RALEIGH, N.C. -- As North Carolina's schools begin a new year with a pioneering emphasis on the role of religion in history and culture, many teachers are complaining that they have been given a task for which they are not adequately trained.
Last year the state Board of Education endorsed a plan to include more about religion in the curriculum, in response to national studies that found that references to religion had been largely purged from public school textbooks.
The North Carolina plan has been widely acclaimed by educators and church-state separationists as a model for the rest of the nation. But when legislators slashed the state education budget in July, the cuts included plans for two state-sponsored training seminars for teachers on how to incorporate teaching about religion into their classwork. That left such training to be done on a hit-or-miss basis on the local level.
"The greatest fear of the committee was that the state would ask for more teaching about religion and then not give the teachers anything to work with," said John D. Ellington, director of social studies for the state Department of Public Instruction and a member of the committee that recommended the plan.
Dot R. Case, a teacher at Edneyville High School in Henderson County who also served on the committee, said, "Teachers have come up to me and said, 'Dot, is anyone going to give us anything that tells us how to do this?' "
But state Rep. David H. Diamont (D-Surry), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and a social studies teacher, said, "I think if you are a certified teacher in secondary education in social studies, you should have been exposed by the school you came from to all these different areas."
Charles C. Haynes, project director of the Americans United Research Foundation in Washington, said North Carolina could reap unfortunate results if it fails to train its teachers how to handle touchy matters of teaching religion.
"The vast majority of teachers are trying to be fair and do their best," said Haynes. "But even among those fair-minded teachers, they can make mistakes that they don't even know they're making."
Warren A. Nord of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who has conducted workshops training teachers to teach about religion, said, "Teachers are by and large not prepared to do this, and it would be easy for a teacher to do something wrong. A lot of teachers have never had a religion course during their college education."
The bottom line, said Bobby R. Etheridge, state superintendent of public instruction, is that teacher training "was a concern, but we have to face the realities of the budget crunch."