Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Even in a Secular Society Religion has a Place in Our Schools !

Chinese philosopher Confucius urged us to ''study the past if you would define the future.''

U.S. author Norman Cousins (photo right) implored us to view history as ''a vast early warning system.'' Even Shirley Bassey belted out, ''I've seen you before and I'll see it again....just little bits of history repeating.''

Whatever your preferred cultural context, the message remains the same. If we don't understand the past and learn from its mistakes, we are doomed to repeat them. So, with this in mind it begs the question, why are religious studies not yet part of the Australian curriculum?  Surely it's time to cut through the spin and scaremongering and acknowledge that we can no longer afford to remain theologically ignorant. For millennia, religion has driven social value systems and influenced lawmakers and politicians.

More war and conflict has been raged under the guise of faith than any other reason, from Christian crusades spanning the 11th to 13th centuries to the current Middle Eastern insurgency by Islamic extremist groups. The coming generations must be aware of the profound part religious movements and their influence has played a part in the very world they are living and benefiting in.

While this is true that we we're living in an increasingly secular society, the 2011 census still found almost 80 per cent of Australians declared an affiliation with religious belief. So why is religion only fleetingly touched upon at school and even then, only in later secondary years? A fuller introduction into the Australian curriculum for the sake of knowledge and understanding would be more meaningful.

I am not advocating the introduction of faith-based instruction into secular schools, rather a teaching of religion as a key plank in history, humanities and social science subjects. his is where school students would be encouraged to discuss, dissect and scrutinise religion in all its incarnations objectively and without fear or favour.

Arguments against teaching religion range from the notion we should separate church and state through to concerns young, impressionable minds will be indoctrinated. Caution, scepticism and even suspicion are reasonable responses when it comes to faith and belief but their historical lessons are too important not to be taught.

We need to arm our children with knowledge and understanding if we're to have any hope of achieving global stability in the future. Religion should be taught in schools in a similar manner to politics, also a polarising subject. As politics is taught in a nonpartisan way, so too should religion be taught in a secular fashion with a focus on historical context. Honestly, an unbiased, fact-based religious curriculum would no more likely convert pliable young minds to a particular faith than it would rally them to join the Nazi Party after studying World War II.

As it stands, religion is already taught in many secular schools around the country, albeit in an imperfect form. Most state schools offer weekly or fortnightly religious instruction (RI) classes. These are elective, faith-based and largely delivered by a cohort of unpaid volunteers pushing vested interests. There is no sense of historical or cultural context in these classes, no balance and no fact-based holistic approach to learning.

The opportunity for students to truly learn and understand the influence, scope and power wielded by religion in its many forms is incredibly limited. Religion has also crept into schools under the guise of the federal chaplaincy program, administered by the Christian-affiliated Scripture Union. Quite aside from chaplains filling a role better met by professionally trained social workers and guidance councillors, it introduces a Christian-biased theology into classrooms by stealth. One way to counter this is to teach religion fearlessly and openly in our schools.

A core plank of the Australian curriculum is History, espousing the view historical knowledge is ''fundamental to understanding ourselves and others.'' It also states a solid grounding in global history and equips students for the world in which they live. There is a government review of the history curriculum that will standardise its teaching across all states and weed out the Leftist bias that has been allowed to infiltrate over the years.

The Way I See objective theology course will allow young minds to study religious diversity locally and nationally. This would include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander spirituality and the several prominent religions such as Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. It boils down to a very broad unique learning and understanding experience.

We can no longer afford to bury our head in the sand when it comes to a force as dominant and defining and as capable of changing the course of religion.

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