Academic Exchange Quarterly     Summer   2004    ISSN 1096-1453    Volume 8, Issue 2

To cite, use print source rather than  this on-line version which  may not  reflect print copy format requirements or   text lay-out and pagination.



Down-To-Earth Religious Education


Mary E. Kremer, O.P., Ph.D., Dominican University, IL


Sr. Mary Kremer, O.P., Ph.D., is an assistant professor of education whose research interests include multicultural education, critical pedagogy, and religious education.





Although multicultural education is often misunderstood and feared, it has been embraced by many educators as a necessary approach to preparing the next generation for the complexities of life in the 21ste 21st Century. This study describes the work of three Catholic secondary religion teachers who inform their classes with multicultural strategies. Data come from classroom observations in metropolitan schools in the United States, interviews, and personal reflection using Van Manen's hermeneutic phenomenological methodology. This study concludes that when teachers understand and embrace multicultural principles, student benefits increase, especially in terms of self-efficacy and a desire to participate in creating a more just society.


Keyword: Religion



Multicultural education is changing the way teachers approach today’s diverse students. While secular education is being transformed through a student-centered approach, too many the majority of Christian religious educators continue to rely on a traditional didactic, teacher-centered, doctrinal  methodologyapproach. In contrast, Mmulticultural education is an approach that moves the focus from teacher to students.; it honors students’ background experiences; it promotes multiple perspectives. It poses real world problems and asks students to respond in a personally meaningful manner. It seeks transformation through reflection, leading to new insights and social action. In a word, it is a new paradigm., It is a a new lens through which to view, interpret, and act in life.  Such an approach cannot be brought down from the heavens; it must be down-to-earth.


Purpose of Research


Enticed by the writing of the multiculturalists, Banks (1994), Bennett (2003), Diaz (2001), Nieto (2000), and others, I wanted to experience their theories in a faith formation setting. I I searched out Catholic high school religion teachers[How did you do this search?]  who espoused and implemented multicultural principles in their teachingism. Initially, I wrote letters to principals and department chairs of 48 Catholic high schools in a Midwestern metropolitan area, asking for names and contact information of teachers espousing multiculturalism. Receiving seven responses, I interviewed all seven teachers by telephone to learn more about their teaching responsibilities and their students. In phone interviews, two teachers said they were insufficiently familiar with multicultural principles to participate. When I learned that two of the teachers represented almost identical profiles, I chose the earlier dated response. I interviewed each of the remaining four candidates to determine their willingness to participate in my study. They represented each of the four levels of secondary education, two male and two female teachers, two urban and two suburban settings. However, three of the four were all-female schools. Among several hundred teachers[Where did you find these several hundred?], I found three[What were the criteria for these three people?]. I attended their classes[How often?] I observed each of the four teachers as often as 38 times but no less than 21 times throughout the duration of one course each taught. I alsoduring the course, of a year, interviewed each teacher and several volunteer students in each class who volunteered to interview with me. One teacher is not described, because his teaching strategies were not clearly representative of the instructional strategies that inform this article.


My guiding question throughout the research was, “What is the essence of multicultural education as it is practiced in each of these religion classes rooms and what meaning does this experience hold for the teachers and students?” To pursue this question I used followed the methodological approach y of van Manen’s hermeneutic phenomenology (1990), which asked me “to construct a possible interpretation of the nature of a certain human experience” (p. 41) through which observation and continual writing in order toenabled me to distill and bring to expression my experience of each of these teachers. While van Manen provides no systematic research method,[Then what does he provided?] his methodology carries foundational assumptions and research activities oriented toward discovering the meaning of human experience. This article intends to describe, in part, the beliefs and practices of these three teachers in order to give others a clearer view of the potential of multicultural education for addressing the needs of 21st 21st Century students in Christian religious education settings.


