Do we need a little Christmas in Georgia’s kindergarten curriculum?

Apparently, the state Board of Education believes Georgia children need to know more about Christmas so the holiday will now be taught in kindergarten classes. (AJC File.)

Apparently, the state Board of Education believes Georgia children need to know more about Christmas so the holiday will now be taught in kindergarten classes. (AJC File.)

The AJC reports the state school board unanimously approved changes Thursday to how social studies is taught in public school, including teaching kindergarten students about Christmas.

In this column for the AJC, Linda K. Wertheimer, a former education editor of the Boston Globe, addresses why that change was a mistake. She is the author of “Faith Ed, Teaching About Religion In An Age of Intolerance.”  You can find her  on Twitter: @lindakwert

By Linda K. Wertheimer

Georgia’s State Board of Education just took the war over Christmas in public schools to new heights. It passed a social studies standard requiring kindergarten teachers to include Christmas in the lesson plan.

This new standard puts teachers in a conundrum. Most already struggle each year with the December dilemma. Do they do activities about Christmas or avoid it altogether? Do they try to be inclusive and teach about Hanukkah, too?

Georgia’s new standard gives teachers no choice. It lumps Christmas in with Columbus Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and seven other non-religious holidays. It requires kindergarteners to learn how to identify these national holidays and describe the people and/ or the events celebrated. Approving such a standard is an educational disservice to children who will be taught that Christmas is the religious holiday that deserves to be included in the classroom but other religions’ holidays do not count.

Also, the state board seems to have forgotten about the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which prohibits a state from establishing a religion. Representatives of the state, including teachers, cannot promote one religion over another. Teachers cannot teach lessons about Christmas in isolation as if it were a secular holiday like Labor or Independence Day.

Contrary to the belief some Americans hold, America is not a Christian nation. We live in an increasingly diverse country. Christians are in the majority, but the percentage of non-Christians is increasing. So is the proportion of Americans who do not affiliate with any religion.

Singling out Christmas in the lesson plan is an ill-conceived notion that could take Georgia backwards and possibly nudge other Bible Belt states to follow suit because of a pining for days of old. Such a standard could naturally lead some educators to think it’s all right to hold Christmas celebrations and stick a Christmas tree in the hall. Some schools still do that, but when their practices become public, they usually stop. First Amendment experts have repeatedly noted that Christmas celebrations in schools are inappropriate and illegal.

It is a fine idea, though, to teach elementary students about Christianity and other religions as part of a well thought-out curriculum on world religions. It is not illegal to teach about religious holidays, as the First Amendment Center explains in “A Teacher’s Guide to Religion in the Public Schools.” Teachers do need to teach with care so they do not step over the line separating church from state. They can teach about but not celebrate holidays in the classroom. That means they can provide information about a holiday, how and when it is celebrated, its origins, history and meaning.

“If the approach is objective and sensitive, neither promoting nor inhibiting religion, this study can foster understanding and mutual respect for differences in belief,” the report says.

But how can kindergarten teachers create respect for differences if they are only asked to teach about one religion’s holiday? By highlighting Christmas, the state school board is promoting Christianity. I don’t dispute Christmas is a national holiday in our country, but two wrongs do not make a right. Not everyone in this country celebrates Christmas even if most get the day off from work. Christmas is not a secular holiday. It celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, revered by Christians as their savior and as the son of God. That’s a Christian, not a universal American, belief. Learning about Christmas only and not Easter also gives children a skewed view of Christianity.

The executive director of the Georgia Council for the Social Studies, which advocates for teachers, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the council questions how teachers can teach about Christmas so kindergarteners can understand it. I’m more worried about the legality of teaching only about Christmas than I am about whether teachers could figure out how to make the subject kindergarten-friendly. Even kindergarteners can learn basic information about different religions and their holidays.

I’ve seen lessons about religion in public schools taught as early as first grade using the Core Knowledge curriculum, which includes such instruction as part of social studies. More than 1,200 public and private schools across the country use the approach, developed by educational researcher E.D. Hirsch. Hirsch believes there is a set of information all children should master by the time they graduate from high school. He includes learning about world religions as an essential skill. Becoming religiously literate is part of becoming an educated citizen.

