For no particular reason, I have decided to offer some suggestions for choosing children’s curriculum. Whether it’s Sunday School or, say, Vacation Bible School, the lessons we share with the young people of the church are important.
It’s true that no curriculum, not even what I wrote for Shine (#ShamelessSelfPromotion), will perfectly impart the fullness of God’s grandeur, love, and grace. But there is a lot of happy middle ground between perfect and spiritually damaging.
So before you purchase materials to share with children, ask yourself (or possibly someone more qualified than yourself):
Is this curriculum racist?
- Does it involve children “dressing up” as people of a particular racial or ethnic group? Is there any type of face paint or ceremonial headdress worn?
- Does it involve pretending to speak another language by making nonsense sounds? (For example, speaking Mexican by adding an “o” to the end of every word, or speaking African by . . . well . . . you get the idea . . . )
- Are almost all of the pictures in the student materials of white people—including fact-defying depictions of white Middle Eastern biblical characters?
- Are the contemporary stories shared mostly about white people? Or about non-white people being helped by white people?
Is this curriculum sexist and/or heterosexist?
- Does it use the term “helpmeet” or “weaker sex” or “little lady”?
- Does it use exclusively male pronouns for pretty much everyone–Divine and human?
- Is the sin of all mankind laid on Eve’s shoulders?
- Is the phrase “homosexual lifestyle” or “homosexual agenda” or “practicing homosexual”—really “homosexual” in any configuration—used, even just in the teachers’ manual?
Will this curriculum create trauma and/or trigger children who have previously experienced trauma?
- Do any of the lessons involve surprising children with potentially frightening things (like snakes or loud noises or lions)?
- Are the children expected to act out horrific events such as the flood or the story of Jephthah’s daughter or slavery or the crucifixion?
- Are children asked to share intimate personal details with relative strangers under the guidance of teachers who have had, at most, 32 minutes of training in how to facilitate such discussions?
Does it seem that the person who wrote this curriculum has a less-than-adequate understanding of the Biblical context and content?
- Is Genesis treated as a scientific textbook?
- Are texts that were written as encouragement for oppressed communities treated as self-help mantras for privileged individuals?
- Are Paul’s words about women and/or same sex relationships taken completely out of their historical context? (See also “Is this curriculum sexist and/or heterosexist?.)
- Are simplistic lessons drawn that make no sense based on the given biblical story? For example, do they try to tell kids that the moral of the story of Jacob and Esau is that you shouldn’t lie to your parents? (Because kids are not dumb and they will realize that, actually, lying works out really well for Jacob, and Esau is a sucker.)
Is it likely that any of the activities suggested in this curriculum will lead to the maiming and/or death of teachers and/or children?
- Do they want you to give switchblades to the kids playing the robbers when you act out the Good Samaritan story?
- Does the Pentecost lesson involve an open flame near anyone’s head?
- Will anything potentially explode?
If the answer to any of the above questions is “yes,” consider dropping the curriculum you are holding as fast as you can and running far, far, away from it. Or, you know, set it down gently and move on to evaluate your next option.
Rev. Joanna Harader serves as pastor of Peace Mennonite Church in Lawrence, KS. She blogs at SpaciousFaith.com; and she has indeed written some of the Jr. Youth curriculum for Shine.
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4 thoughts on “Wits’ Ends Day: Guidelines for Choosing Curriculum”
Having taught Sunday School, led Bible Classes in Scotland and in Pakistan for years I cannot imagine any of the stuff mentioned in this (apart from nativity plays both in Scotland and in Pakistan where there was dressing up – with greater flair and imagination in Pakistan).
The UCC has a pretty good children’s curriculum on all counts; Unitarians even more so. It is dismaying to see what is out there.
A colleague of mine pointed out the way you used Mexican and African as Languages- which neither of them are. I love the Point you are making with this post- but would you be willing to address and name that? It seems that what you are trying to say is if someone is trying to speak an African language, or Spanish or any other languished in a mocking way, particularly mimicking accents of people of color who speak English Multiple languages (and English is not their first language)?
My point here, as much as there is a point in a humor column, is to steer people away from any curriculum that would disrespect people and languages by misnaming them. For example, the problematic Group VBS exercise that talks about “African languages” in a vague and general way rather than naming specific languages.