Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Arguments for RE in school

A friend just wrote asking for ideas on how to argue for the benefits of RE at a P&C meeting that's coming up.

Here's how I responded. Anyone got other ideas?

I think you need to be really confident going in to the meeting that you are not doing anything wrong. Have a look here. Notice that we are actually allowed to teach kids for up to an hour a week! RE is not something that the P&C has anything to do with. We have a right to be in the school teaching. Parents are free to remove their children. 
Also notice that the school can't run classes during RE time. The non RE kids need to be occupied with something, but they can't be doing any work that the RE kids would be disadvantaged by not doing.  
[Principal's should] monitor school activities offered to students not attending religious instruction so students who attend religious instruction do not experience educational disadvantage
Of course, you shouldn't go in there all angry. Just be aware of the legislation and be confident that you can't be kicked out. 
If I was to go and talk to the P&C about what we do, I'd say something like... 
- I can't speak for the other religions who teach RE at x school. Just Christian RE. 
- Christianity has been a significant shaping force in our culture. Our legal system is based on Christian values. Our literature is full of allusions to biblical stories. It makes sense that our kids have a basic biblical literacy. It will help them better understand our culture and, more specifically, it will help them as they study history and english in the coming years.   
- In RE, we talk about some of the big issues in life - sometimes things that parents feel ill-equipped to discuss with their kids. In difficult times, parents often feel very thankful that their kids have talked about death and grief and guilt and forgiveness at RE.
- The way I teach is really just to tell stories. In a way, there's nothing particularly 'religious' about it - except that the stories are from the bible. Like in any study of literature, as we reflect on the characters (who are very real!) the kids learn about human nature - our strengths and our weaknesses. I tell the stories in the best way that I can - modelling good story telling techniques. I also put the stories in their historical contexts. The children often really enjoy the snippets of history and geography that they pick up.
- We're not looking to increase our church membership or anything through teaching RE. What we want is to give the kids enough knowledge so that when the time comes for them to chose a religion (or not) they'll know what christianity has to offer and they'll know the kind of questions they should ask of any other faiths that they're interested in.  
- Most kids we teach find RE really fun. They work hard most of the day. RE is something that they look forward to.


  1. Excellent work Simone. So - what is your hourly rate because I think you could probably hire yourself as a consultant to go and brave it at all the P&C meetings on behalf of all the nervous parents!

  2. I'd be expensive. P&C meetings are some of the most unendurable meetings out there!

  3. I once gave a session at a Christian school for a Moore Mission to the teachers to encourage them to articulate the Christian faith in their teaching.

    My argument there (and I think it applies to R.E.) was that one of the features of education in the state school system is that it can't address any of the big questions of life. There is no such thing as "The Australian meaning of life" or the "the Australian vision of the good life" or "the Australian view of good and evil". On such matters the state is fairly minimalist, as it should be in a liberal-democracy. When we talk about such things we are only gesturing to a section of society's (often a large section) de facto vision of the good life. It does not the form the basis of our institutions or legislation. There is no official answer to these questions in a liberal democracy, that's fundamental to how it works.

    But human beings, at least most of us, function better if we have answers to those questions, some sense of who we are, what we are aiming for, the kind of person we want to be. Students, especially as they hit their teens, will perform better if they have a workable answer to these questions, even as they revise it as they move to adulthood.

    The Christian dimension of a Christian school (or RE in a state school) provides that for those children whose parents think that Christianity has resources in this area they want made available to their children.

    Removing RE (or even replacing it with something else run by the State, like studies in Religion) cannot serve this function. It simply is not the business of the education department to tell children what the good life is, or what the meaning of life is, or what good and evil are. In a liberal democracy, people need to work that out apart from the state, and offer it to others on a voluntarist basis - Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Secular, Humanist, Atheist etc.

    So R.E., done well, is not part of education, but is an important support to education. Remove it and you take away resources to help parents give their children a reason to get out of bed and strive for something in a self-directed way.

  4. I think Mark is exactly right, but it then raises the question of whether children should be restricted to their parent's religion. On this principle it would seem not? Maybe I could have turned out a very happy buddhist if only there had been the opportunity in early life.

  5. I think that issue doesn't derive directly from my argument. It comes from the question of 'rights of the child' versus 'rights of the parents'. If you have a view of robust childhood rights, and a vision for self-directed learning by children (where they choose their own curriculum) then I think this would raise that question.

    If you are more of the view that parents have the job of picking a curriculum (usually by picking a school), and inculcating a vision of reality and where you fit in it (i.e. a worldview, religion, and morality) to their children then I think it won't raise the question so much.

    And the question changes a bit as they move through the teen years. What a Christian family does if their 8 y.o. states they don't believe in God and doesn't want to go to Church might be different from what they do if their sixteen year old says they are a Buddhist and want to go to Buddhist Scripture.

  6. We've just come home from the school concert. The lady who co-ordinates all the Scripture teachers in the school was presented with a certificate of appreciation. It was great to see. I love that our (public) school has a Christian principal who is so supportive of Scripture.