Instantly I’m going to have made some enemies with that title. Even though I’ve written about a few controversial topic including breastfeeding and avoiding pink, this is going to be by far the most divisive. If you don’t want an argument, religion and politics are top of the pile for topics to avoid. That being said, religion in schools is something I feel strongly about and I’m happy to have that debate.
It is not religious education I oppose. In fact, I definitely feel teaching future generations how similar the major religions actually are, is important. It instills tolerance and respect for others beliefs and values. R.E. is also the perfect foundation on which to explore children’s own ideas, opinions and views. However, it is when the teaching of religion in schools spills into other areas of a child’s education. Then we have a problem.
Working as a primary school teacher for over a decade, I sat through countless assemblies in which the local clergy were invited to tell bible stories as fact. You’d think, working in an incredibly multi cultural city like Leicester that there would be better coverage. Maybe in a multi faith school, other religious and secular leaders would also be invited. It never happened.
This is mainly due to outdated laws that enforce a daily ‘collective act of worship’. Bringing a school together as a collective and sharing how different faiths worship could be highly valuable. Yet because approximately 60% of our country label themselves as Christian, this worship has to be “wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character”.
What about the other 40%? Just under half of the school hall are being excluded.
Back in February, the Telegraph reported that one London borough was sticking its neck out and encouraging schools to hold multi faith assemblies. They were given the green light to draw on lots of different religions as well as non religious views. This would at least be a step in the right direction. Yet in my opinion, it still does not go far enough in extracting religion from education.
Surely, our job as educators should be to guide and inform, discuss and explore and not indoctrinate through forced worship. How we expect a seven year old to decipher fact from faith when the adults they trust most are blurring the lines, I’ll never know. Children, especially in school, should not be pushed towards faith. In fact, I’d go as far to say, they should be encouraged to challenge religious beliefs. Children should be taught to make decisions based on evidence they are presented with.
Parents do have the option to remove their child from any forms of worship but unsuprisingly many don’t. Mainly I’m sure for fear of excluding their child. In my experience, the ‘Christian ethos’ of many schools is so firmly rooted, it’s incredibly hard to avoid unless you miss many assemblies. Schools make token efforts to celebrate other religious festivals. Still Christmas and Easter are still given a disproportionate amount of time in a busy curriculum.
Tradition is a good enough reason
The school nativity and the pedestal it is placed on, does not sit well with me. Yet again, the youngest and most impressionable are used to tell a religious story as truth. This traditional part of the Christmas festivities is another example of when young children are expected to figure out what is truth and what is faith.
Religious education is a subject that needs to be kept clearly separate from the rest of a child’s school day. If taught correctly, children will be raised to think critically about religion and start to make their own decisions regarding faith. Isn’t that what we want for our children?