Book explores influences of Christianity in the classroom

April 1, 2020

A new book co-edited by Michigan State University Professor Mary Juzwik explores how Christianity has an impact on language and literacy across American education.

The book details diverse perspectives and experiences of Christianity in and out of public and private schools—and considers how curriculum and practices might be reconfigured to address contemporary and challenging issues surrounding Christianity, as well as other religious communities and cultures.

Aerial shot: Students read with a teacher in a library.

“I wanted to work on a vocabulary for teacher educators to bring religious issues, identities and topics into the curriculum,” said Juzwik, part of the Department of Teacher Education. “It was also important to think about our current curriculum that is and can be shaped by Christianity. In what ways does it impact our schooling?”

For example, Juzwik explains, a typical school calendar often includes time off around the Christmas holiday, which creates a de facto privileging of Christianity and marginalizing of other religious holiday observances.

The book, “Legacies of Christian Languaging and Literacies in American Education: Perspectives on English Language Arts Curriculum, Teaching and Learning” (Routledge 2019), also addresses how social justice, racism, sexism, homophobia and other challenges interact with religious sub-cultures in curriculum, teaching and learning.

[The book] takes incredible risks that deal with embracing forces that have been both deadly and life-giving, destructive and constructive … It must balance these against the hopes of those who suffer and the frameworks for justice that Christian faith has portended. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of this book is its ability to balance all of these elements while also connecting the threads back to languaging and literacies and the roles that faith has played in (re)making them.

David E. Kirkland, Ph.D. ’06 (Curriculum, Instruction and Teacher Education), writes in the foreword
Kirkland is the executive director of The NYU Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and The Transformation of Schools.

Authors—nearly half of whom are Spartans—write about topics including:

  • “Exploring the Multilingual, Multimodal and Cosmopolitan Dimensions of Two Young Cuban American Women’s Religious Literacies” by Natasha Perez, Ph.D. ’17 (Curriculum, Instruction and Teacher Education)
  • “Myth and Christian Reading Practice in English Teaching” by Scott Jarvie, a current student in the CITE doctoral program
  • Assistant Professor Sandro Barros wrote the afterword of the book, “The Gift of Babel.”

Past history, future goals

Juzwik has a history of research with these topics. A 2019 paper she co-wrote in Linguistics and Education is a case study of an evangelical Christian youth interacting—through the lens of his faith—with speaking, writing and dialogue in a public secondary literacy curriculum. The findings explore how students of faith can listen to others who don’t share similar beliefs, and how they can also share their faith with others.

Her interest in the work began during a 2011 a sabbatical. Juzwik was studying how lessons on the Holocaust were being taught—and became interested in how faith was a part of how teachers responded to and taught the lessons.

This book is a result of work stemming from the curiosity, but it is only just the beginning, Juzwik said.

Christianity is a historically dominant religion in America, and the editors of “Legacies of Christian Languaging and Literacies” pointedly chose to focus on the diversities of only this religion in the book, allowing the topic to be discussed in detail, rather than addressing religion in the classroom as a whole.

In the future, Juzwik hopes to stimulate conversation leading to future volumes on other religions, and exploring subjects beyond English classrooms, like social studies.

“I hope this book provides a greater awareness of things we—as teacher educators—take for granted, or are not aware of, in how religion is embedded into teaching practice” Juzwik said. “This is just a start in addressing religious diversity. Everyone’s history, identity and religion are all part of our cultural landscape, and we should explore this more to understand its impact, and how we can be more inclusive of religious backgrounds.”