School Getting Too Religious?

religion115528220-2“Inclusion” and “diversity” are terms that grace the mission statement of many International Schools. As such, you would think that if religious practices were suddenly introduced into a school touting these ideals, the various religions of the students and faculty would be represented equally. Not always so! Reviews scattered throughout the ISR web site outline schools that have adopted a religious overtone with a focus on one religion only — the Admin’s. Here are excerpts from the ISR Forum and School Reviews that express concern over this emerging practice in some International Schools:

I work in an international school in Europe. Over the years there’s been a clear shift…. Fellow teachers are including religious viewpoints in their lessons, many of the charities the school supports have religious backgrounds, and every Sunday the school is even used by a Christian church for service, Sunday school, etc. Several of the workshops offered to teachers are also organized by religious-related organizations. I don’t support any of this and it clashes with my view of what an International School should be (i.e. void of religion).

The Director and Principals are preoccupied with their faith and this consumes much of their energy. Staff are obliged to attend Christian “boot camp” in order to be broken down, then rebuilt into better, “more godly” people. There is a monthly “joint fellowship” which all staff are required to attend. Each morning there are staff devotions where teachers relate personal faith-related experiences.

Prayers before staff meetings are mandatory and there are worship services before the start of the year. The staff retreat is similar to a church camp for adults. Most of this isn’t negative; however, it has led to a bumpy transition and there are concerns that a strong Christian would be hired over a strong teacher. All in all I would recommend the school if you are a conservative Christian. The trend has been towards a more conservative atmosphere and there have been quite a few staff members who have left because of a difference of opinion.religion115528220-1

In light of these comments, it can be said that if you accept a position at the Christian Academy of Nepal (a fictitious name for purposes of this Article), it would be foolish to think prayer and observance would not be part of the school day. But even in such a scenario there can be more than meets the eye. One ISR School Review tells how the reviewer never anticipated accepting a position at a faith-based school would allow admin to violate his personal space, confiscate his iPod and check that it contained only Christian music, with consequences for anything but.

Although we at ISR consider such actions extreme and far from the spirit of International Education, the aforementioned Review does describe a school that contains the word Christian in its title. Still, a number of School Reviews, as in our earlier examples, relate how a non faith-based school brought in a new director who cast a religious overtone onto the school’s atmosphere, then recruited only faith-oriented staff who incorporated religion into their daily lessons and directives.

ISR supports the practice of all religions. When, however, a single religion is introduced into an International School unannounced by an administrator with an agenda, our position is that this goes against the most basic foundation of an inclusive and diversified education.

Tell us about YOUR experience and position on this topic!

27 Responses to School Getting Too Religious?

  1. Jean says:

    I think when you a in Rome, you have to do as Romans do. If you do not like it, you shloud not go to Rome, chose another school. There are other religions than evangelical that require to accept (may be not follow) but respect those views with their restrictions that are de rigueur.

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  2. Mickey says:

