Saturday, 30 April 2011

Far from being essential, religion in schools creates dangerous separatism

It is quite clear that the vested interests represented by the "faith leaders" are worried that RE will lose its significance in schools. And according to a report in the Times Educational Supplement, their concerns are not misplaced.

The TES reports: "Schools are rushing in 'dramatic' changes to their curriculums that will cut the time devoted to subjects not recognised in the English Baccalaureate. Subjects such as RE and music have already been hit as schools attempt to move pupils on to courses that will count towards the controversial new league table measure."

The National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE) claims that headteachers are even prepared to break their statutory duties to teach RE as they switch resources to other qualifications.

Under this welter of self-interested religious lobbying, the Education Secretary Michael Gove then said he would give further consideration to the objections. Whether or not he will buckle under the pressure from the "faith leaders" is yet to be seen, but it would be par for the course if he did. Few politicians have the backbone to stand up to the vicars, priests, bishops and imams that have come to dominate our children's education.

But it once more leads us to the question of whether we should take at face value these claims that hundreds of hours of religious education, drumming in the religious dogma to young impressionable minds, really are "essential" and "vital" in schools.

We are told that, because there is so much religious conflict in the world, children have to "understand" each other's faith. Even when research shows that the vast majority of them don't have any, don't want any and aren't in the least interested in it.

I know this is an opinion not shared by others in the NSS, but I don't buy this idea that religious illiteracy leads to "Islamophobia" or conflict between religions. I think it is the other way round. The fact that so many schools are now so heavily under the influence of religious interests means children are being forced into religious boxes that they might otherwise be blithely unaware of and certainly better off without.

One of the great benefits and joys of going to school is that, at last, you are on your own to experience the world through your own eyes rather than through the prism of your parents.

You can make friends from all kinds of different backgrounds – economic, racial, and cultural.

But this joy of finding out about the world you are going to have to live in and share with other people is increasingly thwarted by the proliferation of single-faith schools. These ensure pupils meet only their own kind and are told, either directly or by implication, that theirs is the true faith and that, although there are other religions in the world, they are not true.

We are told that religious education is now "multi-faith" and that knowledge of all the different religions is essential. Finding out about various religions is interesting, so long as you aren't told that you must observe one of them because it is superior to the others. We get plenty of emails at the NSS from parents who are angered that their children come home from school with tales of obvious attempts at evangelisation rather than objective religious knowledge.

But, of course, that is precisely what faith schools do. How are you supposed to get a rounded and objective view of religion when you are sitting in a "Catholic" or a "Muslim" or a "Hindu" or a "Jewish" school? Their main purpose is to reinforce the idea that you are different and separate from the people who go to another kind of school.

You are a "Jew" and they are a "Muslim"; you are a "Christian" and they are a "Hindu".

It is profoundly wrong. We are all people – human beings. Children know this and they are prepared to see beyond the damaging labels that religious leaders are so anxious to burden them with – if they are given the opportunity.

The faith school system and the religious education nonsense all conspire to keep communities apart, to drum into the children that they are fundamentally different from one another because of their parents' religious beliefs.

Kids eventually come to accept the idea that they must defend their traditions" and "culture" often at the expense of friendships that would help break down the dangerous barriers that have been created by religious separatists in British society.

We are told that ignorance of religion is harmful to children. I don't agree. A bit more religious ignorance, a bit more indifference towards it would do us all a power of good and give us hope that future generations would not feel they needed to make war over something which is, in reality, so unimportant.

News: New Muslim "faith school" will be attached to mosque. Need we say more?
Irish Catholic Church panics over human rights threat to its schools

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