... Hudak: School District follows national standards
By Peter Becker
WALLENPAUPACK - A father of a Wallenpaupack High School student has expressed "shock" that his daughter was having to study religious materials in class. Last week he sent a letter to the editor and bought an advertisement in The News Eagle, expressing his viewpoint.
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Joann Hudak explained that she has been in communication with the father, Nick Bakker of Hawley. She said she assured him that the School District would review their curriculum and see that the instruction is meeting adopted national standards.
"You can't talk about the human experience without talking about religion," Hudak observed.
The instruction is part of a World Culture class which includes Bakker's 11th grade daughter.
Bakker states that his daughter recently complained to him that "she was having to study, learn and take tests on religious materials." Checking her homework, Bakker states that "I was shocked that, against the establishment clause barring religious studies in public schools, a teacher was teaching religion, such words as the The 10 Commandments, Covenants, following God obediently, the Promised Land, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Moses, God's Law, Jews, Toran, Tenakh, Rabbis, straying from the word of God, warning of God's punishment, Holy Day, stone tablets, scripture and much more."
He further states that the Supreme Court has backed the separation of church and state not to deny religion but to protect it. "That type of teaching is reserved for the church, not the public school. I am hoping that the school system realizes soon how the law is not being followed and abandon religious teaching in favor of legal studies."
Dr. Hudak told The News Eagle that the Wallenpaupack Area School District treats the subject of religion in a comparative fashion, to show students the role of various religions in the world and how to interpret world events through this aspect as well as many other facets of life.
"If you omit it you give the student the idea that religion is not part of the human experience," she said.
She asked how one can explain, for example, the crisis in the Middle East without discussing religion? She asked how one can teach about the European Renaissance without bringing up the role of religious beliefs?
"We're not teaching religion," Hudak said. "but about religion in a comparative fashion."
To do so, she explained, the student needs to understand the history of the religion, the founders, the the terminology and core tenets of the various faiths, and how they affect the lives of their followers.
Wallenpaupack Area School District, she stressed, follows nationally accepted standards set forth by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS).
The NCSS policy, in part, states, "Omitting study about religions gives students the impression that religions have not been, and are not now, part of the human experience. Religions have influenced the behavior of both individuals and nations, and have inspired some of the world's most beautiful art, architecture, literature, and music. History, our own nation’s religions pluralism, and contemporary world events are testimony that religion has been and continues to be an important culture influence."
Comparative study of religion as part of a social studies curriculum in a public school has been upheld by the courts, Hudak stated.
She also noted that students at Wallenpaupack are given the opportunity to be excused from certain instruction based on religious principles.
In her 30 years as an educator, Hudak stated that she has at times heard parental concerns from both extremes, those who want to mention of religion and others who think the District does not do enough. She said the District seeks to adhere to the nationally accepted standards.