    I have worked in a school affiliated to a particular mainline Christian denomination as well as a so called “Christian school.” Understandably, as faculty, anyone working at either of these types of religious schools would be required to attend chapel services and assemblies and, “When in Rome , do as Romans do”. In the denominational school, no faculty member was ever required to do a “boot camp” orientation of any sort, and the school made a point of allowing each person to have their own religious beliefs, and did not allow for any “proselytizing” of any sort. The “Christian” school however was a different story and I, as a member of a more “traditional” faith background felt quite uncomfortable at times with the seemingly endless round of morning “devotions” for faculty, followed by a short “thought for the day with an accompanying Bible verse and prayer ” when the whole school assembled at the beginning of the school day. Homeroom time that followed the whole school assembly would be time for “class/homeroom” devotions.
    By the time one started teaching for the actual school day, one would have had a total of almost an hour of prayer and or devotion of some sort. ‘Nothing wrong with that , but , add this to one’s own “quiet time”, it was quite exhausting, and one felt “out prayed” before the school day even started!
    My own view is that “Faith” and “Reason” are the marks of any personal relationship with a Loving Creator as the Creator is perceived.
    At the Buddhist schools at which I have taught, important religious festivals and daily and weekly prayers were faithfully and, if I may say so, reverently and beautifully observed in a dignified manner, unlike the somewhat noisy “Assemblies and chapel services” held in fundamentalist Christian schools. For me, I find these “Chapels” are neither prayerful nor dignified, especially when accompanied by the loud “music”, hand clapping and cheering which accompany such gatherings.
    (No offense meant here, but this is a personal view. However, I often ask myself “Whatever happened to the verse from the Psalms which says ‘Be still, and know that I am God’…”)
    I believe that Religious schools should keep and observe whatever “brand” of Faith they professes, but, if teachers choose to work in such schools, they need to realize that what goes for “orientation” (boot camp) and teaching (proselytizing) in the brand of faith they exercise, well, that goes with the territory.
    For International schools working in an International context, respect tolerance and understanding of all Religions should be part of any Religious Studies curriculum, should schools choose to teach Religious Studies at all. I know from experience that many Christian schools which follow the I.B. program for example find it sometimes quite difficult to match their religious beliefs with many aspects of the I.B, which is definitely not “religious”, but is very rigorous academically, and quite “secular.”
    I found it ironic that at the Christian school at which I taught, Religious Studies was not offered as part of the Cambridge IGCSE course, the argument from the administration being that , the school would be “forced” to teach aspects of that curriculum which were not in agreement with the school’s philosophy and brand of “Christian” Education. (IGCSE includes aspects of Islam , Hinduism and Buddhism).
    Having experienced the best (and the worst!) of Religion in schools, and having come out with my own faith still relatively intact, I shall not be in a hurry to venture into “fundamentalist” Christian teaching environment again.
    Please note that my comments are of a personal nature and are not meant to offend those teachers who do accomplish great things in the lives of their students in such “Christian” schools.

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  3. China Teacher says:

    “Religion poisons everything.” ~ Christopher Hitchens

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  4. Blasted says:

    QSI group has to be ONE of the worst when it comes to religion and religious hypocrisy. I spent two happy years at QSI with great colleagues and a great agnostic director. The 3rd year, along came a religious zealot. In came men’s ‘Christian” prayer breakfasts and ‘Christian’ women’s activities amongst teachers. Religious buddies got promoted and favored. That year, several of us resigned! Imagine an elementary teacher telling Grade 2 kiddies that ‘God loves you even when you misbehave’ – ugh! QSI are not even that upfront about it.

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  5. Old School says:

    An interesting post. My response may not be popular, but nonetheless here it is.

    Most private international schools aren’t overly religious but may have mandated religious classes dictated by the local government. If you don’t like this then you could simply find another school or leave your host country. Just to state the obvious, international proprietary schools often don’t encourage religion in any way, shape or form, rather these schools worship something else…..the US dollar!

    What I don’t like, as a teacher in the middle-east, is the pushing of Christianity to majority Muslim student populations subtly and at times overtly by some members of staff. This would never be tolerated in the west if the shoe was on the other foot so to speak.

    Frankly speaking, there are foreign teachers at my school who are Christians, atheists and live hedonistic lifestyles and many of them push their life vision and lifestyle to their students as well, which is quite disconcerting. I am socially conservative yet I don’t push my religion and lifestyle to my students like some of the other faculty at my school do. I truly believe that if you have come to the middle-east to change it you should leave. It is quite arrogant to think, as an individual teacher, with a belief system of XYZ, that you should think it’s your job to proselytize to students. Also, the word proselytize doesn’t just have a religious context, it can mean to also bring someone to your own cause, ideology, party or institution. So, if you’ve come pushing democracy in a part of the world that has a different governmental system in place my advice is to stay at home.

    I would like to add however that a new member of administration at my school is quite religious. I find their approach much better for students. This admin member is from a different faith than myself, but is more socially conservative than most faculty, which I find refreshing in today’s society. This admin member demands that novels are age and theme appropriate and that staff, particularly female staff, dress professionally and appropriately (sorry ladies, but at my school the female faculty are the ones that don’t stick to the faculty dress policy in most instances).

