Religious Education in England
In the United Kingdom, England is the only country which has a state religion, while in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland the state endorses Christianity as the main faith but does not impose a particular religion or church. Having a state religion means that 26 bishops seat in the House of Lords and have decision powers over the laws of the whole of the United Kingdom. If this sounds undemocratic to you, that’s because it probably is.
In 2011 the UK government run a census and among the many questions addressed there was one asking about religion affiliation. A staggering 40% of respondents selected the box “no religion”, while 55% answered Christian (of several affiliations) leaving 5% to other religions. This information is important as it may be used to set up priorities in the religious education curriculum. In English state schools it is compulsory to delivery of Religion Education and the education author goes further to suggest there must be an emphasis on Christian teachings in the initial stages of education is compulsory. Assuming that the UK is a democratic society shouldn’t the teaching of religion reflect the social trend?
|What is your religion||Census 2001 %||Census 2011 %|
|No religion + Not answered||
Despite the 40% of society that claims not to be religious, we are still living in a society composed by a great number of individuals who express some sort of religious belief and it is only right that we explain to our children what those beliefs are and why do people choose to follow them. After all, children cannot be isolated from the world and information and they are constantly being exposed to comments and exhibitions of diverse faiths. Children should be made aware of the geographical distribution and historical origins of religions, their celebrations and rituals.Educating children to recognise social diversity, will hopefully improve the social understanding of our neighbouring communities that think differently from ourselves.
England is a complex multicultural society, and children encounter in their schools the expression of the diverse society in which they live. A child may share her desk with a Jewish friend, play football with a Muslim kid, study maths with a Hindu and play computer games in the house of a Catholic colleague. Because children encounter this diversity, it is our duty as educators to explain why such diversity exist and what is the cultural content of these groups. Showing and explaining is not the same as indoctrinating. Indoctrination would be to promote one belief in detriment of others.
At age 5 or 6 children do not have the capacity to engage in critical enquiry. Their brains are still vulnerable to cultural imprinting, so if a class discussion is biased towards a particular religion this is likely to induce the belief that what is most frequently talked about by their teachers is what is right. Our future judgements as adults are influenced by the norms that were fed into our minds during this sensitive age. Our long lasting memories are those from childhood. The Jesuits priests knew this well when they claimed “give me a child by age six and I’ll give you he man”. Thus, everybody would agree that , putting an emphasis on a particular religion for the detriment of other beliefs and non-beliefs is religious discrimination. Since the UK is a country with a government so concerned with keeping discrimination at bay (at least on paper if not in practice) it makes no logical sense, that religion discrimination may be suggested or even compulsory. So it makes no sense that the school subject Religious Education, requires that teachers should emphasise Christianity in the school curriculum.
Some pedagogues argue that at such young ages, children may get confused with learning about so many different religions, so it makes sense to start learning about Christianity as a yard stick against which, other religions can be compared. This could be a valid argument if most of the children in the class were Christian, but even though it is no less biased.
Why not invent a neutral model religion, a bit like Esperanto, which would stand as a model to be compared against other religions? The positive side of such model is that it could be constructed as a hybrid assembled form the good parts taken from all other beliefs and exclude the bad behaviours off all religions. Bad behaviour is a recurrent theme in most religions; segregation and vilification of particular human group that don’t conform with their creeds, is just one of a long list.
An Esperanto-like religious model would become the neutral yard stick against which, all the other religions could be compared not offending anybody in particular. This comparative analysis should focus on identifying differences and similarities or the rights and wrongs that characterise the existing religions. Children can then be given the freedom to analyse critically every faith, ritual and belief they come across without the danger of biased indoctrination.
The other problem with religious education in England is that it focuses exclusively on traditional religions excluding remaining no-religious forty per cent of the population. Shouldn’t this group have its rightful place in religious education?
Note that non-religion is not necessarily the equivalent of non-belief. I may not have adopted one of those institutionalised religions but I may still believe in Santa Claus while other people may believe in the force of crystals, a personal image of God, the spirit of nature, or astrology. To give priority to some beliefs rather than others seems to be a form of arbitrary, meaningless, and discriminatory prejudice.
Some argue that religions should be taught in school accordingly to proportional representation in society. Then, in England, it should then include information about non-religious choices.
But think of other countries where 80 or 90 % of the population follows a particular creed. Arguing for numbers only is a week argument. Just because an idea is largely embraced by a particular society it does not make it right. It may make it frequent by an accident of history, but not morally right. In the 18th century, most of the people in Europe accepted the concept of slavery however it did not make it right.
Religious education in democratic countries ought to introduce the study of personal beliefs based on demography, but also based on an concept of morality. Non-religious people also have a form of moral compass that doesn’t necessary comes form religion. The sense of right and wrong is not a function of religious belief.
Racism, classicism, nationalism, machismo and for that matter make it also ”religionism”, are forms of discrimination where one group gets preferential treatment in detriment of others, This is not the hallmark of a so called democratic society. But maybe England is not democratic at all and simply lives in this self-deceptive dream that it is.