The Age: Don’t ban religious teaching, let’s broaden it
Matthew Lesh May 19, 2011 Opinion pieces, The Age/Fairfax media
As a cultural Jew who attends an Anglican school, I am not the most likely supporter of religious education, however, it is important to realise that religion is a major factor in society.
Many choose to insult and demonise religion simply because they do not hold faith, while others believe that religion is irrelevant to their lives and understanding of the world. But an understanding of religion — and a wide range of religions at that — is vital to education.
Religion is a part of society, education is the introduction of children to our society, and we are leaving out an essential part of education by not investigating religion in schools.
For example, to understand the politics of the United States, you must first understand the religious right, to understand conflict in the Middle East you must understand Islam and Judaism and, at a more local level, to understand objections to stem-cell research in your science class, you must first understand the belief systems that gave rise to these objections.
Religion and its place within schools has come, and will always come, under fire. Those who send their children to faith-based schools have made their choice, but those who send their children to state schools do not choose for their children to receive education in a particular religion.
The announcement of a $222 million injection into the National School Chaplaincy program and money from the Baillieu government for Access Ministries to continue Special Religious Instruction has again brought the issue of religion in schools to the fore.
So what is the place of religion in schools? Well, it’s quite simple: we must be willing to accept and teach a range of religions, their histories, their tenements, their ethics, and we must be open to lively discussion.
As for media coverage of apathetic and uninterested youth, such debates would be an opportunity for students to think about important issues. These discussions would be a catalyst for students of all faiths to investigate complex issues of both the religions themselves and their surrounding principles. Instead of shutting out those students who lack faith, or are of a non-dominant religion these more broadly focused classes would engage students in discussion that is impossible in other subjects.
Teachers of religion should be presenting ideas and engaging in discussion with students, not preaching to them. They should be willing to investigate the religions themselves and moral and ethical issues such as genocide, the death penalty and war.
Moreover there is further benefit to children having a better understanding of a multitude of religions: they will be more accepting of other people and cultures. Much racism simply comes from a lack of understanding — build understanding of others and you tear down racism.
We must move from merely Christian chaplains in schools to a program bringing the ideas of chaplains, rabbis, imams, monks, and philosophers – from a wide range of different viewpoints, both secular and conservative – into the classroom.
The idea of religious education in schools is in no way an attempt to usurp the role of parents in providing guidance to their children. It is instead to inform students and, rather than just take away any religion in schools, ensure students get a well-rounded view.
This article was originally published in The Age’s National Times, May 19 2011.
Leave a Reply
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *