FRANKTON – Frankton High School sophomore Chloe Thomas and senior Addison Lawrence had never stepped into a non-Christian house of worship – until last week.
That’s when they and the other dozen students in Jesse Pruitt’s advanced placement human geography class visited the Hindu Temple of Central Indiana, the Indiana Buddhist Center, and the Masjid Al-Fajr Mosque in Indianapolis. This is the second year Pruitt has taken those enrolled in the class to the houses of worship, making the three stops in three hours.
“I thought it was good to see in real life because you can learn only so much out of textbooks,” Thomas said. “We wouldn’t think there would be other religions like Buddhists and Islamics in Indiana.”
Though she was interested in the architecture, sculptures and other images of deities, Thomas said what struck her most was the tour given by students at the mosque, which operates a school. The young ladies there explained their choice to wear the hijab to keep their hair covered.
“You can choose to wear it or not to wear it, and if they choose not to wear it, no one can judge them because it’s between them and their God,” she said. “Our generation has been taught not to be scared of that. Since 9/11, we’re so far past that.”
With little ethnic or religious diversity in Frankton or its high school, Pruitt said, it’s highly unlikely the students would be introduced to people who practice such different religions and lead such different lives in any other way. And most students would have no idea how to visit a house of worship that wasn’t Christian, he added.
“It’s all about people, where they live and why they live there,” he said.
The class, Pruitt said, is not a religion class, but it does touch on religion as it influences culture in its world religions unit. In his second year teaching the class, Pruitt sent home a note to parents assuring them it was not a conversion trip, but none have ever objected.
“World religions has always been a passion of mine,” he said. “I wanted to take a next step above a regular geography class. It’s very important for them to understand we’re all human; we’re all sharing the same space.”
Though the students may not often have exposure to people who are different from them now, they likely will when they go to college or decide to live or work in other places, Pruitt said.
“It’s incredibly important for them to understand what diversity is, that everyone is not like you and that is perfectly OK,” he said. “It will help them in their normal social lives that they experience.”
Both the class and the field trip also reinforce students’ understanding of current events, Pruitt said. They return excited about what they learned and experienced.
“That’s our job as teachers in general to help students to understand current events,” he said. “They can start to see why current events happen, not just that they’re happening. There’s always some current event, right or wrong, that matches what we’re doing.”
Pruitt said at each of the three stops, it was easy for the students to see they shared more similarities than differences with their hosts.
“While it was a trip that was exotic in nature, you just felt like you were talking to someone you knew your whole life,” he said.
“There are a lot of times the other religions scare someone, but if you go and talk to them, you see they’re not so different,” he said. “You can see how close your beliefs are and how intertwined they are and not pushing each other away. Books usually whitewash it and make it simpler than it is.”
Lawrence said he and the other students did a little advance preparation for the trip by reading about the different world religions.
“I think it was good to have the knowledge because a lot of the stuff does not make sense if you don’t know the background,” he said. “Since it’s a geography class, it helps us understand the distribution of people and how religions move around the world.”