New national guidelines for teaching students from kindergarten through high school about the world's religions. Three suburban educators were part of this effort to provide the foundation for a public school curriculum on the world's religions.

No public school should be a setting for converting students to a particular spiritual path. But if recent years have taught us anything, it is that failing to understand each other's spiritual foundations can lead to devastating conflict and discord in our society and in our world. By contrast, familiarity with the traditions and beliefs that shape diverse people's lives can both deepen one's own faith and help us all live together more cooperatively and respectfully.

That is the thinking that underlies guidelines written by a nationwide team of eight experts, including high school teachers Seth Brady, of Naperville Central, and John Camardella, of Prospect, and religious literacy specialist and 2006 Wheeling High School graduate Benjamin Marcus. As senior staff writer Marie Wilson wrote in Wednesday's Daily Herald, the guidelines were approved this summer by two key organizations, the National Council for the Social Studies and the American Academy of Religion.

"These guidelines," Brady said, "reflect a civic imperative that now, perhaps more than at any other time, it's important that people in our society know their neighbors. Part of knowing your neighbors is knowing some of the religious traditions."

And knowing some of the religious traditions will help dispel stereotypes and misunderstandings that drive wedges between groups of people rather than encouraging the cooperation on which a functioning democracy thrives.

"The ultimate key is being able to be culturally responsive as well as being honest and respectful about approaching and engaging the different traditions of the world," said Camardella.

A society like ours - and increasingly, the ever-shrinking world at large - depends on such honesty and respect, and those qualities are built on knowledge and understanding. It's a matter of no small comfort to know that educators recognize the importance of this foundation, and additionally satisfying to know that educators from the suburbs played such a key role in building on it.

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