Georgia requires teaching about different religions as part of world history and geography in secondary schools. That’s laudable, but if Georgia is planning to introduce Christmas to the lesson plan in kindergarten, it must go further. At the minimum, include other religions’ holidays, though learning about religion involves more than just knowing the holidays. Also, train teachers, who may need help learning content and approach for the lessons on religious holidays. They have to be sure they do not veer into celebration or proselytization.

A first-grade teacher I observed in a Wichita, Kansas, elementary school knew she was not supposed to say “I believe” when she told the story of Christmas and Easter as part of a unit on Christianity. She follows the Core Knowledge script and says “This is what Christians believe.” The Core Knowledge curriculum has teachers read stories about a Jewish, Christian and Muslim child to the first-graders. Through stories, students learn about the history of each religion, the core beliefs, and the holidays.

When the teacher taught the unit on Judaism, she brought in a menorah she found at a local Target as a prop to show how Jews light the candles for eight nights. During a few weeks in November, the children learned not only about Christmas and Easter. They learned about Hanukkah, Yom Kippur and other Jewish holidays. They learned, too, about Muslim holidays, including Ramadan, which began earlier this week. This was education, not celebration.

Were these lessons too complex for such young children? I don’t think so. The language used was simple. The teacher used photos to teach children to recognize a church, a synagogue or mosque. The children cut out drawings of the Jewish Star of David, a Christian cross, and a crescent and star, a symbol often associated with Islam.

Through reading, listening and arts and crafts, these young children could grasp what the Georgia Board of Education may not yet understand. Many faiths, not just one, exist in our world. Teachers should not be put in the position of promoting one religion over another. If we single out Christmas, we send a clear message to children that Christianity is the “right” and “only” way to live. If we make attempts to teach children about different religions, we give them an incredible gift. Those in the majority get a chance to learn about other faiths. Those in the minority in America get a chance to be proud of who they are.

 

 

Reader Comments 0

48 comments
Lunaville
Lunaville

An age appropriate comprehensive, inclusive survey of holidays from a multitude of faiths around the world could be educational and fun especially if members of the local community bring in treats related to the given holidays for the kids to sample. In other words, it could work provided a multitude of faiths and cultures are presented in an even handed manner, neutral manner. 


A Christmas only requirement, however, gives me pause. I wonder, which Christmas ... the birth of Christ or the myth of Santa Clause? Many Christian parents have strong opinions about how Christmas should be taught and celebrated as well as strong opinions on religious education in general. So, a Christmas curriculum has the potential to begin its transgressions against the core beliefs of the community within the Christian community.


We separate church and state to protect our freedom of religion. Public schools are state schools. State schools promoting a certain view of Christmas are, whether they realize it or not, in opposition to  parents who wish to present a different view in the home and at their place of worship. Its not a matter of "kicking G-d out of the schools;" its a matter of keeping your right to believe and worship as you are called in your home and house of worship.

AVJ
AVJ


If any one's LACK of faith in Christianity is negatively impacted by kids learning that the reason for their 2 week break at December is because of Christmas, then that is a personal problem.  Maybe they should demand that schools stay open during those 2 weeks; or maybe they can open a charter school that runs through the whole month of December. The reality is,  MOST people in MOST industries are closed or get to leave work early around "that time of the year". It's CHRISTMAS, people. Not that big of a deal.  It is not promoting 1 religion over another any more than teaching kids about Hannukkah or Ramadan. It's called CULTURAL AWARENES.  Frankly, I feel sorry for any child who is Kindergarten age who doesn't or didn't already know about Christmas anyway. This is a big to-do about nothing.


Bill OrvisWhite
Bill OrvisWhite

It all went downhill when God was kicked out of the public sector 1/2 century ago. Once that happened the culture went into a steep decline including disrespect for elders, children on The Pill, corpulent teenagers who engage in debauchery, an expanded entitlement system which has bankrupted America-but no one will admit that fact, ridiculous taxation and draconian regulations. America is basically finished, but far too many keep putting Band-Aids on this once-free nation. Our future is bleak and it's all due to nonsensical secular progressiveness that has morally, socially, psychologically and financially bankrupted America. We are an embarrassment to the world with young folk who are taught to ignore God and replace Him with folk like Hussein Obama, Hairy Read, Nanny Pelosi and Bawney Fwank. Good night. Amen, Bill 

HotDawg
HotDawg

Flaming liberals have destroyed most everything that is great about this country, in the first place.

