Thursday, December 13, 2007

Religious education - some recommendations

Is there not a good case for ensuring that every school, state-funded or not, should do the following?

1. have a syllabus that includes periods in which open, philosophical discussion of important moral, cultural, political and religious question takes place. These sessions should be run by educators with some training in running a philosophical discussion. Safeguards should be put in place to ensure that pupils are not subtly (or not-so-subtly) psychologically pressured into not asking certain sorts of question or making certain sorts of point (e.g. about religion).

2. present their pupils with a broad range of different political, moral and religious beliefs and arguments. It’s important alternative points of view are not caricatured or demolished as mere straw men. One way to avoid this is to allow pupils to hear these alternative points of view from those that hold them. Students should get at least some chance actively to engage in discussion with those from other faiths. And also, I should stress, with those of no faith. While many religious schools have few qualms about exposing their pupils to those from other faiths, they often get very nervous indeed about handing them over to an atheist for half an hour (as I know from personal experience)

3. where religious education is given, include at least some basic philosophy of religion. This should include some discussion of the classic arguments both for and against the existence of God. Any child that leaves school having received a ‘religious education’ in which all objections to their faith have been airbrushed out has, in truth, been indoctrinated, not educated.

Plenty of educators, including many religious educators, will be comfortable with these suggestions. Plenty of religious schools already educate in accordance with at least some of them. But of course, many will reject them.

5 comments:

William Hawthorne said...

Those guidelines seem plausible enough. I think more philosophy (especially ethics and logic) should be included at the high school level -- perhaps even middle school.

urbanespaceman said...

I'd like to expand on point 3 - I think religious education should be mandatory in all schools.

The difference is of course that it should teach about all religions, explaining all beliefs, the contradictions contained therein and the full history of the different beliefs.

In order to make an informed decision children need all the facts. Not teaching them will mean they are still vulnerable to outside sources of indoctrination.

Chris Street said...

Urbanespaceman said "I think religious education should be mandatory in all schools.

The difference is of course that it should teach about all religions, explaining all beliefs, the contradictions contained therein and the full history of the different beliefs.

In order to make an informed decision children need all the facts. Not teaching them will mean they are still vulnerable to outside sources of indoctrination."

This is similar to what Daniel Dennett says in his debate with Dinesh D'Souza: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7MGyayvAa8

Dennett says All children should be taught RE as a mandatory subject, a compulsory 4th R starting in junior school.

"I believe in freedom of religion. As long as you teach your children the above syllabus you can teach them whatever you want - so long as it does not disable them from informing themselves further."

Lost property said...

The Scottish press reports a big uptake in philosophy courses in Scottish secondary schools.It has always puzzled me that philosophy can be a standard bac. subject in frnace and elsewhere but be relatively undersubscribed in the UK.

But the study of philisophy, or some sort of comparative religions class, are two seperate subjects each distinct from religion in schools.

Philosophy and comparative religion, a kind of anthropology ,could be studied in faith and non faith schools.

My own view for what it is worth is that all education transmits values. In faith schools this is done overtly, in non faith schools there is a tendancy to assume they are neutral, value free. Many who argue agianst faith schools seem to assume secularism is either a universally acceptable value, better than others, or is value free.

jeremy said...

Thought this would depress you...