150+ Faith Leaders Implore Minnesota Department of Education: Add World Religions Back into Final Draft of New K-12 Social Studies Standards
August 16, 2021
(Minneapolis, MN) — Today, 157 leaders representing a wide range of different faith communities throughout the state of Minnesota released a joint letter calling on the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) to ensure that a full list of world religions is included in the next and final draft of the K-12 Academic Standards for Social Studies.
For context, on July 30, the MDE released the second draft of the new standards, which determine what public school students learn in classes like history, government, and geography. Absent from this copy of the standards was the writing committee’s example content, including a list of world religions. This omission is to the detriment of all of the state’s students of faith–especially those who are members of minority religious communities.
Individual leaders who are among the signatories and organizers for the letter offered the following reactions:
“Ensuring the constitutionally appropriate instruction about religion benefits all of our students,” said the Rev. Dr. Tom Duke, an ordained Lutheran pastor (retired) who served for 15 years as executive director of the Saint Paul Area Council of Churches. “How can we expect Minnesota’s children to be competitive and capable in a country founded on the ideas of religious freedom and diversity if they aren’t getting the foundational education they need? The MDE must make the right choice and fix these standards.”
“By removing the writing committee’s list of world religions, the MDE is making it all the more likely that lesser-known minority faith groups are not included in classroom materials and discussions,” said John Emery, Executive Director of Islamic Resource Group. “The MDE must equip our teachers with the tools to provide accurate instruction about all faith traditions, and that effort starts with the standards.”
“Religion has been a critical part of public education in the state of Minnesota for years,” said Holly Brod Farber, Co-Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas Speakers Bureau. “Learning about different faiths opens the door to interesting conversations and gives students the language they need to be curious and welcoming to one another–which is why the MDE should not be going backwards in removing an integral part of our students’ education.”
“Open discussion of religious diversity makes the classroom a safer, more welcoming place for students of minority faiths,” said Pritpal Kaur, Sikh Coalition Education Director. “Bias-based bullying affects young people from a wide range of faith traditions, and teaching about the similarities and differences among faiths is a first step to stopping the ignorance that fuels such behavior.”
“Teaching about religion isn’t about proselytizing or conversion–it is a matter of a well-rounded education for Minnesota’s students,” said Professor Anantanand Rambachan, a Minnesota Hindu community leader and Professor of Religion at Saint Olaf College. “It is critical that our new standards, in their laudable effort to be more inclusive of our state’s diverse communities, make an effort to recognize how racial, ethnic, and religious identities overlap for many of our children.”
Click here to view the letter in its entirety and see all signatories. The letter comes on the heels of an op-ed published in the Minnesota Star Tribune last week by faith leaders as well as a video featuring five students of different faith backgrounds, both of which stress the need for the MDE to add world religions back into the standards.
The public comment period for the third and final social studies standards draft concludes today, and the MDE has been sent a copy of the letter for entry into their records.
This letter was organized by the Islamic Resource Group, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, and the Sikh Coalition.