Linda K. Wertheimer to point to signs of hope in U.S. religious education

In 2016, instances of racial and religious bigotry were on the rise across the United States.


Fast-forward to 2020, and though our country is still polarized by hate, Linda K. Wertheimer said, she believes there are reasons for hope.

“There’s so much more discussion now about the need to deal with racism in the U.S.,” said Wertheimer, a veteran journalist, essayist and award-winning education writer. “But it’s important to remember that we’re still a country that has a lot of problems with racism, and that we’re also a country that has a lot of issues of religious bigotry — whether that’s prejudice against Jews, Hindus, Muslims or Sikhs.”

On the other hand, Wertheimer insists that we still “don’t have to lose hope.”

“We can fight religious bigotry through the power of education,” she said. “We have a chance in making a dent in it if we can teach the next generation not only about world religions and the basics of religious literacy, but also about stereotypes.”

Wertheimer mixes investigative reporting and personal experience in Faith Ed: Teaching about Religion in an Age of Intolerance, a book that takes a hard look at how U.S. public schools teach religion in class.

At 2 p.m. EDT Wednesday, Aug. 5, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, Wertheimer will deliver a lecture titled “From Fear to Hope: Childhood Experiences with Anti-Semitism/How to Teach Respect,” as part of Week Six’s Interfaith Lecture Series theme, “Lessons in the School House.”

As part of her research for Faith Ed, Wertheimer, who is Jewish, decided to return to the K-12 school system she attended decades ago.

“I still clearly remember kids calling me slurs, and dealing with a lot of anti-Semitism throughout my childhood,” she said. “At the same time, when I went back, the same people weren’t going to be sitting in the school. And I was also going as a journalist, and it was a little strange to be reporting on my own history.”

One of Wertheimer’s old classmates had become a history teacher at the middle school, and in talking to them, she learned the class recently took a trip to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“I was blown away — that kind of thing didn’t happen at all when I was there,” she said. “We learned about the Holocaust in a few paragraphs in my textbook. It ended up overall being a good experience, because what I found was that everyone was much more worldly than when I was there, because of the Internet.”

Though she didn’t see evidence of any blatant bigotry while she was there, Wertheimer said that she did observe potential causes for concern during her trip back to the school system.

One such concern was the school’s Bible club, which Wertheimer said hadn’t existed when she went to school there.

“They were skirting that line between church and state, because the principal was reading scripture to that club,” she said. “He didn’t see a problem with that.”

This program is made possible by the Elizabeth Elser Doolittle Endowment Fund for Adult Programming.

Tags : afternoon lecture previewFaith Ed: Teaching About Religion in an Age of IntoleranceFrom Fear to Hope: Childhood Experiences with Anti-Semitism/How to Teach Respectinterfaith lecture seriesLessons in the School HouseLinda K. Wertheimer

The author Chris Clements

Chris Clements is reporting on literary arts during his third summer with The Chautauquan Daily. He has previously written previews for the Interfaith Lecture Series and Sacred Song Services and covered literary arts digitally in 2020. Chris is a second-year grad student at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he is a Master of Fine Arts candidate in creative writing, specializing in fiction. He’s passionate about all things related to literature, music and film, especially author David Foster Wallace, jazz singer Cecile McLorin Salvant and the films of Paul Thomas Anderson.