Multicultural Teaching Classroom Strategies for Religious Education


While each religious tradition presents its own canon of beliefs and practices, Multicultural educators have proposed numerous instructional strategies. Of the many suggestions, I believe there are four particularly suited to religious education. One, Pang (2001) presents specific multicultural classroom strategies emerge as being particularly appropriate for religious education. One, the formation of a caring community as the essential context for teaching and learning. Two, Banks (1994) proposes that “teaching with powerful ideas (pp. 59-79) enables students to remember, organize, and retain knowledge. Three, Nieto, (2000) asserts that , provides an essential context in which students comfortably pursue the tasks of religious education (Pang, 2001). Within this community, students begin with their own experiences, beliefs, and values. A second strategy for faith development is direct engagement with the scriptures as a source of powerful ideas (Banks, 1994). A third strategy, social analysis is necessary if students are to , enables students to understand the socio-political reality in which they must function. Four, Bennet (2003) says that when students participate in social action, (Neito, 1999). Lastly, students participate in social action that enables them to they experience their own ability to bring about social change (Bennett, 2003).[This paragraph is unclear.  The subtitle suggests that all religious eduators uses these classroom strategies.  The paragraph states that these strategies are common to multicultural education only.]

. While these strategies are not exclusively multicultural, they are common across the spectrum of multicultural literature.


Gathering Data


In search of the essence of multicultural education as practiced by three Catholic secondary teachers of religion, I went to the classrooms of Sr. Bernice, Pat, and Mike. In this article, I describe Sr. Bernice’s class as a community of care, Pat’s classroom as illustrative of the powerful-ideas approach, and Mike’s class as an experience of social analysis and social action.


Creation of Caring Communities


Humanist educators focus on caring as both the message and method of education. (Noddings, 1992; Rogers and Freiberg, 1994). Pang (2001) bstateselieves  that caring learning communities serve as the only viable multicultural context in which to respect the cultural diversity of students while they  the students develop the necessary skills to participate in a democratic society pledged to create a better world..


Sister Bernice’s Caring Classroom

[A brief description of the school environment would be helpful – all- girl, inner city, exclusive,  size of student body, etc.]

Every day, just before lunch, 28 young women walked through the doors of her Sr. Bernice’s classroom for 45 minutes of junior level “Peace and Justice.” I sawsee the pained and silent faces of young women who have experienced too much of life too soon. These young women are They were among the 500+ students in an all-female, urban school, primarily Hispanic and African Americans, whose stories revealed the plight of young urban women trying to make sense of a fractured world in which they wereare often the wounded. In the steady flow of stories shared throughout the semester I recalled very few that were without pain, oppression, and struggle.


Sr. Bernice respondeds to their pain by welcoming them into her classroom, a space she calls “a holy place.” “In this room the hand of God helps us to join hands.”  She believes her role in the classroom is that of “facilitator of cooperating and caring,” creating an atmosphere in which her students feel free to be themselves. .” She envisions her class as a community of young women who care about one another and who feel “free to talk about their beliefs, their dreams and their hopes.” She says, “I like to have openness of mind and heart in my class.” True to her desire, she frequently beganins class with a request to her students.  “Today I want to ask all of you to open your hearts, open your ears, open your mind for what you might see, hear, and understand.” In her classroom, she createds a climate of openness by being open about herself. In talking about hunger, she told them about her own continual struggle with food and weight gain.  Nor is she afraid to let the students know that she too needs affirmation and support from others. In sharing herself, she offereds the students a model for classroom discussion, thus inviting them to respond in kind.


The circle of care she createds in her classroom serves as the beginning point to take her students from an inner circle of care and concern about their own issues to the larger circle of care for the entire human family. On the topic of Third World Hunger, she began with a simple question, “Have you ever been hungry, really hungry?”. Her next question asked, Imagine a family in a developing country. Why do they have so little to eat?”  With further questioning, she walked them from the local and familiar to the global view(?) situation(?) with new awareness.

She elicited responses from the students that filled all three panels of the chalkboard and more. Together they created a compelling picture of poverty and insight into global hunger.


At the end of the semester, I asked the students if I might interview them about their experience in Sr. Bernice’s class. Three students offered to share their impressions in a group interview during lunch. interviewed three students from this class.[What were the criteria for choosing these three students?  Did you choose them?  Did the teacher choose them?  These aspects would most likely affect the students’ responses.]] One student liked the class “because it brought us closer together and made us friends.” Another appreciated Sister Bernice’s encouragement to talk about “the things that are happening to us.” A third student

recognized a change in her attitude toward people who are different from her:. “I stereotyped black people and other groups. Now I see how wrong that [was]is.. . . . I want to go out and help the world. I want to be like superwoman.”


