They Teach You the Capital of Prince Edward Island, but Not What Sikhism Is

I went to talk to the acting Religious Studies director today. It was… nerve-wracking, but what else is new for me. His office is in the Sedgewick Building – a building on campus that I’ve never been to, and in fact I don’t think it’s a building where classes are ever held. So, naturally, I got lost trying to find his office.

Finding the building – easy. Finding the correct wing – easy. Finding his office – not so easy.

I let myself into the right space, but everyone seemed to be in a meeting so I had to look around for myself. Walking down the hallway where the offices seemed to be I found that where the room number he was supposed to be in should have been was a whole different number. Oh, and it was also an electrical closet. I continued to wander down the hallway and was fortunate enough to come across someone leaving her office who led me in the right direction. Apparently his office was beside where the meeting was going on. A peek inside told me he wasn’t actually in there, but a kind woman from the office next door told me to take a seat and that he was expecting me.

I took a seat and checked out a bunch of books they had sitting out. They seemed to have been written by the staff of the program which I thought was pretty neat (not to mention some of them sounded really interesting). After a few minutes he came out and we shook hands before he led me to his office. I noticed as I passed the door that his office number was not the same one as on the UVic website. It probably wouldn’t have changed things, but still, it would be nice if it were reliable.

Impressively, he made me feel right at ease immediately. We talked about why I wanted to pursue a course in religious studies and he answered the questions I had about the program. He also said something I found really interesting about the education system today – that religion, even though it is a major force in society, is pretty much a dead zone when it comes to education.

Even when I was in elementary school it was a known fact that our teachers couldn’t talk about religion. If they did, they could get in trouble for doing so. As a kid I never really questioned it, we didn’t talk about religion at home either after all. As I got older I realized it was like the American separation of Church and State, and my classmates and I still didn’t really think anything of it.

Now that I’m in university though, it seems odd. Since the two things I’m pursuing are things you’re explicitly not allowed to talk about before university (politics and religion) I basically had to go in blind. The only reason I took political science, and even considered taking a religious studies course is because of one of my high school teachers who suggested that I would like Political Science, and told us all that we should take at least one Religious Studies class in university.

If it weren’t for that one teacher I wonder what I would be doing now? Maybe English or History I suppose, since I always enjoyed those things in high school. Dr. B mentioned that they see it as important to teach us the capital of Prince Edward Island (which is on the other side of the country), but not even the basics of world religions (in his example Sikhism). Considering religion has more of an impact on the world than the capital of PEI, it seems odd that in 13 years of pre-university schooling religion is basically ignored.

When I did ask about why teachers weren’t allowed to talk about religion (or politics) I was told that it was because they would inevitably favor their own views and possibly taint ours. It seems disturbing to me that the people we trust to educate our next generation can’t be trusted to teach about these two world shaping subjects in an unbiased way. Is there something you learn when you get your PhD that makes teaching university students completely different? Sure I can understand not teaching it to elementary school children, but graduating high school with an educational void about these things seems like we’re doing them a disservice.

I know here in BC at least, the Ministry of Education has been changing our graduation program around again and again – especially in regards to mandatory physical exercise. Admittedly I hated this in high school, but while they’re changing everything up, maybe they should think about creating not only physically fit graduates, but socially aware ones too.

– Kali



6 thoughts on “They Teach You the Capital of Prince Edward Island, but Not What Sikhism Is

  1. Agreed. Religion is just as important as politics when considering how the world is operating today, not to mention that it would help understand inner turmoils within those nations to see why they are occurring. Like you said, I understand that teaching it to elementary students might be a hassle, but at least teach the material to late-middle and high school students. Religion plays a role in society too, people, get it right.

  2. Aaron says:

    Odd; i remember learning a bunch about the electoral system and a bit about different parties and how the system works in my Social Studies 11 course in high school. now admitedly that was in the interior and in 2005, so things have almost deffinetly changed.

    i remember there was a VERY small SMALL mention of religion in one course. If i had to guess, i would also say social studies, though grade 10 is more likely. though the discussion was more – here are the 3 main religions of the world: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. here is a tiny bit about it. and we will leave it mostly to the textbooks to talk about.

    • Aaron,

      I did say basically ignored. I think we MAYBE talked a bit about the main Canadian political parties in Grade 11 socials. And we touched upon a few religions in my Grade 12 Comparative Civilizations (optional) class. For the most part though, both subjects are still taboo not only in schooling, but in society. They lead to too many arguments, so we just don’t talk about it.

      – Kali

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