Category Archives: Education

Humanism included in online RE resources

The Guardian has a revieew of ICT resouces to support religious education classes.

It refers to REonline, “perhaps the best UK’s subject-centred site…run by the Christian foundation, Culham Institute”

“We’ve analysed the national framework and identified the key concepts,” says Tony Parfitt, who runs the site. “The framework now mentions 10 major faiths rather six, including Bahai, Humanism, Jainism and Zoroastrianism. We have 10 people from the faith traditions writing about them, and we give links to websites and supplementary reading. That’ll all be free with REonline.”

The inclusion of Humanism is welcomed especially in light of  calls from Ofsted for religious education to include non-religious beliefs. Although in reality it is pretty uneven and not particularly favourable, with humanism lumped in with ethical egoismfor example (but not say rights or utilitarianism) in one section. At least it’s a start though and hopefully more, better resources will grow in time. (I am involved in developing some myself so watch this space!)

Raising children in a religion – abuse or stability?

Next up to take on Richard Dawkins is the Guardian’s Anne Karpf. She begins:

If Richard Dawkins had his way, a fair number of you and, as it happens, me, would be had up for child abuse. According to him, that’s what religious indoctrination of children by their parents is. And if you can sue for the long-term mental damage caused by physical abuse, he argues, why shouldn’t you sue for the damage caused by mental child abuse?

If you accept Dawkins’s characterisation of religion, you’d probably agree. Religious parents, to him, are Mr Dogma and Mrs Bigot: they terrify their kids with tales of eternal hell, fire and damnation, when – that is – they’re not carrying out female circumcision or coercing them into forced marriages. Flat-earthers the lot, they’re brainwashers, fanatically opposed to science and rationality.

Isn’t it curious that we tolerate the stereotyping of religion in a way we’d never abide with race, religion [sic] or gender? I certainly don’t recognise myself in this caricature.

Hmmm in fact Karpf is the one doing the misprepresenation here. Continue reading

University classes promote respectful religious debate

The Comombus Dispatch reports on a new project at Ohio University that aims to teach students how to have open, reasonable discussions about difficult questions of faith. The University is one of 27 colleges and universities receiving a $100,000 grant from the Ford Foundation through the Difficult Dialogues Initiative, a project coordinated by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.

The project aims to face up to the difficult topics that are too often glossed over or shied away from: Continue reading

Creationism in the UK – do you want the good news or the bad news?

The good news as reported by Ekklesia is that in England “after a number of requests from teaching unions and civic bodies, including the Christian think-tank Ekklesia and the British Humanist Association, the UK Department of Children, Schools, and Families has issued guidance for teachers uncertain whether and how to discuss creationism – which is rejected by both scientists and theologians as lacking factual and theoretical value.

A statement on Teachernet, a government website, states that “Creationism and intelligent design are not part of the National Curriculum for science” and describes “intelligent design” as “a creationist belief” that “is sometimes erroneously advanced as scientific theory but has no underpinning scientific principles or explanations supporting it and it is not accepted by the international scientific community.”

Not only is it good news that creationism is being clearly put in its place but it is also a demonstation of how religious and non-religious bodies can work together on common causes. Archbishop of canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has also described creationism as “a category mistake” in religious thought.

The bad news is that in Northern Ireland the Department of Education has said the teaching of alternative theories was a matter for schools. Continue reading

Different beliefs are united but unheard in calling for fair and equal education

Simon BarrowEkklesia’s Simon Barrow writes in Comment is Free that Gordon Brown was right to use biblical language at the Labour Part conference against those employing religious rhetoric to oppose diversity and equality in family policy.

He goes on to argue thast “a similar pluralist case now needs to be made in relation to faith schools – where the government’s desire to ease its finance problems and promote social cohesion is misguidedly colluding with the wishes of some leaders of faith communities (not least the Anglican and Catholic churches) who are looking for a new role and new credibility in their battle against long-term decline and public indifference.

At the moment, the case against the selection, segregation, employment restrictions and discrimination wrapped up within the pro-faith schools agenda is being heard as an essentially “anti-religious” one. The exclusive tenor of some secular groups is not helping with this, given the sensitivities involved. Continue reading

How effective are electronic petitions?

Petitions have long been sent to the British Prime Minister by post or delivered to the Number 10 door in person. But since November 2006 people have been able to both create and sign petitions on the Number 10 website too, giving them the opportunity to reach a potentially wider audience and to deliver petitions directly to Downing Street.As of mid-June 2007:

  • 22,336 petitions have been set-up by users, of which 7.563 are currently live and available for signing, 2680 have finished and 10,501 have been rejected outright.
  • There have been 4,431,417 signatures, originating from 3,214,070 different email addresses.

