Religious scientific studies teaching is pathetic – either improve it, or ditch it

For years my daughter called it “colouring in”. And I assumed it was some type of totally free lesson in the timetable. Considerably later I identified this was the period that her school knew as religious scientific studies – a subject, I am proud to say, that my kids have all been spectacularly poor at.

Like them, I glazed more than at the sheer inanity of the subject matter: a tepid edition of cultural scientific studies exactly where religion is transformed into a calendar of humorous festivals, lighting candles and distinctive headgear. And when the curriculum had the temerity to venture into territory with even the vaguest prospective for moral or spiritual gravitas, it was clear that a type of moral and intellectual panic gripped numerous of the educating employees.

Terrified by the potential for offence, terrified also of providing the impression that any one particular line of believed was preferable to any other, the default position on each topic became a mushy relativism exactly where every single conceivable matter of view was deemed to be as beneficial as any other. Apparently, if you get in touch with some thing a religion, you can say something you like about lifestyle, the universe and every thing and it has to be respected. Which is one more way of saying that religious studies became a hollow topic entirely devoid of intellectual debate or moral challenge. And, as a consequence, colleges grew to become a manufacturing line for children all programmed with the dull-eyed shoulder-shrugging atheism of indifference (in my knowledge, the stickiest kind of atheism ever identified).

Which is why I am delighted to help the British Humanist Association, which is complaining that its own place is not currently being represented on the curriculum for GCSE and A-amounts. Back in 2013, the Department for Training issued suggestions to schools that a assortment of materials could be used in RS lessons, such as “atheism and humanism”. In updated suggestions, this phrase has been eliminated.

Like them, I am dismayed. Why must the world’s significant faiths be so unfairly held back by very first getting presented to impressionable minds by a pallid watch-glancing geography teacher at 3pm on a Friday? Why ought to humanism have the privilege of searching like hazardous free-considering, the type of exciting thing a single reads under the bedclothes at evening with a torch? No, I say bring it into the curriculum and see it endure the same fate as all the other globe-views: death by textbook. Or greater still, lets get rid of the topic altogether.

Am I becoming unfair on religious scientific studies teaching? Possibly a tiny. Some will argue much more than a tiny. But portion of the issue is that not sufficient of those who truly consider RS lessons are professionals in the subject. And this is just as accurate in several faith schools as it is in secular ones. Most are teachers from other disciplines just helping out for the afternoon. In colleges, RS is a compulsory subject – but no one particular really wants to educate it.

Not that it was any much better back in my day: colouring in a card for Diwali or Hanukah is no worse than monitoring the journeys of St Paul all around a map of the Mediterranean with tracing paper. Arguably, modern day colouring-in has the marginal advantage of rising sensitivity to other cultures – although feelgood multiculturalism courtesy of Caran D’ache has a flattening out result that treats all religious traditions as essentially alike, and thus fails correctly to honour the distinctiveness and specificity of any particular religious practice. How this prospects to higher neighborhood cohesion is anyone’s guess. In contrast, the classic Christian-dominated Bible stories strategy did at least have the not inconsiderable advantage of introducing kids to the foundational texts of the western canon. But this could be just as considerably a justification for compulsory classics as for compulsory RS.

The concern that most appropriate-considering liberals have about RS lessons is that they are a indicates of indoctrination, a Trojan horse that inducts vulnerable children into some unsafe cultic religious practice extended just before they have had a chance to feel for themselves. The point is, properly done, RS lessons could be a device for assisting young children to do exactly that: to feel, to question, to argue. It could be a place the place the adolescent philosophy of “that’s just my individual opinion” is challenged and moved on. It could be a area the place kids start to find out why it is that some will reside and die for their belief. But all this is rare. Rather, the secret contained in belly of the RS Trojan horse is not religious fundamentalism evangelised by stealth, but the regular suffocation of curiosity and intellectual enthusiasm. And it looks like the BHA has fallen for the trap.

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