They are for revisionist history. No turning back for them, until it becomes completely socialist or even communist.

It worked out soooo well for all those countries, right?

dg417s
dg417s

History gives a different name for the liberals of 1776.... they were called Patriots while the conservatives were called loyalists. Just some food for thought.

BERETTAM9
BERETTAM9

Hell no!  Only Sharia law!  Those Christians are racists, homophobe bigots!  

Bill OrvisWhite
Bill OrvisWhite

@Tallulah Sharia has already premiered in some places in America and is most likely coming to a 'theater' near you. Amen, Bill 

HIbought theRefs
HIbought theRefs

Is it really necessary to teach about holidays in K? Some are may be too complex - for example, Columbus Day - so who is telling the background of the competing world powers of the day (England and Spain primarily, with the French and Italians clamoring for more attention and the Pope holding sway on so many issues), how this lead to the monarchs searching for new conquests to expand their kingdoms, and the impact on Native Americans?  I really think Kindergarten is not the jumping off place for such discussions.  Why can't the kids just have a fun time at this age?  

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

If we are a multicultural society, and we are, then the precepts of each religion should be taught - and taught, with complexity, according to the level of development of the child.  However, something more vital than content is necessary to communicate in educating our children for the future:

--------------------------------------------------------------------


“Teaching is a beautiful job, as it allows you to see growth, day by day, of people entrusted to your care.  It is a little like being parents, at least spiritually. It is a great responsibility. . .


You must not teach just content, but the values and customs of life. A computer can teach content.  Instead there are three things that you must transmit: how to love, how to understand which values and customs create harmony in society.  For that we need good teachers!

Teachers must aim to build an educational relationship with each student, who must feel welcomed and loved for what he or she is, with all of their limitations and potential. In this direction, your task is now more necessary than ever.”

– Pope Francis

http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2015/03/14/pope_francis_society_today_needs_good,_well_paid_teachers/1129396


Beach Bound2020
Beach Bound2020

I truly understand about slippery slopes, scope creep and other unintended consequences that may make people nervous about the thought of teaching about Christmas in kindergarten.  However for the life of me, I cannot imagine any extremely damaging effects on introducing this holiday to 5 and 6 years old students - many of who probably already know a thing or two about it.Think about specific things you learned in kindergarten, do they really impact you forever?  Frankly it matters not what students learn in terms of content at that age.  The important thing is the literacy and math skills.  On the other hand, I can't help but wonder why we are not tackling far larger, more life long things that WILL impact students in our discourse, energies, and work in addressing our public education concerns.

Astropig
Astropig

@Beach Bound2020


Best comment on this topic-by far.  Balance and common sense goes poof whenever the media tries to cover topics of this nature.Haters on both sides must pray for this sort of column (except the atheists,that is).

Beach Bound2020
Beach Bound2020

@Astropig I am flattered by your comment.  You are usually a pretty tough cookie to impress on this blog! 

Astropig
Astropig

@Beach Bound2020 @Astropig


I don't care where a good idea comes from as long as it arrives where I am standing.If its good enough, I'll blatantly steal it and run with it.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

I have seen second graders do "Holidays around the World."


At my daughter's school, teachers are not allowed to wear ANYTHING that is Christmas related--sweaters, pins, etc. 


Here where and when I taught, over the years I taught 2 children who did not celebrate any holidays or birthdays. I believe they were Jehovah's Witnesses.  But we did typical Christian holiday stuff--even plays.  However, this is a very religiously homogeneous area, unlike most.

taylor48
taylor48

I do a Holidays Around the World unit in December. It's fun, and it keeps the kids pretty engaged during the three week stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I've had Muslim kids, Buddhist kids, and a couple of JW students, and no one's complained.

I'm not sure why it's so vital to include Christmas in the Social Studies curriculum. Are we afraid that kindergarten students DON'T know about Christmas?

Astropig
Astropig

@taylor48


" Are we afraid that kindergarten students DON'T know about Christmas?"


I don't think we would be very successful trying to hide Christmas from 5-6 year olds. Just my opinion.

taylor48
taylor48

Right, so why is it so important to add it to the kindergarten curriculum? I'm pretty sure my rising K already knows about Christmas. Not sure what else her kindergarten teacher is going to teach her about it.

redweather
redweather

What about Easter? 