All petitions have a deadline and once passed the government will email their current position on the issue as long as it has received over 200 signatures (unless they relate specifically to small groups for example, people from a small community). The advantages of the system are that petitioners can show their support much more easily and that government can then write directly to people much more efficiently than if they had to respond to individual letters. It also forces people to be a lot more specific in their points. At the same time it offers people a way to vent their frustrations and connect with government more easily than if they had to knock out a letter. Continue reading

Government blocks secular school that would teach all world views

Anushka Asthana reports in the Observer that senior government officials have blocked attempts to create the first school without an act of collective worship branding it a ‘political impossibility’.

Dr Paul Kelly“Dr Paul Kelley, head of Monkseaton High School in Tyneside – the first to join the government’s flagship ‘trust school‘ scheme – wanted to challenge the legal requirement in all state schools for pupils to take part in a daily act of worship of a broadly Christian nature. There are only a handful of exceptions at faith schools where the daily worship can be based on a different religion.

He also wanted to change the way that religious education was taught, introducing tuition about a number of world views, some that involved faith and some that did not. He intended to follow a ‘third way’ that neither banished religion from the classroom completely nor had children attending daily worship.

According to the Observer “One senior figure at the then Department for Education and Skills, told Kelley that bishops in the House of Lords and ministers would block the plans.” Continue reading

Faith groups agree ‘tolerance pact’ in return for state school funding

James Meikle reports in the Guardian that in advance of the creation of morefaith schools (they already make up a third of state schools in England) “Faith groups will today signal a new compact with the government over the promotion of social cohesion in schools, in return for state education funds”

“The children’s secretary, Ed Balls, is expected to say that ministers and faith groups have a common goal in promoting a more cohesive society, including building understanding and tolerance of other faiths [and beliefs I wonder?]. Ministers believe faith-based schools can play a lead role in twinning arrangements between schools in mixed and more monofaith areas.”

I wonder if it would fair to infer from this that faith schools didn’t previously have a commitment to social cohesion?

Meanwhile the Association of Teachers and Lecturers asked why schools “in which the majority of funding comes from the state, should, as the government proposes, nurture children in a particular faith”.

Philosophy taught to seven-year-olds

Teaching childrenHannah Goff reports that seven year olds are being taught philosophy at Eliot Bank Primary School in Forest Hill, south-east London. “Posing philosophical questions…encourages the children to think in a different way to the one they are used to, Philosophy teacher at Eliot Bank Primary School in Forest Hill, south-east London, [philosophy teacher Peter Worley] argues.”

...”Head teacher Kathy Palmer says: “It also teaches them that confusion can be a good thing – that it’s OK to make a mistake.

“What we try to do is to give them a tool-kit so they know what to do when that happens.”

A recent study suggested that children’s IQs are boosted by learning philosophy at an early age.”

I wonder if philosophy would ever replace RE as a core subject in schools? Now wouldn’t that be nice?

Anyway this reminds me of an idea I had not so long ago to mark World Philosophy Day (12 November), basically to encourage people to buy and donate a philosophy book (ideally one of the many easy introductions around aimed at young people) to their local library. Critical thinking is a wonderful skill for anyone no matter what their beliefs. What do you think?

Ofsted calls for national Religious Education curriculum – to include non religious beliefs

The Daily Telegraph 16 June 2007The Daily Telegraph reports that Ofsted, the education watchdog, says that schools in many parts of the country are fuelling misguided beliefs and this poor quality religious education in schools may be breeding intolerance between faiths.

“In a report to be published tomorrow, inspectors will criticise the “patchy” standards of RE being taught in England and call for lessons to be subjected to national controls for the first time.

RE is compulsory in all schools but it is the only subject not governed by the National Curriculum. Instead, syllabuses are drawn up locally by groups of teachers and religious leaders in a move designed to reflect community diversity.

In a controversial move, Ofsted now says the model is outdated and is calling for classes to be reigned in, a recommendation strongly backed by the Church of England.

For the first time, this would ensure that all schools gave appropriate lesson time to faiths such as Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism as well as secular philosophies.

…..according to Ofsted, many religious education syllabuses do not focus strongly enough on the impact of religion in modern Britain – and may be undermining the Government’s drive to promote so-called community cohesion.

Inspectors are expected to recommend a review of the way the curriculum is currently set. One option would be creating the first National Curriculum for RE.