    I’m sorry, but the problem with the world today isn’t due to religion, it is from a lack of religion and the promotion of them many -isms that are completely foreign to many cultures around the world. This is my opinion only and I don’t pretend to speak for anyone but myself.

    International teaching is about the teacher learning about new cultures and religions, not making their classrooms a microcosm of their country of origin or their own homes. May I remember this first and foremost so I can model this behavior to those faculty who proselytize to students.

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  6. pnohrden says:

    All of these posts miss an important point. Typically, the schools at which international teachers teach are private schools. These schools have their own mission, vision, etc. which appeal to parents who pay tuition for their children. This gives the parents a choice and allows a school to participate in the spiritual development of a child–or not. If a parent does not want a child to be indoctrinated into an orthodox, Pentecostal, Catholic, Jewish, agnostic way, then the parents can choose a different private school for their child.

    Likewise, teachers can choose where they should work. Of course, all of this should be open and obvious and subject to the terms of a contract. If a faith-based school deceives a teacher or a parent into entering into a contract, then that school is likely violating the tenets of the religion it purports to support.

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    • Ben says:

      Very insightful and circumspect comment. Thanks for sharing.

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    • Exulting w/a Brain says:

      Yes, an essential truth must remain in focus: Freedom here is paramount. Indeed, as long as these schools do not violate basic rights of students or teaching staff, they can teach that purple zebras live on the moon. Parents who subscribe to Lunarpurplezebraism can send their kids there. We are also free to criticize them WITHOUT calling on government intervention to “set things right.” (good heavens, we know how THAT turns out…). A car company is free to turn out clunkers and consumers are free to boycott them. That said, a school that purports to represent Christianity has indeed taken on a solemn duty to represent it with fidelity. The travesty here is that a faith that has redeemed so many souls, founded so many hospitals, lifted so many out of oppression, spurred scientific research, and brought dignity to the downtrodden suffers such grievous harm at the hands of the administrators discussed here.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Hear hear! Straight and to the point. Thanks for sharing.

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  7. ElleDubs says:

    The senior division at my school took on a new principal at the end of last year that had previously been the head of a Christian school that had received a fair amount of bad press. There were many staff members that were very concerned about what he would bring to the school (which does not have religion whatsoever) but I am pleased to report that whatever his personal beliefs are, they have not informed his leadership at all. He is, in fact, an excellent principal who is adjusting to the bumpy ride of international school leadership quite well, and I know that all the people who worried (or worse, said something to the former leadership that wasn’t very friendly) no longer have any religious-based concerns.

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  8. AllOverBound says:

    I worked at a school in the Middle East that had mandatory religious classes. Fine- apparently it was required by the local government. But then one of the teacher’s whose daughter was in my Nursery class found out that the coloring worksheets were saying things like “Death to the infidel Christians!” Her daughter is considered Muslim because her father is Muslim, but her mother was Christian! It was so inappropriate! I get that schools have religion classes, but they don’t need to teach hate.

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  9. omgarsenal says:

    I have worked in secular and mildly fundamentalist Christian schools as well as parochial ones ,both Protestant and Catholic, as well as Jewish. The people described by posters are not traditional christians. They are fanatical fundamentalists and extremists like ISIS and Boko Haram. They DO NOT believe in democratic management, fair treatment or a balanced worldview. Their ethics and morales are strictly one way. Their credo is that anything can be justified by using Jesus or God as an argument for getting what they want. They quote the bible (or Koran or Torah, or the Book of Mormon etc.) as ¨proof¨ that they are righteous. Steer clear of these crazies…..you can always do better!

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    • Anonymous says:

      Comparing these teachers, however fundamental their beliefs, to ISIS and Boko Haram does your perspective no credit. If there was any evidence of them having committed the type of atrocities that these two groups have committed it would be all over the international media. Less hyperbole and more balance would serve the discussion far better.

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    • Rory says:

      You are absolutely right. Especially some overt Mormon heads of schools who have huge families and bring in their buddies who espouse the same creed and to hell with quality of teaching. Even worse are groups like Ba’Hai who bring a trail of unqualified followers e.g. a certain school in Ningbo.