Teaching With Powerful Ideas


            While textbooks serve as the primary tool in classrooms, some educators criticize them for their banality, lowered reading levels[The opposite is usually true.], gimmicks to hold students’ attention,  and failure to engage students in the necessary skills for acquiring knowledge (Sowell, 1996). Banks(1994) asserts that a multicultural curriculum focuses on powerful ideas that enable students to understand and transfer knowledge (1994). While it is assumed that religious education textbooks will present the doctrine and right practice of a particular faith expression, they also suffer from the same flaws. and cultural biasBanks (1994) asserts that a multicultural curriculum focused on powerful ideas enable students to understand more deeply and transfer knowledge gained to real world situations., neglectingI believe that the most powerful text available to Catholic religious educators is [Your opinion?]: Hebrew and Christian scriptures.


Pat Engages Students in Scripture


During the many months I spent in Pat’s Lacey’s class, I never saw a textbook; , but every day I saw a Catholic bBible, placed prominently in the front of the room, and copies on almost every student’s desk. because sShe believes that the most powerful source material for Christians is Sscripture. Actual instruction, for Pat, meant that the 17 ninth  9th  graders in this all-female, white, female suburban school of 450 students [Some demographics?  What else?  Age for example?] students “engage in the sScriptures.” Her methodology wasis a dialectic process in which she and the students moved between their own story  stories and the storiesy of their ancestors in faith. In this process, she inviteds the students to imagine themselves within the context of the bBiblical story, as though they participated witnessed in the original event. Through questioning, she helpeds them analyze the eventwhat is happening and how the characters feelings and thoughtsin the original story must have thought and felt:  What wasis God saying? Why did God say that? What meaning did it have for those people? 


When she was is satisfied that they hadve sufficiently entered the dialogue and understood the event from the inside, she turneds the focus to their own stories. For example, in studying the healing stories of the Gospels[Of the New Testament?  Old Testament?] , she asked them to write about and share with others their own stories of healing.  They shared not only the events and  of the drama, but their feelings and interpretations of what happened.  Back and forth, back and forth, she guided s them, between the stories of the bBible and their stories, between the powerful stories of sScripture and their own stories.

lived experience. [It is confusing for the reader when you mix the present tense with the past tense in the same paragraph.  Try to stick with one.]


Mrs. Lacey’s[Pat?] Pat’s desire to “engage the students in sScripture” was effective with the four students who volunteered to interview with me.s I interviewed. One student appreciated her teacher’s approach to sScripture: “She taught us how to get into the Sscriptures and how to read it.” Her effort to relate the scripture stories to the personal lives of the students was caught by aAnother student who said:, “She makes you think a lot more, go deeper. She’ll be talking about a topic and relate it to something that happens in everyday life, so you can understand the topic more and say, ‘Oh, she’s right.’ She relates it to things that happen to us.” Another spoke to the helpfulness of the reflective questioning:. “She gives us meditating questions and wants to know who you are as a person, where you stand spiritually and religiously.”


Doing Social Analysis


            In a complex world, social analysis enables learners to see themselves in a particular social situation and to think critically about it (Holland and Henriot, 1983). Talvacchia (1997) states that social analysis is necessary if religious education is to be faithful to the prophetic Christian imperative to promote just relationships. in society. Social analysis invites learners to become aware of their a particular situation place in society, to look at it critically, asking such questions as:  Who has the power and who does not? Who decides? Who benefits and who loses? In the context of faith formation, three two additional questions must be asked (Center for Media Literacy, 2003): What do our scriptures and religious traditions have to say about situations like this? How might things be different and what action would be necessary to change the situation? (Center for Media Literacy, 2003).[Are all the previous questions from this source?]



Mike’s Critical Approach


The senior Mike’s senior level honors course in faith formation for 21 white suburban young women in an all-female suburban school of 850 students[Again demographics are needed.]  iwas entitled “Church in the Americas.” The curriculum It focuseds on the stories of three groups of indigenous peoples of North and South American people who suffered at the hands of Whites. the invading EuropeansMike used filmtheir histories, their cultures and religious beliefs.[These areas suffered OR are these areas the substance of the course?] Mike Longo uses film (Mission, Eyes on the Prize, and Dances with Wolves) to tell the stories of their cultures and religious beliefs. He explains,their stories: Mission, Eyes on the Prize, and Dances with Wolves, because “We have to come out of a story, , because they are not going to remember concepts. The message is so, so different from what they [the students] they[The students?] are hearing [elsewhere] because then they have to fill in the blanks and say, ‘Well, how come?’”