In 2004, a voluntary curriculum was announced by Charles Clarke, the then education secretary, but there are concerns that it has not been widely adopted.

Under the voluntary code – which may be made mandatory – Christianity is still the main religion taught in schools. However, it recommends studying the tenets of the other five main religions – Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism – up to the age of 14.

It also says pupils should able to share their own beliefs without embarrassment or ridicule. It recommends there should be opportunities to study other religious traditions such as the Baha’i faith, Jainism and Zoroastrianism, alongside secular views such as humanism.

The move is likely to be strongly resisted by local religious leaders, some of whom believe humanism has no place in RE lessons.”

Raising ethical children without religion

Parenting Beyond Belief edited byDale features an interview with Dale McGowan the editor of Parenting Without Belief  – an anthology of essays that aims to help parents show kids how to find meaning and behave well without using supernatural explanations:

Q What are this book’s most important messages for parents?

A One: Never fear a question. The whole idea of free thought is that you sit down before a fact like a little child, then follow it wherever it leads. My own kids have gone to a Lutheran preschool. I’m happy to have them exposed to religious ideas; the only ones I won’t tolerate are hell and the assertion that doubt is bad. I say, let the child ponder ideas and run with them.

Two: Avoid saying that something is the way it is “because I said so.” Take the time to give a reason in discussions about truth or morality.

Three: The failure of empathy is responsible for a tremendous amount of destruction in the world. It’s dangerous to divide ourselves from others and demonize them.

Four: One of the ways to ease the pain of death so people don’t have to run for religious comfort is to accept and acknowledge its reality.

Q What’s the biggest challenge in raising your own children this way?

A Trying to raise children to think for themselves is hard in a culture that often devalues that. This culture often sees unthinking faith as an automatic good and hatred of faith as the only alternative. I have so many people say to me after book discussions that they didn’t think secular humanists could be so friendly. Once people get past assumptions, they see we’re just people, too.

Q Religious people sometimes say you can’t have values without religion. What do you say?

A I have never known a parent who had the least trouble explaining why something was right or wrong without turning to religion. Some might say you can’t do that without the Ten Commandments, but then I’ll hear them say to their child, “Don’t hit her! How would you like that if she did that to you?” When it comes to explaining to kids why they should be good, reason works best.

Q What is your faith background?

A I grew up in a nominally religious home. My dad died when I was 13 and he was 45. I was consumed not just with the need for consolation but with a real hunger to know where he was. I began reading the Bible, talking to ministers, going to church with Mormon, Baptist, Presbyterian and evangelical friends. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that religion was a human construct we use to explain the things we don’t understand and to help us feel better.

Q What has been the response to the book?

A It’s been very well received. It’s a relief that it’s not being viewed as just another entry in the culture wars. Something about planting this particular flag on the mountain of family values is getting people’s attention. Even some Christian readers say they found a lot of the essays useful.

Q Are you surprised at the sudden popularity of atheist and agnostic books?

A Not really. When President Bush was first elected, I was at an Atheist Alliance convention and everyone was moaning. I said, “Listen, this is a good thing, this will open up the conversation about religion in a way it hasn’t been before.”

Q Atheist curmudgeons Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens lump religious zealots and moderates together. Do you?

A I agree with them that we shouldn’t have to say please and thank you to religious people simply because they’re religious, but I don’t go as far as they do. The good things that come from religious observance are quite visible, but the ways in which it harms our discourse and our social fabric is frequently hidden under a surface of smiling piety that makes those problems difficult to address. Once you have overt harm that everyone sees — like religious people flying planes into buildings, for crying out loud — then the conversation bursts open and you’re going to hear that annoyed tone.

Second O Project interview looks at religious education

The second of a series of interviews with peopel already engaged in religious-humanist dialogue is published on the O Project’s site. The O Project’s Hamish MacPherson (far left) speaks to Marilyn Mason (near left) about her experience as a humanist on Kingston’s Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education.

We should teach our children all creeds and customs, religious and non-religious

Daniel DennettDaniel C. Dennett writes that “We should teach our children creeds and customs, prohibitions and rituals, the texts and music, and when we cover the history of religion, we should include both the positive–the role of the churches in the civil rights movement of the 1960’s, the flourishing of science and the arts in early Islam, and the role of the Black Muslims in bringing hope, honor and self-respect to the otherwise shattered lives of many inmates in our prisons, for instance–and the negative–the Inquisition, anti-Semitism over the ages, the role of the Catholic Church in spreading AIDS in Africa through its opposition to condoms…All the major and minor religions would be invited to participate, as well as representatives from the non-religious minority…” Read article