ACCESS graduation ceremony (U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv. 2012. CC BY-SA 2.0)
As the school year starts, the community prepares for the eventful year ahead. Parents are encouraged to sync the school calendars onto their own devices or they place a copy onto the fridge. To plan ahead they mark the vacation days. Some families excitedly circle Christmas and secretly kids begin their countdown to the holidays. On the other hand, many parents and children realize that their religious holidays are not recognized on the calendar. They wonder, is their holiday may it be Diwali, Eid, Kwanzaa or the many other faith groups not as fun? Not as significant? Whether intended or not by the school, these children may feel a strong sense of exclusion right off the bat. These families may straight away not feel welcomed or connected to the school culture as their celebrations were not acknowledged. Parents have to field questions from their hurt children, “Why is it that our holiday is not included and celebrated at our school, is it not as important?”

Therefore, when it comes to school recognition of “holy days” on the calendar or during school activities, an all or none philosophy has to be adopted.  We cannot pick and choose one child’s religious holiday over another.  America is one of the most diverse countries in the world, and with this comes the beauty of many faiths and many more cultural celebrations. Schools have to stop the practice of recognizing selective faith traditions.

On the other hand, there is merit in schools developing a deep understanding of their student population. Even if the calendar doesn’t recognize any holidays, teachers must survey each student’s faith background and celebrations so that they can acknowledge them. Our responsibility as teachers and educational institutions is to meet the needs of our students and make learning culturally relevant. In order to do this we must learn about and recognize their cultural background. Faith and culture are extremely intertwined and it is hard to separate one from another. To truly know a child’s cultural background, their religious background has to be acknowledged.

With 21st century learning goals, schools have the critical responsibility of nurturing the global citizen.  It is imperative that children and adults alike cultivate a strong mutual understanding between diverse backgrounds and this includes respecting different faith traditions.  Religious literacy is key to our peaceful coexistence. When teachers and schools collect valuable data about their students’ cultural background this information will ensure that school personnel receive professional development in different backgrounds, libraries purchase books that represent characters of different faiths, major school events do not coincide with faith holidays, school staff can also give a meaningful greeting to a child celebrating a holiday and many other positive measures can be taken. When a student walks into the library during his holiday season he should be excited by a book display showcasing his celebration and teaching others about it too. Librarians cannot just exclusively put on a festive book display for one faith tradition and not do the same for others. Children have to see themselves and people of diverse backgrounds in books, as this is healthy for self-esteem and empathy development. Religious inclusion in schools has to be factored in throughout the system. In Finding A Common Ground: A Guide to Religious Liberty in Public Schools by Charles Hayes, Senior Scholar at the First Amendment Center, it says 

If the approach to a holiday is objective and sensitive, neither promoting nor inhibiting religion, the study can foster understanding and mutual respect for differences in beliefs.

Schools have their work cut out for them: When it comes to school calendars, they have to adopt an ALL or NONE policy on holiday inclusion.  However, when it comes to acknowledging and teaching about different faith traditions and celebrations, this beneficial step should definitely be on the school’s to do list.


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Chicago Monitor’s editorial policy.


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