Mike believes that social analysis is a necessary skill for all Christians in United States culture today if there is to be any hope of transformation for society as a whole and for its individual members. In an effort to help his students analyze the film stories, Mike leads the students through social analysis the process with a series of questions, which he articulated during one interview. with me.


1.      What are your experiences? How does your story relate to the larger human story, particularly [[to]] those that are suffering in a variety of ways?

2.      Do you see yourself as being oppressed in different ways?

3.      Can you connect that in some way to the oppression of others?

4.      Where does the Ggospel speak to [thatyour experience of oppression]? [Does that refer to oppression?]

5.      How can it [the Gospel] transform lives and situations?be transforming?[Does the it refer to the gospel or the experience of oppression?]

6.      What can we do so that our action transforms our lives?Then it means that you and I have to put [the Gospel] into action so that it transforms our lives.


Mike says  believes, states that social analysis is a necessary skill for all Christians in United States culture today if there is to be any hope of transformation for society as a whole and for its individual members.


Four Sstudents offered to discuss their impressions of Mike’s course with me in separate interviews during a study period or lunchtime. Their responses showed that they understood social analysis. Each of the students spoke about Mike’s class as an experience of insight in phrases like “new experience, different from other classes,” informative,” “opens our minds,” “stuff we don’t hear anywhere else.he had taught them effectively. One student spoke of a growing awareness for the need to look more critically at events, people, and their stories:. “The whole way the system actually works.  It’s phoney.  We only get one story, and the rest of the stories are left out.  Now when I see stories, I ask myself, ‘Is that the true story?  ? Or, it there something else behind it?’” Another student stated that Mike had taught her to continually ask questions.”

responded emotionally, . “I am more aware of how our government will tell us one thing and do another. Iraq.  They said they we were going there to help, but really they were after the oil fields.  It made me feel angry that they are lying to us. . . . He means that we have to continually ask questions.”  [These comments illustrate that students view governmental actions as deceptive, but they do not necessarily illustrate critical analysis.]


Social Action Follows Analysis


Social action is kills are a natural outgrowth of critical reflection. For Bennett (2003), social action skills are one of the six goals of multicultural education. These skills include “the knowledge, attitudes, and skills needed to help resolve major problems that threaten the future of the planet and the well-being of humanity” (p. 34). Nieto’s (2000) model of multicultural education includes “decision-making and social actions skills as the basis of the curriculum” (p.343). Wink (2000) says that Freire’s three-step process-- to name, to reflect critically, and to act--“problem-posing” approach (1970)[Are you trying to indicate that Freire used this term in a 1970 citation?  Or are you stating that Wink referred to Freire’s term?  If the latter, all you need to do is state that Freire as quoted by Wink….]  is straightforward enough for the youngest children. It is a three-step process: to name, to reflect critically, and to act.


Mike’s Approach to Social Action, The Essential Ingredient


Mike contends that social action must be an integral part of his course for two reasons: The integrity of the discipline [religion] requires that students be given many opportunities to care for others since “every world religion has at its core the care for the community.” He also believes that action projects give caring and compassionate students a chance to participate in the struggle to transform society.respond to topics discussed in class.  Mike offers the students many opportunities for action throughout the semester.  . During the one semester I attended his class, I noted the Crop Walk in October, the Oxfam Banquet in November, and the Cross Cultural Crafts sale in December.  . Mike coordinates the events with the school’s administration while his students carry out these school wide projects. In addition, he also invites students to purchase coffee directly from a Central American cooperative and Christmas cards from UNICEF.


In interviews with the four young women mentioned earlier, each one

Each of the students in Mike’s class spoke about an experience of self-insight and empowerment. One student said that the class had given her the ability to respond to global issues with greater confidence. Another student reported, “If I want the world to change, I have to take responsibility to make those changes.” A third student said came to the awareness that “people of other cultures are like us: we want to care, to be friends. . . . They are just like us but they lack the advantages we have, so we want to help them.”[When you correct students’ grammar, you need to do so consistently.]





