Monday, May 16, 2011

The RE effect

If taught properly, RE can immunise young people against religion. The more they know about it, the less likely they are to be it. I don't agree with the National Secular Society about this. Their latest newsletter refers to a "Big push to get RE further into schools," with reference to the new English Baccalaureate, as though it will infect gullible young minds. Not true.

The NSS says:
From the moment the Baccalaureate was announced, the religious establishment started pushing for the inclusion of RE as one of the core subjects. Wildly exaggerated claims about the importance of RE have been repeatedly made by those with a vested interest in keeping it at the centre of the curriculum. Self-serving leaders of Sikh, Buddhist, Roman Catholic, Muslim and Hindu organisations have also joined the campaign.

Each of them realises the importance for the continuation of their religions of gaining access to children at the earliest opportunity and continuing the indoctrination throughout school life.
I've written back:
With reference to your piece about a "Big push to get RE further into school", and the efforts of religious leaders; "Each of them realises the importance for the continuation of their religions of gaining access to children at the earliest opportunity and continuing the indoctrination throughout school life." If RE is included in the new English Baccalaureate, it will presumably have a national syllabus, to replace the current system of local syllabuses decided by SACREs (Standing Advisory Councils for Religious Education). Parents can withdraw their children from RE under the current system. This right has been exercised by fundamentalist parents who don't want their children to know anything about alternative beliefs systems to theirs, religious or otherwise; to keep them in ignorance.

In my experience, as a former teacher and recently retired long-term SACRE member who visits schools to contribute to RE, when children learn about different religious beliefs in school, they're more likely to reject religion altogether by the time they reach secondary school, if they ever believed at all. They recognise the contradictions and inconsistencies, when comparing one with another. Young people have often told me that they think it's all nonsense, displaying healthy scepticism. In the US, where RE isn't taught, fundamentalism thrives, as does ignorance about religions other than Christianity. Nominally secular America is far more religious than we are.

Rather than campaigning against RE, it would be better to campaign for a national syllabus, properly taught by trained teachers (it's often taught by teaching assistants), to include history, freethinking and secularism (terms which are widely misunderstood). Proselytising should be prohibited.

Let the religious leaders lobby for RE; it will backfire on them. Ignorance isn't bliss; it's just ignorance. Not knowing about religion doesn't confer immunity; just the opposite.
Meanwhile, the British Humanist Association calls for the retention of RE, but with a national syllabus, saying:
The BHA campaigns for reform of RE, not for its abolition or for mass withdrawal, because we believe that all pupils in all types of school should have the opportunity to consider philosophical and fundamental questions, and that in a pluralist society we should learn about each other’s beliefs, including humanist ones. We campaign for a reformed RE called by a more inclusive name such as Belief and Values Education, which would be characterised by inclusiveness, impartiality, objectivity, fairness, balance and relevance. We believe that such a subject should take its place on the National Curriculum.
I don't agree with the BHA about all its campaigns and policies, but I mostly agree about this. However, if a national syllabus was introduced, it should include:
  • the historical development of religions;
  • cultural differences;
  • gender differences;
  • religion and politics.
This would involve much better training for RE teachers, so it's no longer a soft option.

I'm not so sure about learning about "humanist beliefs", as there's no real consensus about what they might be. It would be better to stress the importance of freethinking role models and a naturalistic world view. The older I get, the more I think that the term "humanism" is too often used to describe a belief system, which it isn't, and I don't care to be labelled any more.

1 comment:

culpepper said...

I agree- the more people know about religions the better they are prepared to fight against them mentally and emotionally- tho lessons should also include the treatment of various groups by religions