Teaching about Religion in K-12 Public Schools in the United States

In 2010, the AAR Board of Directors approved the Guidelines for Teaching about Religion in K–12 Public Schools (PDF) in the United States.

The document is the product of a three-year initiative undertaken by the Religion in the Schools Task Force in consultation with educators and the broad constituency of the AAR. The Guidelines are written for public school teachers, administrators, members of school boards, and other citizens to provide guidance for how to teach about religion in intellectually sound ways from the nonsectarian perspective appropriate for public schools.

Contrary to popular opinion, religion is embedded in state standards across the K–12 spectrum and is especially prominent in English and social studies curricula. In spite of this fact, very few educators have been trained in the religious studies methods required to teach this content responsibly. Furthermore, there previously were no guidelines produced by religious studies scholars comparable to those available in other disciplines that focus on K–12 educational contexts. Given that religion is widely misunderstood and often controversial, this gap in training and resources placed teachers in an untenable situation. The hope is that these guidelines will provide a useful tool for them as they face the challenges and opportunities that teaching about religion entails.

The fifty-page document is divided into four main sections that address:

  1. Why teaching about religion is important
  2. The distinction between a devotional approach to religion and a non-devotional religious studies approach appropriate for public schools
  3. How to teach about religion with a variety of approaches, pedagogical strategies, and “snapshots” of classroom practices across the K–12 spectrum
  4. The content and skill competencies required for teachers to teach about religion in intellectually sound ways

The document also includes endnotes, a bibliography of works cited, and appendices that offer additional practical resources and suggestions.

The AAR-produced Guidelines have since been incorporated into the C3 Framework for Social Studies, developed by the National Council for Social Studies (NCSS). The C3 Framework recognizes religious studies as an essential part of the social studies curriculum.

The C3 Framework pairs fundamental college and career education with civic life, uniting students and educators to build upon NCSS’s longstanding position that citizens must acknowledge the past, understand their changing cultural and physical environments, and act in ways that promote the common good. The Companion Document—which is the product of a teacher-led initiative that launched at a conference for educators at Prospect High School in Mt. Prospect, IL—was developed by educators, school administrators, and subject matter experts from Harvard University and Rice University, with the support of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and of the Religious Freedom Center (RFC) of the Newseum Institute.