The required brevity of this article does not permit a full presentation of all the data that support my conclusions. While my experience revealed three distinct educators at work, several common themes emerged. First, for each of them multiculturalism is a preferred personal perspective through which to view the world. Second, theirs is a worldview strongly colored by oppression and discrimination. Third, each believes that a multicultural approach is an effective way to enable students to realize their potential as contributing members to society. Fourth, these teachers create their day-to-day curriculum from the personal experiences of people--their own, those of their students, and stories from literature and scripture. Fifth, each of the teachers incorporates some kind of social analysis and social action into the curriculum. Finally, these teachers share the same goal for all their students: building a multicultural society based on respect and compassion for others and encouraging students to participate in creating a more holy and just society for all in the human family.


What happened to the conclusion, in the original you had  "five themes..."

The required brevity of this article does not permit a full presentation of all the data that support my conclusions. While my experience revealed three distinct educators at work, several common themes emerged from among them. First, for each of them multiculturalism is a preferred personal perspective through which to view the world. Secondly, theirs is a worldview strongly colored by oppression and discrimination. Thirdly, each believes that a multicultural approach is an effective way to enable students to realize their potential as contributing members to society. Fourthly, these teachers create their day-to-day curriculum from the personal experiences of people—their own, those of their students, and stories from literature and scripture. Fifthly, each of the teachers incorporates some kind of social analysis and social action into their curriculum. Sixth Finally, these teachers share the same goal for all their students: building a multicultural society based on personal respect and compassion for others and encouraging students to work together to create a more holy and just society for all members of the human family.


CITED LITERATURE    remove uppercase, see entry #14k


Banks, J. (1994). An introduction to multicultural education. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Bennett, C. (2003). Comprehensive multicultural education (5thth ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Center for Media Literacy (2003). Framework for Social Analysis. Retrieved March 16, 2003 from

Diaz, C. (Ed.). (2001). Multicultural education in the 21st century. New York: Addison Wesley Longman.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. (M. B. Ramos, Trans.).  New York: Continuum.

Holland, J. & Henriot, P. (1983). Social analysis: Linking Faith and Justice. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.

Nieto, S. (2000). Affirming Diversity: The sociopolitical context of multicultural education. (3rd   ed.). New York: Longman.

Noddings, N. (1992). The challenge to care in schools: An alternative approach to education. NY: Teachers College Press.

Pang, V. (2001). Multicultural education: a caring-centered, reflective approach. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Rogers, C. R., Freiberg, H. J. (1994). Freedom to learn for the 80’s (3rd ed.). NY: Merrill.

Sowell, E. J. (1996). Curriculum: An integrative introduction. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Talvacchia, K. T. (1997). A theological framework for multicultural religious education. Horizons, 24(2) 215-229.

Van Manen, M. (1990).  . Researching lived experience: Human science for an action sensitive pedagogy. State University of New York.

Wink, J. (2000). Critical Pedagogy: Notes from the real world (2nd ed.). White Plains, NY: Longman.



remove all superscript, see entry# 14j













Submission Number:  2535

Submission Title:  Down-To-Earth Religious Education


A:  2

B:  2/3

C:  2

D:  3

E:  2/3

F:  2/3

G:  2/3

H:  2/3




This manuscript lacks much of the necessary detail expected in academic writing. The author is discussing the observations and interviews from visits to three secondary classrooms.  Yet the reader has no inkling as to the demographics of these institutions(other than they are metropolitan U.S. schools) nor how these three were chosen for the observations.  The reader does not know how often the author observed or under what circumstances.  Student comments were related but were they chosen at random?  Were these students handpicked by the teacher?  Did they volunteer for this task?  Did they volunteer  as extra credit?  These questions need to be answered and the responses might tend to alter the data.


There are also inconsistencies with the documentation, verb tenses, and error correction of quoted comments.  Furthermore, references to Bible and Scripture are usually capitalized words.


The author is certainly passionate about the focus of these three teachers in religious education, but the missing ingredients make for a poorly executed manuscript.  Perhaps this passion can be channeled to rewrite a more academic piece.



I enjoyed reading this and highly recommend  for AEQ readers.

Accept with requested revision.