Why In God's Name Must Religious Education Be So Specific?

Surely it's possible to teach children about different religions.

07/10/2016 5:27 AM AEDT | Updated 07/10/2016 5:27 AM AEDT
Nicholas Prior
Excuse me, why do we not have a choice?
We are preparing for our eldest son to start school next year. We're lucky that our local public school is excellent and very close to home. Our boy is full of excitement and anticipation –- learning to tie his shoelaces, practicing his writing and trying to remember as often as he can that he shouldn't pick his nose in public. He's pretty resilient and very ready for school. My husband and I thought we were too. Then we came across the Religious Education Options form in the school starter pack.

The form we have received gives us the option of placing our son in one of the following religious education classes: Ba'hai, Catholic, Anglican/Baptist, Muslim or No Enrolment.

If we choose not to enrol him, he will spend the class time in the library, with the possibility of attending Ethics classes (if the class is not full).

My husband and I are 'lapsed Catholics'. We both went to Catholic schools and mass each Sunday. We can both recite a typical mass word for word. One of my husband's favourite words is 'schism'. We can often be found watching episodes of 'Father Ted'. As soon as our parents stopped forcing us to go to church, we stopped attending. It's just not our belief system.

Even from my memory of school, up until around Year 9, religious education focused only on Catholicism. Which is somewhat fair enough, as it was a Catholic school. Except it's not fair enough. There is so much more to religion than just the individual belief system you chose to follow. Human history, society and culture have been shaped from all manner of religions. Which is why we are unhappy about having to 'choose' a religion for our children. And since we have to choose, where is our basic option for 'Christianity'? Ultimately we are from a Christian background, in a Christian country. I don't define myself as Catholic any more. To me, how you portray your beliefs, rather than which specific church you affiliate with, is what's important.

But even if I'm defining myself as Christian, I still want my children to learn about other faiths -- it would be irresponsible not to. The world is fast becoming a global village. How are my children going to be able to interact in such a society if they have no knowledge of anything other than their own background? How can we expect them to be culturally sensitive if we don't teach them about other cultures?

Currently at preschool, my boys celebrate all manner of religious events -- Diwali, Eid, Hanukkah, Christmas. So why does religious education in primary school need to be so specific? Clearly it's possible to teach children about different religions. My vote is that children should be provided with an overview and understanding of as many religions as possible. Surely parents are responsible for sharing their individual beliefs with their child, not schools.

But we don't have a choice other than to pick a religion. So for our boy, it's going to be supervised library time, with the hope of Ethics class placement. We will do our best to teach our children about other religions -- as education and awareness of others is the only way to create strong, understanding social units.

More On This Topic