By Linda K. Wertheimer
A journalist and the author of Faith Ed: Teaching About Religion In An Age of Intolerance.
The cost of not teaching children about different faiths has too big a priceLast weekend during a basketball playoff game, roughly 50 to 75 fans of a Catholic high school in Boston chanted: “You Killed Jesus” at the opposing side, a suburban school with many Jewish students.
That chant, which grew out of taunts between fans of both Catholic Memorial School, a private all-boys school, and the public Newton North High School, drew national news coverage, condemnation and exclamations of horror and shock from many quarters.
Sadly, though, I was not shocked to hear that teens had used religion to toss barbs. Some people, based on comments on Facebook and newspaper and television stories, link the teens’ behavior to a natural outgrowth of seeing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and/or his supporters publicly spout racist, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric. I don’t. I think the teens’ behavior stems from something more systemic in our society.
Long before Trump hit the scene, children were hurting each other with anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, anti-Sikh, and anti-Hindu statements or references. Christian children, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, haven’t been immune from being picked on because they don’t fit into the so-called norm of the majority in the U.S. Neither have atheists and agnostics.
Catholic Memorial responded quickly by holding student assemblies and pledging to make changes to its curriculum to include education to prevent anti-Semitism. And it banned its student body from attending Monday’s championship game. Newton schools, which has recently dealt with anti-Semitic incidents at a middle school and Newton North, also is dealing with intolerance in its own community and planned to speak with its students about chants they directed at Catholic Memorial for being an all-boys school. Some viewed Newton North’s chants as homophobic. Exchanges between both sides were unacceptable and show why it’s so essential to teach kids to respect any difference.
The schools’ responses were admirable. But America has a huge problem, especially when it comes to understanding and respecting different faiths.
It’s great to react when there’s a crisis, but better yet, we need to start educating our children in schools at an early age about world religions. When I heard of the basketball chant, I could not help but think of the South Pacific song, “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.” The song refers to the idea that children aren’t born hating those who are different. Someone has to teach them before they are age 6, 7, or 8 to hate whom their relatives hated, the song says. These students made it to adolescence thinking it was somehow OK to spew anti-Semitic vitriol at a basketball game, that it was OK to recite something the Catholic church itself had denounced in 1965.