"Today children we are going to learn about the Romans and how they crucified Jesus. You will be drawing a cross, a crown of thorns, and a sword. Won't that be fun! And make sure you have a red crayon, because Jesus bled a lot."  

Mack68
Mack68

My kids in APS have learned about multiple religious holidays starting in kindergarten, since 2007 (our first year in the system).

Their school had the kids do a great art binder of winter holidays that I have kept (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa). However, that was only for my oldest two. The youngest one did not do that.

We are Christian, but I pull those beautiful binders out every winter along with our Christmas books.

The teachers covered the material in school inclusively, without prejudice, even though it was not "required" by the state standards. 

Why do we need to enshrine coverage of Christmas holiday only into the state social studies standards for kindergarten?

Another comment
Another comment

My daughter had a Bible thumping Baptist teacher as her AP Human Geography teacher in a Cobb County High School, who refused to answer any student questions about Islam, Hindu, Budist and Jewish religions. She also tried to claim that Catholics weren't Christians. My daughter who graduated from one of the blue chip Catholic grammar schools 1-8, then stood up and replied that she could answer the questions of her classmates. As at Catholic School they were taught about all religions and the history of all and she could answer. She boldly answered and proudly came home and told me what she did.

I for one am very sick of the Bible quoting fake Christians. Express your Christianity by how you live your life and how you treat everyone vs quoting a thousand plus year old book of fiction.

Iwonderwho
Iwonderwho

@Another comment You sent your kid to a Catholic school but you think the Bible is a book of fiction. That seems kind of strange to me.

UltraElf
UltraElf

@Another comment leave it to the bible thumping baptists.....thru hell fire and brimstone, Here comes KANE!

Chram
Chram

Wow, someone needs an education and it isn't the kindergartners. Good article though. Do I need to contact FFRF to save the children?

eulb
eulb

Did the GA DOE really just spend its monthly meeting revising the social studies standards to add some totally unnecessary Christmas standards to kindergarteners' curriculum?

Was there not any discussion about the Milestones testing issues, criminal fraud/theft in various schools (charter & traditional), and how the DOE should prevent similar serious problems going forward? 

There is one last DOE public hearing meeting scheduled for 2016. http://tinyurl.com/DOE-public-hearings   It's Tues, June 21 in the evening, in Atlanta at DH Stanton Elementary School.  I've never been to one of those hearings so I have no idea what they are like.  But might be worth a visit to find out whether our DOE leaders'  priorities are aligned with the public's.


Lee Pollock
Lee Pollock

If the school board and schools feel a need to include Christmas in the formal curriculum, don't be surprised if your kindergarteners learn an additional lesson about Santa. I'm sure plenty of secular children will be more than happy to tell your kids where those gifts really come from, and their parents will no longer be encouraging their restraint in ruining your kids holiday. Merry Christmas, y'all.

dg417s
dg417s

You want to see an even bigger problem? Look at the personal finance standards in Economics. Payday loans and title pawns are now included in the mandatory "financial institutions" that we have to teach.

dg417s
dg417s

What really scares me about it is that there is no guidance on that yet, and if you look at the old EOCT study guide where they weren't part of the standards, there is a review question that a person doesn't have enough money to buy a lawnmower today, what should she do - the correct answer, according to the state of Georgia, was to take out a payday loan. I personally contacted the DOE and Georgia Council on Economic Education, but no change was made.

Another comment
Another comment

The answer should be either borrow one from your neighbor or family until you can save up enough money to buy one. Buy a less expensive one, or sell some of your excess stuff that you do not need such as SNeaker collection, video games, rims, clothes, purses ( but make sure you meet the seller at the space set up at your local police station). Avoid taking out a payday loan at all costs.

Consider purchasing a used lawnmower from estate or moving sales. They are also available sometimes brand new at certain pawnshops or the Sears outlet stores, for lower cost.

