Religion is one of those things within diverse communities that is pervasive and touches the lives of all, even those who do not believe. It’s a beautiful and interesting institution that has led to so much happiness for some and so much pain for others.
My old suburban Boston town began to change drastically after I finished high school. Now, on India’s independence day they have a flag-raising ceremony and on Diwali they have the school day off and many students attend school in traditional clothing the day before. Comparatively, during my time in high school, we had a printed picture of a diya on the “international” bulletin board that said “Happy Diwali.” While I’m still in the process of figuring out how religious I am exactly, I do care deeply about my culture. Seeing the school celebrating Diwali together in some way was heartwarming. When I talked to my parents about the change, they mentioned how nice it was to have the family together and to see people of different cultures being included. The whole event brought out an interesting idea in the realm of inclusion: Should we get days off for religious holidays?
My first answer would be yes. For decades, we have had Christmas and Easter off, and having time to spend with family on other important occasions seems only fair. But logistically, how possible is this? There are so many holidays, and having them all off may prove impossible — so what can we actually do? To answer this, it is beneficial to think about what this “day off” looks like. Schools can include various religions and holidays without needing to shut down schools by giving some leeway, such as time off or extensions on work, to students on religious holidays. Furthermore, including education on different holidays and providing cultural resources and events — for example, wearing cultural clothing to school — helps to celebrate diversity through inclusion.
Another thing that could lend to inclusion is the shift away from school schedules and traditions that align with Christian holidays. Currently, the major breaks align with Christian holidays such as Christmas and Easter. Even in the pledge of allegiance, we speak of “one nation under God.” Despite going to a public school, I learned far more about Christianity and its history than any other religion. In a public school system that already seems heavily impacted by religion, the absence of breaks — among many other things — for other religions does seem unfair.
Ameliorating this situation will take time and effort. Shifting away from traditional school schedules and reevaluating the reasons for having breaks on certain days may aid in this. Including a less Eurocentric curriculum may also lend to public schools that are less intertwined with religion. What is important to consider in this respect is the potential difficulty of teaching about various cultures in the classroom — a skill at which teachers are often underprepared. In fact, a study by Glasgow University stated that “an understanding of what makes religion meaningful for believers is often lost in the classroom.” Educators must also learn how to approach the complex ideas regarding religion, especially in turbulent political climates where one side is often seen as taking religiously-motivated actions.
Religion is an important part of many people’s lives and an incredibly intricate topic. As such, a greater amount of effort should be put into teaching students about various cultures and religions and making individuals who practice them feel included in daily life. It will certainly be a long process but it is important if we wish to be a country that not only has diversity but also demonstrates inclusion.