Cultural Misappropriation in Curriculum

This is the year in our two-year curriculum rotation that the 2nd-3rd graders learn about world religions. Historically at CUUC, this has meant a jaunt through the various cultures and religions presented in the curriculum Holidays and Holy Days. Over time in UU religious education, we have come to realize that, although much of that curriculum is fun and interesting, it is problematic for us to implement. We have a greater awareness of cultural misappropriation. (Read more about misappropriation here)

Essentially, misappropriation means we are imitating or borrowing other cultures/religions without properly doing or honoring their customs and they have no authentic context for us. We end up playing at and with another people’s culture, often a people who have been historically oppressed. One of the obvious cases in Holidays and Holy Days is when the children make Islamic prayer rugs and then imitate Muslims praying. There are many other examples.

It is a tricky endeavor to teach world religions experientially and do it respectfully. We will attempt to do that with a new curriculum this year, Passport to Spirituality. It involves the children “traveling” to a place each Sunday where they learn about a prominent religion found there and one of its spiritual practices. The type of spiritual practice is then done in a UU version that does not try to reenact the specific ritual of the other religion., but rather honor the universality of that type of spiritual practice that is found in many religions. The children experience that practice and the value in it for them.

Most of the lessons are well thought out. However, there are still some potential misappropriation pitfalls. I will be consulting with people who understand these issues better than I do, so we can cover world religions in a way that is respectful and still a fun learning experience. Some activities from Holidays and Holy Days are done well and will be kept in our rotation.

This is a complex topic in Unitarian Universalism. We will not always get it right, but the values we uphold implore us to do the hard work of being conscious, continually learning, and do our utmost to honor the dignity of every culture and religion.

In faith,


No comments:

Post a Comment