This is my column this week in the New Zealand Herald, which is published in the digital edition every Thursday…
How do you feel about primary level children receiving Christian teaching at school?
Do you know whether or not your children’s primary school provides such classes?
Recently, opposition to these classes – or Religious Instruction (“RI”) – in schools has flared up again, as the Secular Education Network launched a campaign informing parents exactly what such instruction entails.
In a country where only 49 per cent of people identify as Christian, it’s a weird little anomaly that Christian Religious Instruction takes place in schools.
If your school provides RI, to do so legally it has to be technically “closed”, even though it happens during school hours. You can ask for your children to be removed from the class but, understandably, many people don’t. Kids don’t generally like to be different.
The classes are taken by a few different providers, that aren’t registered teachers, and are subject to very little oversight.
Regardless of your own views, what do we know about how children of primary school age process information? From a psychological and educational view is it a good idea to “teach” religion to primary aged children?
Now of course, this conversation quickly descends into a “pro” versus “anti” religion shouting match, but in my view that isn’t actually the issue. It’s about whether teaching religious views, that some believe, and others don’t, is developmentally appropriate.
One of the problems when trying to assess such things is how hard it is to look back as an adult and see things from a child’s point of view. We encourage and train our children to listen to and believe what the person standing up in front of the class says.
Generally, that’s fine because when it comes to primary education we want our children to be indoctrinated: with reading skills, times tables, writing and spelling and other useful skills. And we trust schools, teachers and our education curriculum to make sure that what they get indoctrinated with are facts.
It’s also true that children don’t develop the psychological capacity to critically assess and question information they are presented with until around approximately 11.
But practically speaking it’s easy to tell when children develop the ability to think critically. It’s about the same time they decide their parents are wrong about most things, and stop listening to us.
And right about the time our little darlings stop listening to us, is the right time to teach Comparative Religious Studies, where the history and ideas of all religions are taught and examined. Critically.
Now, I’m not going to tell you what I believe, because it’s none of your business. But there is one value I hold, for myself and my family above all others: Freedom.
Freedom to believe what I like, and your freedom to believe what you like.
I don’t have the right to tell you what you, or your children should believe, any more than anyone else does.
And even more so when they’re too young and psychologically incapable of questioning it.
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