Monday, April 18, 2011

Easter and Passover: What is allowed in public schools, and how can they create teachable moments?

Welcome springtime, at last!  In April of 2011, Easter will be on the 24th, and Passover is from the 19th through the 25th.  Students will be experiencing events and family gatherings at home that they will want to share at school.

Flowers, Easter baskets, eggs, and candy abound in stores in the spring.  Easter displays and church invitations seem to be everywhere. 

As public educators know, religious holidays can be a bit sticky for teaching.  Many teachers at this time of year stick to celebrating spring and the newness of warm, sunny days.  What does the law say? According to "Religion in the Public Schools: A Joint Statement of Current Laws,"about religious holidays: published by the U.S. Government, schools are allowed to teach
Generally, public schools may teach about religious holidays, and may celebrate the secular aspects of the holiday and objectively teach about their religious aspects. They may not observe the holidays as religious events. Schools should generally excuse students who do not wish to participate in holiday events. Those interested in further details should see Religious Holidays in the Public Schools: Questions and Answers, a pamphlet published by a broad spectrum of religious and civil liberties groups.
What are some appropriate ways to share the Easter holiday with your students?  Some of the following would be a good fit and allow many children to share in the Easter excitement:
  • Students who attend Ash Wednesday services may share about the ashes on their foreheads or new Easter clothing curing show and tell or share and learn time.
  • Natural dyes could be used to color eggs, such as using water from boiling red cabbage to turn eggshells a nice robin's egg blue.  Better Homes and Gardens' website offers a list of natural dyes.
  • If you can find a knowledgeable volunteer, students could learn about how Ukrainian Easter eggs are crafted. Without the aid of an expert, students could still research the process, or study different designs and write persuasive paragraphs about which egg is the best.
  • Allow students to run ribbons through empty fruit baskets for children to fill at home.
  • Plant grass in 1/2 egg shells for children to share with their families.
  • Have children use colored, wet tissue paper to "paint" egg shells, or the shape of shells drawn on white paper, as the tissue paper will bleed colors onto a white surface.

My time teaching general studies in a Jewish school taught me many new things about the Jewish faith, including the observance of Passover. Passover is an important remembrance in Judaism, and for many Christians as well. The story of the Israelites and their exodus from bondage in Egypt is told during Passover Seder meals.  The Shabbat, or Sabbath day of rest, before Passover arrives is called Shabbat HaGadol, because it marks the beginning of the redemption.

The story of the Exodus plays a major role in Jewish families' observation of the Passover season. Because the Hebrews had to leave in a hurry in their flight from Egypt, the Scripture says that God told them to prepare the daily bread without leaven, since they wouldn't have time to allow it to rise. Leavened foods are therefore not eaten during Passover. Kosher families do not even keep leavened foods in the house during the season. Grocery stores make available many foods that are specially approved as Kosher for Passover. Beginning a month prior to Passover, mothers begin an exhaustive house cleaning, even vacuuming the corners in the cupboards. Families who keep Kosher must carefully clean the house of all leavened foods, from biter biscuits in the baby's diaper bag to cereal in the pantry, to make sure there is no leaven in the house during Passover. Those who are strict about the Kosher laws will have a second set of plates, silverware, and pots and pans, that have never been used with leavened food products, making them Kosher for Passover.

Many Christian churches have a Seder meal during this time. When my church had a Seder dinner, one of the Rabbis from the school was a guest speaker.  I was as surprised as he was to see him in my church!   We had taken Kosher for Passover Coke as show and tell.  Did you know Coke-a-Cola makes a special Coke just for Passover?    

Special foods and an empty place setting for the prophet Elijah are part of every Seder meal. Children have a special role, asking four questions that lead the participants through the story of Passover. The Seder leader hides the Afikomen (a broken piece of matzo, or unleavened bread) as part of the special meal.  My daughter knew about this tradition and was watching when the Rabbi hid it, so she was the first to find it.  Her reward was a dollar.

Our real reward for learning about other cultures is the ability to understand each other, so it is important for children to share special times with classmates. You can help students learn more about Passover by having a Jewish classmate or guest speaker come and speak to the class about Passover observance. Everyone will enjoy trying special foods such as matzo and charoset, a sweet, sticky mixture of fruits and nuts.

Bringing Easter and Passover into the classroom can be an enlightening experience for children, and can help them to better understand not only other cultures, but the world around them.

Carolyn Wilhelm
Wise Owl Factory

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1 comment:

  1. I am happy to be guest blogger today on T2T. My store is live at:

    Happy Easter and Passover, everyone!


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