Why Isn’t There a Proper Alternative to Religious Education?

Whilst I am not Christian, I strongly disagree with those who are trying to eliminate religious education programs from our public schools. We have had a tradition of offering religious education as an elective class at public schools over many years and I see no reason to change that.

One issue that does perplex me is why schools haven’t been able to schedule a real alternative. Ethics classes are not the answer because unlike religion which one either subscribes to or not, ethics is someones version of what is moral and just (I may disagree strongly with what someone believes is ethical).  Free time is also not a solution either. It sends the wrong message at school to provide free time when children continue to struggle with their basic skills.

I believe that extra maths and English classes should be scheduled at the same time as religious education classes. This would ensure that those who aren’t religious have a real and worthwhile alternative to R.E. lessons.

Although I think this Queensland mother has overreacted, I can see her point:

A Queensland mother has accused the state’s education department of discrimination, claiming children who opt out of religious instruction classes are left disadvantaged.

Tricia Moore, who has filed an anti-discrimination complaint, said she was contemplating taking the Department of Education, Training and Employment to the state’s civil tribunal.

She said the department had failed to provide a proper alternative for children who opted out of religious instruction, with students instead left to sit in corridors or carry out meaningless work.

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3 Responses to “Why Isn’t There a Proper Alternative to Religious Education?”

  1. John Tapscott Says:

    When I began teaching the NSW Dept of Education published and provided Primary Schools with books of Bible stories which teachers were expected to read to their class at least once a week. Also on the curriculum was a subject called Moral Education which week by week studied the exemplary life of historical figures such as William Wilberforce, Florence Nightingale or Titus Oates, the idea being that there is a right way to live and such people gave the lead and the example.

    In this post-modern age people have given up believing in absolute right and wrong. Utilitarianism informs what is right and wrong. The result is that what is right or wrong is anybody’s guess and your guess is as good as mine. The vested interest that makes the most noise gets the most recognition.

    Without absolutes we are cast adrift on a sea of particulars without a valid reference point to give meaning to the particulars. That’s why you rightly sate that ethics classes are not the answer. We end up in existentialism where there is no wrong and what is is right.

    The Education Act of 1880 (NSW) provides for a minister of religion, or his appointee, to take students of his denomination for religious instruction for one hour a week. This worked when nearly everybody was nominally Christian. Such is no longer the case.

    My wife and I take RE classes in state schools. Unless it is done properly and according to an approved syllabus, there is little point. I remember having a casual day, in a NSW public school, recently, where the visiting RE teacher proceeded to harangue the students about the preferability of Intelligent Design over Evolution. This was grossly misguided. The children (grade 3) didn’t understand; it was far beyond anything they had done thus far in school. In any case they much prefer a good Bible story, well told, a few songs with catchy tunes and a well reasoned application to the story. That’s about all you have time for anyway. If it’s done properly children appreciate it, they learn something and the school staff appreciates it. If it’s done badly it’s better not done at all.

  2. John Tapscott Says:

    Maybe there is no proper alternative because there is no alternative other than to abolish it altogether. Comparative Religions may fit the bill but it would need to be a compulsory alternative or you would simply be creating another “denomination” and still have the opt out students to cater to.

  3. Jayel Says:

    I think you’ll find that people are not trying to abolish religious education, but are trying to do away with religious instruction – me included. Dividing children along religious lines and then expecting non-participating children to twiddle their thumbs while participating children use curriculum time for their voluntary, non-curriculum activity is nothing but divisive and discriminatory. When a child takes time out of curriculum time to go and have an instrumental lesson (an optional, non-curriculum activity just like RI), no one expects non-participating students to down pencils and twiddle their thumbs; why the special privilege for RI?

    As John Tapscott suggests, religious education that is compulsory and teaches about a variety of religions, as well as something like humanism or other non-religious approach to life is something more befitting the modern, multi-faith society we are today. Children can make up their own minds when they are older, or parents are free to take them to church/mosque/temple etc. in their own time for instruction if they choose to do so.

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