In the late 1990s, Modesto City Schools adopted several strategies to teach compassion and kindness. The “Principles of Rights, Responsibilities and Respect to Ensure a Safe School Environment” became part of the District’s mission statement and paved the way for the development and adoption of the Character Education program. This led to the decision that teaching a world religions course would be a natural extension of this path. Teaching students how to manage life in a pluralistic society became the guiding principle in the development of the World Geography & World Religions course, and continues to be so today.
The course begins with the study the First Amendment and the role of the Supreme Court in protecting religious freedom. The beginnings of religious freedom in the United States is then taught with Rhode Island founder Roger Williams. His arguments for “soul liberty,” religious freedom and separation of church and state are the main focus in the history of this early American. This important unit of study ends with defining what religion is, some basic elements of religion and the role religion plays in society.
The course then examines the geographic location, cultural characteristics, historical development, major beliefs and impact on world historic events of the six major world religions; Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Sikhism, as well as an overview of four additional religions from the east; Taoism, Shinto, Confucianism and Jainism. The study includes the history and original location of the religion, basic tenets, common elements of the religion and the various ways it is practiced.
The teachers who developed the course believed strongly that in order for it to truly make a difference it would have to be taken by all students. The school board agreed and voted to adopt the course as a requirement for graduation. It was decided that it would be a freshman requirement and the first group of students to take the class was in the fall of 2000. Modesto City Schools is proud to be celebrating its 20th year of the World Geography & World Religions course, and is hopeful that the thousands of students who have participated have gone on to treat their fellow human beings with the dignity and respect we all deserve, regardless of religious affiliation.