Then once you have purchased, put your lawnmower to work for you by offering to do neighbors yards for a rate less than that of the professional lawn services $50-75 every ten days for a standard lot. You can completely pay for your lawnmower in one season by just doing one neighbors yard.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@dg417s I hope what you are being asked to teach is to stay away from them. I covered that industry for seven years and it was heartbreaking to see the devastation, especially among young soldiers. 

eulb
eulb

@dg417s 

I wondered whether you were exaggerating so I looked up the EOCT study guide and found the question/answer.  Now I'm sorry I doubted you.  For anyone else who wants to verify,  look at question 3 on page 68 & answer on page 69.  http://tinyurl.com/lawnmowerPaydayLoan

dsw2contributor
dsw2contributor

@eulb @dg417s  Well, it is the "Economics/Business/FREE ENTERPRISE" EOCT test.


The payday loan industry funnels money to politicians thru PACs with names like "Committee to Protect Prosperity and Free Enterprise".

Astropig
Astropig

@dg417s


I've seen some of my former (bail bonding) customers take out payday loans with four digit effective APR's. I always told these people that they were doing something stupid,but most did it anyway.They simply didn't grasp the destructive,abusive nature of these loans.They wanted what they wanted and that was that.It is financial poison,but some people are lining up to take it. As long as there is a market for such high risk,predatory lending,there will be a supply of funds. Been that way since the Old Testament (if I'm allowed to cite that)

eulb
eulb

@Astropig 

How is it possible that these interest rates are legal?  In the EOCT test example, the customer would borrow $50 for < 1 week, and would repay $55.  That's  a 10% interest rate for less than a week, which works out to at least 520% APR.  And you saw rates higher than that! :-(

Astropig
Astropig

@eulb @Astropig


The juice on these loans is illegal in some states.Payday lending is prohibited in Georgia,but I did business very near Tennessee,where they can abuse borrowers to a fare-thee-well.Also,technology has made it possible to wreck your financial life from the privacy and comfort of your house trailer.Internet cash advance,payday loans/title pawns are growing like topsy.


Georgia allows an even more abusive form of loan: Title Pawns.The interest rates on these little time bombs start at an eye watering 25%a month.The people that use these are literally unbankable because they simply don't pay their bills.Its about the only credit option a lot of them have.I'm not saying that its right to do this-not a bit of it-but the kind of folks that take title pawns are simply the most ignorant (financially speaking) of all of our citizens.Most simply don't grasp how abusive these products really are.

VRSR
VRSR

@dg417s  Thank you for sharing this. The DOE thinks its ok to teach students to take a payday loan to buy something at an annualized rate of around 521%?  A better option would be to pay a teenager  to cut the grass.  They should be teaching students to not use pay day loans or only in an extreme emergency for something like rent.

Pauline Menchesky
Pauline Menchesky

When my kids were in 2nd or 3rd grade in a GA public school in the early 90s, they did a Christmas Around the World unit. It was a fun thing.

Paige White Norman
Paige White Norman

I'm a teacher and I taught a unit on Holidays Around the World! This was done during the month of December. I taught about Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Years, and St. Lucia Day.

Natalie Anne
Natalie Anne

I'm absolutely fine with this if they are learning about other important holidays around the world. Not just holidays celebrated in december

Christophobia_
Christophobia_

One wonders what those tiny, hate-filled minds which invented political correctness did before all this.

Tom Green
Tom Green

I suspect this was not a recommendation of the Social Studies committee that was comprised mainly of educators (the one that was previously ignored in favor of a politician's recommendations). Just follow the money.

Christie_S
Christie_S

Oh, ouch.  Religion needs to be taught in the home and in the place of worship.  This IS going to open up a can of worms bigger than we can fish with.  ::sigh::  Guess it fits right in there with Perdue's "dumbest statement of the year" award-winning request for a "prayer" for Obama. See 

http://www.vox.com/2016/6/10/11902822/perdue-obama-psalm-days-few.

Chantelle Kirk
Chantelle Kirk

How many Elf on the Shelf dolls are used in schools in December? -promoting a belief How many standard (no individual creativity) crafts are made during December? Most school calendars are made having a "Christmas" break. Seems logical to teach about Christmas because of the impact the holiday still has on the school calendar. I would rather that instruction take place than the elf and craft experiences.

ATeacherLikeMe
ATeacherLikeMe

What schools are doing Elf on a Shelf? But  seeing as Christmas is no longer a religious holiday (I know of Jews who buy trees and exchange gifts), then it should not be that much of a problem.  After all, we should just teach kids that the holiday is about exchanging gifts rather than celebrating the birth of Jesus-which we know that it is not.