Monday, 23 February 2015


I've got nothing against Religious Education (RE). I am, however, going to take issue with what's happening in the school that is, rightfully, being taken to court over its Bible indoctrination classes. Okay, so what's the difference?

You read about these sorts of cases every few months or, at least, it seems that way. They all follow the same pattern. Some school somewhere either has people come in or uses its own staff to talk Bible with its pupils. Often this is done while the school is, legally, closed but in a real sense it is very much open. This is because were the school legally open, it'd be breaking the law. Generally, if not always, the system is also an opt-out system. Opt-out is either code for "We're using peer pressure to force pupils into these things" or "We're trying to stop users from knowing that we're doing some unethical practice". The latter is what you find when the likes of Facebook or Google have opt out services, but it's also something that applies with the schools that do this. Any defence along the lines of "it's education!" is also seriously flawed, if common. Why? Because they're just the Bible and they're not happening just when you have things like Easter or Christmas. That is, to explain why we celebrate these now secular holidays the way we do. They're regular things.

Now, there's possibly something suspect about the Easter/Christmas thing. All I know for sure is that's what tended to happen at my primary but I can't remember them specifically. The thing you remember are the candy canes, you see. In a theoretical sense, though, I don't have a problem with someone coming along and saying, "Christians believe that this dude Jesus was the son of God and he died and then undied but wasn't a zombie a few days later and this is the origin of Easter". Why, because that's what religious education looks like. It's something that looks at a religion and religious beliefs and explains what these religions are in the context of "This group believe these things". It's also something that should cover many religions. If it doesn't it needs to be constricted to just explaining things that intrude... in the same way that most history lessons prior to the age of 11 are going to be worksheets or the equivalent prior to public holidays.

I'd have quite liked to do some proper RE. To my mind it would cover, primarily, the most common religious positions in the country in question. It would cover the general beliefs and contexts from which those beliefs arose. Practices and the ways that these beliefs and practices are relevant would also be covered. In many respects, it would look not dissimilar to a history lesson on the English Civil War in an NZ classroom. Who was involved, what was involved, why it happened and how it matters. There is no room to indoctrinate because it is always in that removed context of, "This is how some people think".

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