Today, I got a very interesting phone call on my way home from work. One of my cousins called me, and was very obviously agitated at the fact that his child had been sent home from school with a homework assignment involving writing a report on Hinduism...complete with her very own artistic rendition of “Shiva”, the many-armed Hindu diety. This project was for a World Geography class. Strangely, this man seemed even more agitated by the fact that I saw nothing wrong with this.
Personally, I think it makes perfect sense to have a school project involving the world's third-largest religion, for a class studying “World Geography”. Call me crazy, but I think it's just a tad bit relevant...as well as being a complete non-cause for controversy!
For starters, let's look at the issue of first-amendment rights. Learning about a world religion does not infringe upon a person's own religious beliefs, any more than learning about the industry of meat processing infringes upon a person's right to be a vegetarian. It's not the same as having the teacher lead a recital of the Lord's Prayer, or hanging a copy of the Ten Commandments in the administration office. On one hand, you have a study of one of the many religions of the world, and on the other is an administration-sponsored endorsement of religion.
When we studied history in school, it wasn't considered an endorsement of religion, being taught about the 95 Theses of Martin Luther or the loyalties of the citizens of North Ireland being split upon the Catholic/Protestant lines. Religion was an integral part of the equation, because you couldn't really understand the situation without it. I studied both of these topics, as well as many others that were centered around religion, and I was neither compelled nor advised to hold any belief similar to the people I was learning about. I'm quite certain that my cousin's child isn't being asked to say Hindu prayers to Krishna or believe in reincarnation, either.
He asked why they weren't being taught about Christianity, in the same manner that they were being taught about Hinduism. It seems rather obvious to me. If I'm learning the ins and outs of auto mechanics, I don't really need an in-depth lesson on how to turn the headlights of my car on. Likewise, if I live in a nation whose predominant religious affiliation is Christianity, it's unlikely that I'd NOT already know at least as much about it, as what is likely being taught about Hinduism. While America is a secular nation by virtue of its constitution, most of my neighbors celebrate Christmas on the same day I do.
Considering that it is a World Geography class, I'm assuming that the unit is probably based on the Indian Subcontinent. While I know for a fact that there are Christians in India, the ratio of Christian to non-Christian is likely somewhere in the neighborhood of “One in a Million”. Considering that Christianity really plays no part in the history of India beyond being the predominant religion of Englishmen during its days of colonial occupation, it wouldn't really make sense to include anything about Christianity in a study of India.
The point I'm getting at here is quite simple. You go to school to learn stuff. Sometimes, you may be influenced by it, in the same manner I was influenced as I read about Luther, Gandhi, Jefferson, Collins, et cetera. On the same note, there were many things I learned a great deal about, yet wanted no part of. Learning about Chavez didn't make me want to be a Mexican fruit-picker. Reading the manifesto of Marx didn't make me want to become a communist. Studying WWII didn't turn me into a Nazi, nor do I wear a Yarmulke simply because I know what the Auschwitz death camp was.
If you do not wish to have your child learning about the cultures of nations other than his/her own, you do have the option of not sending your child to a public school. In fact, I very much advocate private education, even if it isn't due to some notion that drawing a picture of an eight-armed deity is going to make your kids start wearing turbans and painting dots on their foreheads. It never hurts to gain knowledge.