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  10. Anonymous says:

    I’m a Christian and if I thought working at a Christian school would be great and found myself being expected to attend boot camps or my iPod confiscated x, y, z, I would leave! Such a school would not be a Christian one but an occult and a bullying environment! Christianity is a way of life it does not force anything on anyone! As a teacher your work must be to bring the best out of your children and be a support to adults around you! HOD who would be shouting about submission is not a Christian because they would be doing the submission and not the other way round! Christ came to serve not to be served! My two pence!

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  11. MK says:

    Sounds like these schools are behaving in a ‘mildly christian’ manner. Remember this is a religion that believes their god murdered all life on Earth by drowning every (99.99%) living person and animal on the planet, who condones slavery, the brutalization of homosexuals, making human sacrifices and retaining female virgins (children!) as war booty. No, I’m not surprised at all. What DOES surprise me is that anyone would be so stupid as to think about working for these delusional idiots.

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    • ST says:

      I hate to say this, but you sound like the “delusional idiots” you denounce.

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      • MK says:

        Maybe, but I’m just pointing out some of things that are actually in the Bible, the bits Christians understandably choose to ignore because they are not in keeping with the image they like to project. Perhaps the answer is to leave religiosity out of schools (by all means objectively teach comparative religious studies) and focus on promoting honest, ethical and secular education.

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    • Ben says:

      You should challenge yourself to conduct an earnest study of the Old and New Testaments, MK. Aside from the comment that God took the lives of 99% of all humans during the flood (just as he also numbers your days and mine), each of your accusations is either completely out of context, or outright false. This sort of spreading of propaganda and name calling (“delusional idiots”) is never helpful to a good conversation.

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      • MK says:

        Ha ha that’s right, the apologists always say ‘out of context’ when we show the ugly side of religion. None of what I said is false, it’s all there, you know it but yes it’s a difficult toad to swallow. ‘Nuff said!

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  12. Exulting w/a Brain says:

    Conversely, my problem is also with “Christian” schools that act anything but, often concealing personal prejudices and differences of opinion under the guide of “faith”- even to the point of canceling contracts for trivial reasons. For example, instead of recognizing that a new teacher might be bringing a new approach to the classroom- one that doesn’t jive with the way things have always been done- some of these places instead “spiritualize” it, blaming it on “non-submissiveness” or even “a spirit of the “antichrist.” (I am not making this up.) Once, while interviewing with a Christian school, I wound up in an argument with a director who had NO interest in my qualifications, but instead (feeling outfoxed, I suspect), began shouting at me about “godly” submission to authority. Several experiences like this at Christian schools, especially those that dress up anti-intellectualism as godliness, have left a bad taste in my mouth, making me very wary of offering my services to such schools in the future. Surely, if they ever had a “witness,” it must have long gone down the tubes.

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    • Anonymous says:

      I think you’ll find that many international schools don’t live up to what they say they stand for, and the term ‘British/American/ Australian International” School is in itself an oxymoron. There are nationals from these countries that are anything but ‘international’ in their outlook and the way they engage with the local community. It’s easy to pick holes in any school, especially an international school, ISR is full of reviews of ‘international’ schools that don’t measure up to the standard that they claim. There are international schools that like hiring young, single teachers and others that like hiring couples, and the teachers in international schools, mostly come from about 5 countries – irrespective of qualifications or competence. And then there’s the PYP. The forum has a number of threads with comments from teachers about preaching the virtues of the PYP or you’re ostracised and out of a job. Christian schools are a very small subset of a very diverse field, and as with any schools that are based on a belief, philosophy or ideology they’re not for everyone.

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    • Annie says:

      Nothing worse than a judgemental Christina. Worked with one in Macedonia – and OMG.. horrible person and arrogant behavior.

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    • Mickey says:

      I can relate. Rational debate and reason, particularly in sorting out different approaches to problem solving in the workplace,(e.g.) contacts and HR issues among others, and the so called “Biblical World view” philosophies held by “Christian” schools, are more or less “non negotiable “. Then again, should a teacher choose to teach at such a school, that’s what they can expect.

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