Religion in schools

Religion in school is a hot button topic for meSo, in an odd coincidence, this week religion, and of course, atheism reared their controversial heads again. I learned this week that my children’s school has overlooked my wishes for my children to be excluded from religion classes and has in fact had my son attending religious education indoctrination classes!

That a school can overlook parents’ wishes, is my primary focus here. Secondary, is that my child has been receiving religious instruction from who-knows-what religious advocate – Catholic? Anglican? Baptist? (I’ve written about my atheism and my children just last week in two posts including one about hubby’s agnosticism, so was amazed that this issue cropped up this week).

The school didn’t see fit to alert parents to the fact that their children would begin religious indoctrination this term. The first I became aware of it was when my child told me of the song they were taught, “God is in control, God is in control, God is in control…”.

It won’t surprise anyone to know that I don’t believe state schools should be teaching religious indoctrination at all. Unless they teach ALL religions. Then they can rightly call it religious education. Teach about Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Taoism, and anything else that crops up. Teach from an academic viewpoint, not an indoctrination viewpoint. If parents want their children to learn about religion from within a religion, take them to Sunday school.

The school didn’t think a note was warranted to let parents know that a new teacher would be teaching their children, even for just an hour a week, and perhaps introduce that teacher’s background or experience.

The religious education teacher is a volunteer, I understand. But a volunteer from which church? A volunteer with how much experience? A volunteer with what, if any, qualifications? A volunteer whose religious beliefs are what exactly?

You could argue that I don’t get background notes or an introduction to my children’s class teachers before school starts, so why should I get something on the RE teacher. But teachers are vetted (presumably) quite thoroughly by the government department whose remit it is to educate children. There is a level of trust I’m willing to extend that the checks and balances, which include accreditation by governing bodies, that the teacher in front of my child is qualified, experienced and competent. And that teacher is teaching a curriculum. Not passing on her belief system.

What checks and balances are in place for ‘volunteer’ teachers? Probably the only requirement is that they hold a current Blue Card. Big deal. I’ve got one. They’re easy to get and in no way attest to a person’s ability to teach a class in a competent way.

But these points are by the by.

My real objection is that my express wishes – sought by the school in a form – were not followed.

It raises doubt that other simple checks and balances won’t similarly fail.

I met with the school principal this morning to ask how this could happen and was given, in summary, a mystified “I don’t know”.

When I said, “My child has been attending religious education classes despite my express wishes that that doesn’t happen” and the principal’s response was: “You’re joking!”.

No, I’m not joking.

I’ve just received a written response from the principal who has offered an explanation and an apology, to his credit. I’m satisfied this matter has been resolved but it leaves a bad taste in the mouth that the situation ever arose at all.

4 comments for “Religion in schools

  1. March 14, 2012 at 2:48 pm

    Interesting… When my daughter was in year 3, I had to battle with her (obviously very religious) teacher over RE. The conversation went something like this:

    Me: “I really don’t want my daughter attending RE classes”
    Teacher: (stern look) “Really? why? It’s multi denominational”
    Me: …
    Teacher: “It’s not just Anglican or Catholic or ”
    Me: “So you also cover Buddhism, Islam, etc”
    Teacher: (looks mortified) “No, it’s Christian religion”
    Me: “Well unless you’re covering the full spectrum of religious belief I’d call it indoctrination and I don’t want my daughter attending”

    That teacher hated me for the rest of the year and on occasion would make snide comments about me to my daughter. Actually, from memory my daughter really disliked her as well – year 3 was her rebellious phase.

  2. March 14, 2012 at 9:08 pm

    It seems that none of us (until the newsletter today) knew that RE classes had started. Our son didn’t mention them until I asked, having been told about them by another parent.
    Now, I remember being a bit ambivalent when enrolling #1 child and put down that I wanted more information on the form before committing to the RE classes – meaning I wanted to know just what and how it would be taught. I want comparative religion, not just Christianity, I think it is important that our children do cover this to understand our society and to be accepting of others.
    My husband, a firm atheist, was quite angered when our son told us he was being taught how to pray.
    So yesterday I went in to withdraw said son (grade 2) from RE classes and the Admin officer looked him up on the computer and said “Oh, he’s not down to have RE”, then checked my written enrolment form from 2.5 years ago and found the note about more information. She then made sure he was noted on the computer system as not to attend RE and sent an email to his class teacher to ensure she got the message.
    I think that maybe the class teachers just weren’t reminded to check, as I absolutely can’t imagine my son’s teacher deliberately keeping him in RE against our wishes.

    By the way – I am I guess acting as a volunteer teacher, but for technology/science, which is perhaps a little less controversial and more concrete. Plus the class teacher is there too and we discuss the content and lesson plan beforehand, I’m just providing specialised knowledge.

  3. CKR
    March 31, 2012 at 8:07 pm

    Unfortunately a lot of schools use ‘scripture’ time as another teacher meeting opportunity. Some schools hold these meetings inside of the classrooms to monitor the lessons while others leave the volunteers alone with the children.

    There is a group, aptly titled ‘non-scripture’ in most schools, where children run around and basically do anything they please while their peers are having some kind of ‘lesson’. The best group to enroll children in tends to be the Baha’i group if your school offers it. They focus on community and humanity and are usually very accepting of every faith and way of believing/not believing. As a teacher, I find children who attend Baha’i are given the chance to develop an understanding of diversity and how to behave in a socially responsible and caring way.

    No volunteer is made to jump through the government hoops that ‘real’ school employees have to jump through just to be allowed to work, but these hoops are often created by people well outside of the school environment and are often inadequate and irrelevant. On the other hand, every staff member in a school is required to have a current resus and first aid cert, must be epipen and asthma trained and have knowledge of emergency evacuation and lock down procedures. How many volunteers know all of this ‘extra’ stuff that teachers spend their evenings and non-teaching days completing?

    The buck stops with the principal.

    School volunteers have often had little experience dealing with the variety of emotional and intellectual issues that many young children have; they lack real training; have no qualifications pertaining to the position of responsibility and accountability (often not even a first aid certificate) and yet are left alone and in charge of sometimes over 30 children.

    Regrettably teachers are always busy and never have enough time to do everything they would like to do. They are under a lot of pressure and typically really want to do their best for the children in their care; this means not only the children in their current class, but often previous classes, any teams or groups they may have coached in the past or present and even siblings or friends of children in their class. I find that when a new year swings around, I am reminded of all the stakeholders in my profession- I’m accountable to a student, his/her parents, step-parents, grandparents, sibling, sometimes aunts and uncles and well-meaning friends. This means, that on average, if I have a class of 25 children, there are at least 50-100 different adults across the year wanting to know specific details about a child in my class, including when did he/she go to the toilet and who did they play with at recess on Monday two weeks ago.

    Sometimes it is not possible to be across everything all at once. The meetings that occur during scripture time have been invaluable to the teachers at every school I’ve worked in. However, there is a real issue with the way the children are organised, taught and supervised during these times. There is a big movement in many schools now to introduce ‘Values Education’ as an option during scripture time.

    Who will teach this?
    Can we guarantee that the classes wont be laden with judgment and bias?

    I don’t know what the answer is.

    I can say unequivocally that most children need help to understand and learn how to behave as part of a greater society. Manners, values and social awareness are life long skills that sometimes fall by the wayside because children and parents are busy with their computers, phones, sport/music/drama/dance practice, extra study.

  4. May 29, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    We’re spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on religious indoctrination in schools yet kids are leaving school without basic, reality-based education. Can our politicians not see something wrong with this picture?

I would love it if you would tap out a few words here!