Brandman adjunct replaces fear with knowledge
Sherry McIntyre is using education as a tool to change the way high school students think in Modesto, California. McIntyre, who is also Brandman University faculty member, teaches the nation’s first and only religions course required by a public school district since its inception. She’s been teaching it for 16 years.
The Modesto City School District created the course in response to reports of bullying at their local high schools and to support their Principals of Rights, Responsibilities, and Respect. The groundbreaking class is steadily gaining recognition including a chapter in the book, “Faith Ed: Teaching About Religion in an Age of Intolerance.” The book, now available in paperback on Amazon, was written by former Boston Globe education editor Linda K. Wertheimer. Wertheimer also quotes McIntyre in a recent Time Magazine IDEAS article offering tips for teaching world religion in schools. McIntyre thinks the attention is a great opportunity to spotlight the importance of “building a foundation of respect at the high school level.”
The Modesto Method
The book describes how McIntyre and other teachers tackle discussing world religions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam and Sikhism. The class curriculum touted in some education circles as the “Modesto Method,” includes an introductory unit touching on subjects such as civil rights and the freedom of speech.
“I am convinced the introduction unit is key. It must be executed in a way to set the tone to learn,” said McIntyre. She said the course’s mantra is “teach not preach” and is taught in the “sage on the stage” style that focuses on a teacher-driven lecture to avoid offending students. The class also sets ground rules for student questions, including:
- Use good listening skills.
- Express questions politely.
- Be respectful.
Lawmakers take notice
McIntyre says she hopes “Faith Ed” will help show other school districts the importance of teaching world religions in public high schools. “I love what I teach and I love the possibilities. I think this is a class that really changes things,” said McIntyre. In 2014, California lawmakers took notice of the changes in Modesto and unanimously passed a resolution that applauded the school district for teaching the unique course and “…would recommend that the class be considered for adoption by other school districts in the state.”
Opposition leads to opportunity
McIntyre says there is some pushback about the course in academia. “Mostly they worry how to ensure someone who teaches a course like this is equipped to do so.” She believes there is a lot of opportunity for developing a world religions teaching credential. “This isn’t math or science but it’s just as important,” said McIntyre. She says courses like Brandman’s EDSU 531 Secondary Strategies for Language/Culturally Diverse Classrooms are good steps in the right direction. McIntyre, who also is an instructor for Brandman’s Online campus, says she has the interesting experience of teaching about her high school class to Brandman students. “The first time I reviewed the content for the EDSU 531 course and saw articles about my school, I thought hey, that’s cool and then I added a few more articles I was familiar with into the mix.”
McIntyre says the ultimate goal is to educate both high school and college students about the similarities of religions. “Prejudice comes from fear. If we can replace fear with knowledge, then we can make a change.”
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