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Asking clergy about secular and religious schooling

While many people view religious education as the opposite of a secular one, this week's clergy see parallels and ways the two complement each other. They answer the question: Can religious school benefit a student's secular education?

Brother Gary Cregan, O.S.F., principal, St. Anthony's High School, South Huntington:

We in Roman Catholic education believe that a student, like an eagle that soars in the sky, must rely on two wings to successfully ascend the heavens. Therefore, one must have the "two wings" of faith and reason to truly ascend to the deepest levels of truth. Therefore, religious training and secular education work together to allow a student to ascend with "both wings."

The same God who gave us faith, also has given us our ability to critically think. So, to me, it is a mutually complementary way of arriving at truth to use your rational side as well as your gift of faith. We try to dovetail both in all our lessons. There is a great quote I live by: "Faith untested is no faith at all."

Our students are at a point where they're questioning everything. Critical analysis can bring one to a greater understanding of faith. Faith has to be reasonable, or it becomes hysteria. Reason has to be faithful, or it becomes dangerous. You have to have a reasonable faith and a faithful reason. Without these, you can become nihilistic or an extremist. How can one believe a faith that is untested is a deep faith? Even Christ was tested.

The Rev. Laurel Scott, United Methodist Church of Port Washington:

At religious schools, one of the curriculum offerings would be training in the faith, training in both understanding one's faith and the history of faith. This would be true in Christian, Islamic and Jewish schools.

Of course, religious education involves discipline -- the rituals, requirements, acts of mercy. Children get an expansion of the rudiments of what they learn in the secular world.

In both types of schools, you'll benefit from increased responsibility, an adherence to the basics and also in one's critical thinking, all of which are important. But the thing that religious school does that is important to one's secular education is the teachings, moral and ethical.

For example, if you want to take the train from Port Washington to New York City, and you only have $10 and the ticket is $16, how do you get the remaining $6? A strictly secular answer is however you can. But moral teaching helps one arrive at a different answer. That is the additional benefit of religious teaching. It adds a depth to one's understanding.

In a world where one's choices are based on what one sees on the Internet, on television and from one's peers, to have a strong foundation of morals and ethics will serve a student well in all areas of life.

Rabbi Mordecai Golshevsky, Young Israel of Coram:

Religion gives meaning to life. God gave you a body with 60 trillion cells that work together. That is a tremendous act of loving kindness. And it obligates you to be a giving person and imitate God's kindness. In whatever field you choose in life, you should seek responsibility and kindness so you eventually can connect to God when it is all over. You should leave a legacy of kindness when you leave this world.

In addition to the spiritual side, we must look at the practical side of the question. Students in Yeshiva learn the Talmud, which is like studying constitutional law. You're always taking a case and comparing it and matching it to principles, trying to understand it. In studying the Talmud, you develop positions and defend them. You also confer with the rabbi to further build your case.

This is a tremendous incubator for critical thinking. Many of our students are accepted into law school very easily because of this training. Our students start learning the Talmud at 10 years old. As they develop, they go deeper and deeper into the Talmud.

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