Teaching from within religion is an influential force for good
MINISTER FOR Education Ruairí Quinn promised that in return for some Catholic schools transferring patronage to other bodies, denominational schools would be free to teach from a faith-based perspective.
Yet the Minister is proposing far-reaching changes that will have an impact on all faith schools, but particularly the “standalone” schools where there are no alternative schools nearby (that is, more than half of all primary schools).
He proposes to completely revise the rules for primary schools, which makes sense, but also to simply delete rule 68, which allows for an integrated educational approach to faith. If rule 68 is deleted, all other subjects will be taught in an integrated manner, except religious education (RE) in denominational schools. So much for not telling them what they can and can’t do!
One of the most puzzling suggestions from the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism is that all schools must teach education about religion and belief (ERB) and ethics. ERB looks at religion as merely a cultural phenomenon. The teacher must remain neutral.
The strange thing is that the forum report understands denominational RE very well. It says denominational RE “means education as ‘formation’ in a belief system. It involves learning how to live a life according to religious guidelines and learning modes of thinking, values formation and moral action in the light of religious beliefs . . . RE also incorporates a dimension of critical thinking and is opposed to the indoctrination of pupils.”
The logical conclusion is while ERB and ethics is a wonderful alternative for children of non-believing parents, the approach it demands is at variance with faith-based education. Yet the odd suggestion is made that it should “supplement” faith-based RE.
Many denominational schools already teach about other religions. But they do so from immersion in their own tradition, which teaches children about respect for the traditions of others. Teaching about religion as an interesting cultural phenomenon, or a potentially divisive one, is a completely different approach.
Therein lies the rub. ERB grew out of a post-9/11 world where religion re-emerged on the global stage but was not viewed as a positive force. It was often viewed as a source of conflict and violence to be managed. (For more on this, see Eamonn Conway’s excellent article in the current edition of the Furrow.)
The forum report says ERB must conform to the Toledo Principles, and the REDCo (Religion, Education, Dialogue, Conflict) Project. However, the Toledo Principles emerged from a body under the auspices of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the European Commission funded REDCo.
The subtext is religion as a force for division to be overcome by teaching about religion, not teaching from within a religion.