web analytics
Religious Education

Religious Studies in Schools?

Religious EducationAntitheists are getting restless again. It’s back to an oldie but a goodie: trying to prevent religious and values education happening on NZ State School property (eg. here and here).

Don’t expect any consistency from them (of course). It’s not like they want to prevent students singing hymns to God! With both New Zealand’s national anthems being prayers to God, you could imagine the backlash against antitheism if they were consistent.

Not to mention the increasingly popular karakia (prayer in Te Reo Maori, not understood by the majority of white people). Nor banning marae visits where Maori, not buying into white people’s dualism, integrate religion, prayer, values, and spirituality into all that happens there.

A survey by the Secular Education Network turned up that nearly a tenth of state-funded primary and intermediate schools in New Zealand are not teaching evolution in their classes. Appalling as this may be, it misunderstands curriculum developments in NZ.

The NZ curriculum regularly eschews specific content. One school may choose to teach the European Middle Ages at Year 7, another at Year 8, a third not at all. If you move schools, you can encounter in your new school, a year later, the same material as you did last year in your old school. Or you might miss it altogether.

Content is no longer king. Who are you, the reasoning would go in our post-modern context, to decide that European Middle Ages are more important to know about than the same period in China? In our Information Age, for content there is Google. There is no requirement in our NZ Curriculum to examine students for their knowledge of evolution.

It is important to be clear:

Evangelisation is the term used to denote the spreading of the Good News of Jesus Christ by word or witness. Someone using an evangelisation approach would be seeking to bring about conversion.

Catechesis is the term used to denote deepening the faith of believers. Someone using a catechetical approach would be seeking to bring about movement towards maturity in faith.

Religious Education is a term used to denote furthering knowledge, understanding and appreciation of faith and religion in a formal educational setting. Someone using a religious education approach would be seeking to develop the full human potential of students by raising questions and promoting thought and understanding about matters of faith and religion.

It is this third approach, Religious Education, that I think is essential to any well-rounded education, and its neglect in schools is at the detriment of our present and future. Learning about and learning from the world’s great religious traditions is essential in our increasingly complex context. Introduction to Philosophy should also be compulsory. Introduction to differing ethical theories should be compulsory.

I know – I am suggesting that the Curriculum needs to have some more content.

Similar Posts:

8 thoughts on “Religious Studies in Schools?”

  1. Bosco, as a ’till recently’ Secondary RE Teacher, I agree the Curriculum needs, as you put it, more content. When I was living in Melbourne I taught VCE units on Religious Studies, and have done so in NCEA in New Zealand. NCEA Level 1, 2 & 3 includes units in Biblical Studies, Christian Ethics, Christian Theological Studies, Christian Worship and Preaching, Christian Spirituality, History of Christianity, Understanding Religion. I believe this could and should be broadened to include comparative and phenomenological of other World Religions and the phenomenological approach should also be a focus for Christianity. Relgious Education as such could then be taught at all Levels – Year 1 to Year 13 – and be offered in State, Intergrated, and Private schools, both religious and secular.

  2. Richard Dwonkings

    Is there a correlation between the prevalence of happy-clappy meaningless feel-good rock-band entertainment-style ‘Christianity’ and the prevalence of people identifying as atheists and saying that ‘Religion is very bad’ ? I think we should be told.
    Maybe the answer is just to allow the atheists to ban bad religion. A little intolerant, but if the conservatives (which is what atheists are, masquarading as liberals) want to do that, and can convince the state, so be it.

  3. While I’m not always convinced about their methods – or even their goals – I do have some sympathy for the Secular Education Network. Some years ago I withdrew my youngest son from Bible in Schools. I did this because it seemed ridiculous to me that in a classroom where he was in the minority coming from a supposedly Christian background the Christian religion had a stranglehold on any religious input or education.
    I would be very, VERY, happy to see some form of true religious education happening in our schools. That is, education about the various world religions, their values systems, etc. I see this as essential, along with the teaching of civics and philosophical thought. What I have no great desire to see continued is a system where only one religion gets any sort of look-in. My faith doesn’t need that sort of special treatment, and I don’t think God much wants it either.

  4. I attended public schools in the UK and the RE curriculum consisted of world religions, ethics, philosophy, basic Latin and Greek and basic analysis of religious texts. It really was a good grounding, I don’t remember any attempts at evangelism or apologetics.

    Whatever anyone’s beliefs religious education as an academic discipline is to my mind essential to a good education and being able to understand history, art, music, architecture etc.

  5. Personally, I actually find myself quite concerned about the vast spread of ‘secular’ education. Not because I find secular humanist values necessarily inherently bad, or any one religion ‘better’, but because this secular education is conducted from the perspective that it is somehow neutral. That it is the “view from nowhere”, and without bias. I’m fine with schools teaching whatever worldview they choose – but I would like them to do it consciously. So despite the sometimes-problems with Christian education (as in, full-out Christian schooling), on the whole I prefer it because it acknowledges and names its particular bias, and at least attempts to teach it integrated through the entire curriculum – as you say the Maori do.

  6. Firstly, the entire premise of this article is wrong. No one is trying to remove education about religion. There are NCEA courses on religious studies approved by the Ministry of Education. They are trying to remove religious indoctrination of primary age children in state schools. Bible in Schools is actually Religious Instruction that offer no unbiased education at all. Children are taught that the bible is the factual word of god. You can read more at http://religiouseducation.co.nz

    1. Thanks, Dave.

      You seem to be confusing several things.

      NCEA is not a collection of courses, it is the National Certificate of Educational Achievement, the main secondary school qualification in New Zealand. Courses are offered by educational providers. And courses may be assessed against Achievement Standards set by NZQA (New Zealand Qualification Authority). There are NCEA Religious Studies Achievement Standards against which students can be assessed – usually from about the age of 15.

      To speak of “NCEA courses on religious studies approved by the Ministry of Education” could give people the impression that there is some sort of Religious Studies Curriculum throughout primary and early secondary education in New Zealand. Unlike in other countries, there is no such thing.

      That certain NCEA Achievement Standards exist does not indicate how widespread the teaching of the subjects are. The vast majority of state secondary schools in New Zealand do not offer any Religious Studies. Nor do they assess against the NCEA Achievement Standards you refer to.

      If you are lobbying for the academic teaching of Religious Studies at all levels in our NZ education system, I fully support your venture.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.