The Reason We Celebrate Thanksgiving - Teaching Without Fear, Part 15

How is Thanksgiving taught in your children’s school? You can teach them to be discerning by predicting what they might learn. Most students, today, learn that Thanksgiving is a nostalgic remembrance of the Pilgrims and Indians. But that is only the history of Thanksgiving.

The REASON we celebrate it is because our President asks us to. That’s right. It is a presidentially-declared holiday in which he calls upon the nation to -- as President Obama said – “lift up our hearts in gratitude to God for our many blessings.” Or as President Bush said “thank God for His blessings and ask Him to continue to guide and watch over our Nation.

Ask your kids to listen -- with discerning ears -- to see if their teachers tell them the real reason for Thanksgiving. Teaching your children to be active listeners – thinking about what they are hearing – is an important learning skill. This Thanksgiving is a great opportunity for you to help them exercise that skill AND learn what the holiday is really for.


White House website search for "Thanksgiving"

Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamations 1789-Present

Give this Thanksgiving Card to Teachers



Thanksgiving Lesson Idea - Teaching Without Fear, Part 14

Thanksgiving Day is a special time to feel a common bond with people across America who appreciate what God has done for our country and our communities. The Supreme Court, in the case of Lynch v. Donnelly, affirmed it as a government-initiated acknowledgement of God's goodness.

Here's one way to teach about the true meaning of Thanksgiving to your students:

  1. Give them a copy of the President's Thanksgiving Proclamation. To find it, visit whitehouse.gov and search for "Thanksgiving." Usually, the President issues a proclamation just a few days before the holiday. So, unless you're teaching about it right before Thanksgiving, you might need to use a previous year's proclamation.
  2. Show a picture of the President, explain what a Proclamation is, and that Presidents ask Americans to thank God for the blessings we have received as a nation in the previous twelve months.
  3. Finally, read the closing paragraph to the class and ask students to list the things the President asked Americans to do on Thanksgiving Day.

All I ask is that you teach the truth about this government-initiated holiday. It's not about the Pilgrims. It's about what God has done in the past year.

Thanksgiving as a Civics Lesson - Teaching without Fear, Part 13

Thanksgiving is a great time for a civics lesson. Teach your children and students about your state’s constitution. Almost every state’s constitution begins by expressing thankfulness to God for freedom.

For example, California’s constitution begins, “We, the People of the State of California, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, in order to secure and perpetuate its blessings, do establish this Constitution.”

The Illinois constitution begins by expressing gratefulness to “Almighty God for the civil, political and religious liberty which He has permitted us to enjoy.”

I recommend you have children and students read the preamble of YOUR state’s constitution. Then ask them “Why do you think it begins that way?”

The answer is that it reflects the thinking of what the Founding Fathers wrote in the Declaration of Independence: All men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. That governments are formed to SECURE those God-given rights.

Thanksgiving is not about the Pilgrims. It’s about expressing our thankfulness to God for His blessings – and that includes the blessing of freedom.


Preambles to State Constitutions

Give this Thanksgiving Card to Teachers

Teach a Civics Lesson about Martin Luther - Teaching without Fear, Part 12

October 31 is Reformation Day. On that day in 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 objections to the Roman Catholic Church on a church door in Germany. As a civics lesson, students of all faiths and no faith should understand the freedom of religion they enjoy because of what Luther started.


Understanding the benefits of America's religious heritage to our civic life is important. Part of the American value system, rooted in Christian thinking, is that people not only have the freedom to hold to their religious beliefs, but to live by them and express them publicly, as well.

In 1517, Luther had no intention of leaving the Catholic Church. But, holding fast to his conviction against certain church practices and doctrines got him expelled.

At the time, governments in Europe enforced religious conformity for the Church. Luther wrote about why government authority should not be used to coerce belief. He argued, from Scripture, that each person is responsible only to God for his religious beliefs.

To make his case, he quoted Jesus' statement in Matthew 10:28, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell."

