This leads from my last post on why creationism in schools is a damn stupid idea and why any attempts to teach it as part of any sort of curriculum is morally indecent. This post shall deal with two points: The impact religious beliefs have on everyone else and just what religious aspects are taught in the classroom.
At the school where I am currently employed, there is one family in the class which holds pretty fundamentalist beliefs. Yes, including that whacky fun called ‘Creationism’ (Young Earth Creationism at that which, let’s face it, is just plain bizarre) and a complete distancing from anything that so much as mentions wizardry and magic. That includes the various Harry Potter novels. Now, I am no fan of that series – it is highly over rated and praised for things that are simply not specific to it (let’s face it, it relies heavily on various cliches and stereotypical characters) – but children do seem to love it like crazy. Anything that gets their interest in reading up is great, no denying that.
Despite my personal opinion of the series, it would be a great text to use in the classroom for various reasons and it could very easily serve as the basis for many lessons covering various topics. The students would be engaged from the beginning and things would mostly likely go great. But because of that one family, that text can not be used so as to ‘respect their religious beliefs’. That is right, because just one family in the class have a religious belief the rest of the students in that class can not be given as a class text to analyse, read or otherwise use as a basis for work. Let’s change that around a bit and see if it works if other beliefs are brought into play. Let’s assume that a new family comes to the school and they, for whatever reason, that the letter ‘E’ is unholy and should be avoided at all costs. Using the same logic that bars certain narratives from the classroom, all representations of the letter ‘E’ would then need to be expunged from the learning environment. See how ludicrous the logic is?
Now the stated reasons from this family about why Harry Potter must not be read in class is that (to paraphrase) ‘it contains people using magic and other evil things which people worship to get what they want’.
Think about that carefully for a moment or three. A Fundamentalist Christian family saying something is bad because ‘it contains people using magic and other evil things which people worship to get what they want’.
Hold on. What about their own text, The Bible? Plenty of people used magic in that. Moses turned his stick into a snake, parted the waters, raised a stone so his army would win a battle, etc. That must certainly count as magic. What about all the supposed miracles of Jesus? Water in wine, walking on water, blah blah blah. Magic. I smell hypocrisy in the air.
I assume at this stage some people who may be reading this are thinking ‘we do not want our children exposed to devilry and tales of people using powers to get what they want! Our children must be exposed only to wholesome texts!’. Fair enough. Oh, hold on … the Bible contains some of the most violent and sadistic stories to be found in fiction; human sacrifices, genocides, women being freely given over to be pack raped, murder … the list goes on and on and on. But I suppose that was god-sponsored acts of morally abhorrence so that makes it just fine and the Bible, despite containing many times the depravities of a childrens book series, is alright to study in schools.
Damn, there’s that hypocrisy smell again.
It does make me wonder, though. What about other texts that contain the heroes using magic? The Lord of the Rings? Greek Mythology? Should the tales of Gandalf and those of Hercules be off limits just because of the sheer ignorance of one family? Bollocks to that.
That sorts of leads to the second point I wish to address; The exact nature of religious classes in public schools. Now according to the Principle of Secular Education, schools are allowed to deliver religious instruction in one of two ways but ‘not promote any particular religious practice, denomination or sect‘. The school can offer time where students can be instructed on ‘general religious education’ where all faiths are given equal time and none are given favour over another. That fails simply because it is logistically impossible to cover every faith in proper detail in the time available, even just the major ones.
The second way is to offer ‘instruction provided by churches and other religious groups and based on distinctive religious tenets and beliefs‘. This is the one that is by far the most often seen in public schools which is something akin to a tragedy. While these classes are not compulsory, they are still almost always included as part of a Teacher’s Allocated Preparation Time and students who elect not to take part have to go into a (usually) empty room and get on with ‘busy work’. That makes them feel horribly excluded from the rest of the class which is simply not fair on them.
This method not only fails because of the feelings of exclusion suffered by those who do not participate. It fails because, quite simply, it is not education in way proper sense of the word. The students are not being taught to critically make up their own minds about the subject, instead they are being what can only be termed as indoctrinated. Only the viewpoint of one faith is presented as being the truth and all others are either ignored or stated as being wrong.
That also creates other problems, entirely unnecessary ones, in the classroom. The students are instructed that god or some other sky pixie father figure created the world and so on. Unfortunately, all available information, evidence and other findings point completely elsewhere. So when a students puts his or hand up while you’re explained that the Earth is around 4 billion years old and asks “But Mr. ____ said it is only 6,000 years old and god made it, not the combining of cosmic gas and dust” … you’re stuck with a pretty shite choice. Either you call the religion teacher an ignorant git, you open the possibility that something that available evidence rules out is true or you try to find some sort of weird balance between the two.
Which should not be necessary at all. As previously stated, Schools are there to teach thinking skills, established knowledge and facts. Religious instruction should solely belong at churches and bible meetings. That includes religious beliefs held by families which should left at the school entrance lest they unfairly affect other families who do not hold such beliefs.