Religion in the Classroom: A Video Reflection (1993)

Religion in the Classroom: A Video Reflection (1993)

In 1993, during my teacher-credential training I produced this video to address the notion of how one might teach religion in the public school classroom. Even in 1993 this was a controversial subject and probably not something one should publish as one was trying to get employment in the school system. This video was also produced without computers, using two video tape players and one recorder and audio mixer to edit and record the video in one take. Sorry about the audio analog hiss. Enjoy.

Written, Produced and Directed by Joe Bustillos
Filmed on Location in Irvine, CA
Audio: The Voice of Enigma by Enigma Mcmxc A.D., 1991
Audio: A Call To Us All by Teri Desario, 1984
Video: Documentary The Glory & The Power: Fundamentalisms Observed by Bill Jersey, PBS/BBC, 1992
Video: Kung Fu TV-Pilot episode, Directed by Jerry Thorpe, 1972
Video: Fall of the Berlin Wall CNN, November 9, 1989
Video: Altered States directed by Ken Russell, Warner Brothers, 1980
Video: Second Baptist Church of Santa Ana, Filmed by Joe Bustillos, December 1993

Video Project BTS Notes & Script (PDF version)

A Personal Reflection on the demands of Religion in the Classroom
by Joe Bustillos

There’s a call to us all to love all humanity
Every race on the face of earth 
come to unity
“Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
These, the Master’s words, would do us well
But Man’s belief, religious creeds, can make him blind
The narrow way is not a narrow mind.
– Teri DeSario

My fundamentalist father and I had a boisterous discussion the other day about “the state of education.” In the past my father’s general arguments (true to his conservative roots) have centered around a need to return to the basics—reading, writing, arithmetic. He wanted to know how my teacher training was going to address the moral needs and foundations of my students. Ouch, I wasn’t ready for that one (I should have been ready—we’ve been having religious tussles since I was fifteen).

I wanted to say something about the separate roles of public education and religion but I knew that wouldn’t get very far. I mean, the question about moral education has always been a cornerstone to his theory about the decay of the education (which predictably includes the need to bring prayer and Jesus back to the school system). No, this was a very old discussion that I should have seen coming. I could have said something about Irvine School District voting to require graduating high school seniors to take courses in Ethics and Morals but I knew that that wouldn’t begin to address the crux of his concern. The real difficulty with what he wants is that to “teach morality” of the fundamentalist Christian variety in our divergent society is to open a Pandora’s box.

The thing is that I’ve been there before, I understand my father’s concern. He and I may not see eye-to-eye but I understand that “to not teach X” is “to teach Y.” That is, on the surface one can talk about Morals and Culture and Heritage and Religion like they’re all complete separate subjects with no association but that’s a bit like teaching To Kill a Mockingbird without talking about racial prejudice.

Humans are Religious creatures. The Soviets weren’t able to erase it in 70 years. In the West, Television and its attendant shallow pop-culture has defamed it and trivialized it but not eliminated it in 50 years. Those who say that they don’t believe in any religion are in fact practicing the religion of “no-religion.” In the end we believe or choose not to believe, not because of “objective scientific inquiry” but because of gut-level personal faith. We like to think we’re being rational but when push comes to shove the tenor becomes very emotional.

So then, how does one teach Morals or Ethics or Religion? Without being overly didactic, it’s a matter of casting a broad enough definition about what is considered “normal” human behavior and culture. One thing that I learned during my brief stint as an Anthropology major was that the Polytheistic cultures tended to reflect the greater range of human behavior in their gods without downplaying the moral consequences of that behavior. They didn’t suffer from the tyranny of the “One Standard” that on the outset is not a “Human Standard” at all. It will not satisfy the conservative factions,^ but teaching religion, or morals or even cultural diversity is a matter of presenting it as just another part of the “normal” human experience. This is certainly preferable to ignoring it like it was something our ancient ancestors did but that we’ve “grown beyond.”

Religion in the Classroom

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One thought on “Religion in the Classroom: A Video Reflection (1993)

  1. I got this comment from my Google-Plus feed from Joshua Montanye:

    This was an interesting video. I think having a comparative religion class in public education would be very beneficial to understanding different cultures. I do disagree though with your comparison of atheism to a relgion of no religion. I also don’t believe that morality is derived from religion. Obviously you made this movie a long time ago and I’m curious to know if you still feel this way.

    My response:

    Thanks for the comment. This video was from a long time ago and I now feel that I was more than a little naive about how open people would be to have religion taught like any other subject in the American public classroom. I wish we could be more objective and inclusive in our classroom instruction, versus the default position that either assumes everyone believes the way “we” do or acts as if Religion doesn’t exist. Myself being completely immersed in my Faith at the time, saw that even not believing was an act of Faith (which would offend most Atheists I’ve known).

    I do not believe that Religion is the foundation of Morality or required to have a moral society. Corruption and cruelty are not missing in regions that are mono-culture-religious or theocratic. I completely agree with the saying, “You don’t need religion to have morals. If you can’t determine right from wrong then you lack empathy, not religion.”

    Thanks again for the comment.

    Like

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