Exploring Middle Level Learner Experiences with Learning About World Religions & Philosophies Using Authentic Pedagogy
Type of DegreePhD Dissertation
Curriculum and Teaching
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The United States is a highly religious nation. Unfortunately, the teaching about various world religions and philosophies in public schools remains highly contested across the nation, particularly in highly Christianized environments such as the Bible Belt. In a state located solidly within this region, the state mandated course of study standards for eighth grade World History requires instruction about world religions and philosophies. This course is the first time many learners are confronted with a culture or belief that is vastly different and outside their comfort zone. These eighth-grade students, or middle level learners, sometimes openly refuse to complete coursework about faiths other than their personal Christian faith while others make derogatory comments or disengage from the course material. Middle level learners are still heavily influenced by the environment in which they are raised but are also trying to find their identity within the world. They are also undergoing immense cognitive, social, and emotional changes which provides both opportunities and challenges for middle school teachers who desire to widen their students understanding of the world while honoring their home cultures. This action research study explored the engagement of middle level students learning about world religions and philosophies through an intervention of authentic pedagogical units of instruction in an eighth grade World History course. Additionally, this study sought to better understand the cognitive, emotional, and social opportunities and challenges that influence learner engagement in a highly Christianized environment, such as the Bible Belt of America's Deep South, about world religions and philosophies for eighth grade students. The results for this study should be viewed within a narrow scope, limited to the classroom setting where the study was conducted due to the small sample of students and the role of teacher as researcher.