He then wrote:

"Surely that [Matt. 10:28] is clear enough: the soul is taken out of the hands of any human being whatsoever, and is placed exclusively under the power of God. Now tell me this: would anyone in his right mind give orders where he has no authority?...It is impossible and futile to command or coerce someone to believe this or that."

Luther's revolutionary thinking about religious freedom spread throughout Europe and came to America with the Pilgrims, the Puritans, and eventually, America's Founders.


Thomas Jefferson echoed Luther's thinking when he wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. With the help of James Madison, it became law in 1786. Before this, Virginia taxed people to support churches.

Jefferson began the legislation with this theological assertion:

"Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens [burdens], or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as it was in his Almighty power to do."

After making his argument for freedom of religion, Jefferson's legislation stated:

"Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever...nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." (Emphasis added)


The Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom was an important influence on the drafters of the First Amendment three years later:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."


As an example of how relevant Luther's and Jefferson's words are for today, we should all be concerned about religious tests expressed in Senate hearings this year (no matter what our political leanings are). (Here, and Here)

Every student in America needs to understand the Christian roots of the freedom of religious expression they might take for granted. Students will not seek to preserve what they do not cherish, and they will not cherish what they do not understand. October 31 - Reformation Day - is an excellent opportunity to teach a civics lesson about the connection between Martin Luther, religious freedom, the Bill of Rights, and their everyday lives.


Video - Martin Luther Sparks a Revolution (best viewed with Google Chrome)

Parents - FREE Reformation Coloring Book for Children (PDF)

Book - Never Before In History: America's Inspired Birth

Library of Congress - Religion and the Founding of the American Republic

Teaching without Fear, Part 11: Must You Give Equal Time in the Classroom to All Religious Holidays?

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Must you spend an equal amount of time teaching about the holidays of all world religions in order to be fair?I hear this question quite a bit from educators, because we’re used to talking to kids about being fair. It just doesn’t seem fair if we talk more about Christmas and Easter than we talk about other religious holidays in the classroom. If we talk about America’s Christian heritage at Thanksgiving, shouldn’t we give equal class time to other religions’ festivals?

This comes from a false assumption about fairness. The false assumption is that “fairness” always means “equal.” We’ve all learned to share and share alike – meaning, everyone gets an equal portion of something.

However, there is another way to look at fairness. Fairness sometimes meaning proportional, not equal. Our system of representation in Congress is an example of the two definitions of fairness. In the U.S. Senate, fair means equal. It doesn’t matter whether you live in Texas and California, or Rhode Island and Wyoming, you get two Senators. In the Senate, fair means equal.

However, in the House of Representatives, our definition of fairness changes. Fair there means proportional to a state’s population. States like Texas, California, and New York have a much greater representation than small states, because it’s proportional, not equal. Yet, it is considered fair.

Another example would be teachers’ pay. A first-year teacher and a twenty-year veteran are going to teach the same students, the same topics, and grade the same papers. But they do not get equal pay for equal work. They get paid proportional to their years of service, and everybody (except maybe the rookie) calls that fair.

A buffet dinner is another example. A 300-pound linebacker and his model-thin wife will both be charged the same amount. But the linebacker is going to eat a lot more than his wife. They are going to eat proportional to their capacity. Even though the price was the same for both, it is considered fair.


When using religious holidays as opportunities to teach about culture, I recommend teachers ask themselves three guiding questions to determine appropriate proportionality:

  1. What is the predominant religion in America and what holidays will help my students understand something about that religion? Learning about America’s Christian traditions is appropriate for all students as a way of understanding much of American culture.
  2. What other religions have a significant impact in my community and what holidays will help my students understand those religions? Students should understand the various religious traditions proportional to their actual influence the community.
  3. What religions are represented in my classroom and how can I help my students understand each other? Proportional to the religious make-up of the class, acknowledgment of minority religions helps build understanding and appreciation.


Eric Buehrer is the president of Gateways to Better Education and author of the professional development seminar, Faith, Freedom & Public Schools: Addressing the Bible and Christianity without Mixing Church and State.

To bring the seminar to your community, call (800) 929-1163 or email kim@gtbe.org.

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