Should Religious Education be taught to primary aged children?

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A little background information

I have been a primary teacher for 3 years, prior to that I did various placements in different nursery and primary schools. I am not too old myself (28) so went to school relatively recently. I was raised in a predominantly white area with Church of England schooling. My parents have always been agnostic and thus we did not practice religion at home, however we observed all the Christian festivals such as Christmas, Easter, Shrove Tuesday... although perhaps in a commercialised way.

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YES

Having taught RE in the 'modern way' (An exploration into Hinduism, Judaism, Sikhism, Christianity and Islam) I have to say that I find it very worthwhile. Without the opportunity to find out all about cultures and religions, children would just not know, thus making them very vunerable to misinterpretation and even fear. For young children, quite simply the old Testament is full of fantastic stories to inspire the inquisitive mind. However, in as much as goblins and genies don't claim to exist, nor should 'God' in the context of an RE lesson, yet the importance of the stories to Christians and the way they shaped society (on a childs level) cannot be disregarded... Also the stories lend themselves very well to history and geography and can be intergrated across the curriculum.

The job of the teacher is to educate the children about the diversity of religious faith across the world and to explore their traditions. Children can then hope to gather an understanding of the main drive of each religion and how it is practiced. This knowledge enables children to become sensitive to other people without feeling threatened by them. It also reduces the risk of them offending people of a different religion through simple ignorance. What a teacher must not do is teach religion as 'truth' It is very different to say "God made the world" and "Christians believe that...God made the world"

Children are perceptive and more open minded than many adults, therefore it is perfectly reasonable to expect children as young as even 4, to draw their own conclusions.

The first time I visited a Sikh Gurdwara, it was quite a surreal experience. Elderly gentlemen with beards to their waists, turbans and their traditional dress. Sitting crosslegged with the boys on one side, the girls on the other watching a fellow sweeping a feathery instrument over the holy book (Guru Granth Sahib) reciting its passages continuously with no apparent break. If I hadn't researched into it, it would have perhaps appeared even more baffling, and for the children too. But as we left the temple, the children seemed to think it was 'quite cool and a bit weird'. At least they understood a little more about the diversity in their very town.

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NO

If it is taught as truth or if there is any indoctrination involved. (Fear is a powerful tool and creates wars) I remember listening to a Radio 4 show wherein they were interviewing British children who after school (a faith school) went every single day for 3 or 4 hours to a mosque to learn the Qur'an by heart. They would sit alone or in small groups just reciting, repeating and re-reading the Arabic passages. To hear a child of 14 saying that he knew huge passages and could recite them yet he knew not what they meant.... it seems (to me) a complete brainwash and waste of time.... life....childhood....

I remember now that the focus of the show was to highlight than in these institutions there have been reports of abuse. Now that is something that I will leave entirely as I have little interest in dwelling upon it. I did however find it so perverse that these kids whether abused or not were removed from 'the real world to spend hours and hours learning a holy book, which was deemed to be so by long dead forefathers. How are these children expected to come to their own conclusions?

Learning about religions is a very worthwhile experience. Being made to devote huge amounts of time to the study of one particular religion at the expense of childhood, is just not right (in my opinion.)

I do not feel however, that 'Religious Studies' should be omitted completely from the curriculum, it would actually be detrimental to children's education. It is well documented that ignorance breeds suspicion, suspicion breeds fear and fear breeds hate. How sad it would be if this slippery slope began at school?

To conclude


I strongly feel that religious education should be taught in Primary schools so as to create a universal understanding rather than fear of our diverse society. It could actually bring communities together and make young people less susceptible to propaganda and hate crime.

Just a thought..

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Comments 14 comments

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

That's a nice and very fair exposition. I take a slightly different view. I would be very keen to see Ethics taught in primary schools in a wholly secular context, to make it clear that ethical behaviour does not require a supernatural source. I agree that to understand society and also literature, we need an understanding of religious history, and in a multicultural society that widens to cover all the major world religions. However, the Bible and the Quran both contain some truly dreadful passages which are not even suitable for adults, never mind children. To bowdlerise these books as if they were all sweetness and light falls short of honesty. It's an interesting area, but on balance, I'd prefer such books were available in school libraries but not used in class. I think you'll get lots of comments here :)


HattieMattieMae profile image

HattieMattieMae 5 years ago from Limburg, Netherlands

I think it should, as a child this laid the foundation for understanding some important values, morals, and faith to make it through obstacles in life. :)


HattieMattieMae profile image

HattieMattieMae 5 years ago from Limburg, Netherlands

In studies of Emotional and social intelligence they are proving spiritual intelligence builds stronger leaders and even on the job! :)


jainismus profile image

jainismus 5 years ago from Pune, India

I think we should not teach a specific religion, but comparative study of all major religions. Further, we must teach the students about Atheism, rational thinking, free thinking and reasoning


Will Apse profile image

Will Apse 5 years ago

I remember in my RE classes we had so many different kinds of teacher.

The least patient was a young Roman Catholic priest who treated us as if we were all potential savages and bored us to death reading out loud about the lives of the saints.

We also had a science teacher who was determined to explain away all the miracles in rationalist terms.

I don't think our RE was very well thought out...

Maybe it is better that way. It certainly did not constitute indoctrination.


Talisker profile image

Talisker 5 years ago from UK Author

Paraglider. I agree that there is some real horror within these holy texts, however there is in world history too. Would that mean omitting history from the curriculum too? Having said that, it would not do primary aged children any good to be exposed to such horrors so early on in their lives. Just as History gleans over the more horrible parts in the primary curriculum, I would expect that RE would follow the same path. Also I feel strongly that religion offers support and guidance to majority of believers. It can also help them to make informed choices about how to lead their lives (in a positive way) Children should be taught about the ideals which shape each religion as a matter of interest.

I feel then, that if religion was omitted entirely, it would provoke further suspicion.

By the way..I have written this with Cbeebies blaring in my ears, so apologies if I'm repeating myself.


Talisker profile image

Talisker 5 years ago from UK Author

Hattie Mattie Mae. Thank you for your comment. I agree with you that religion really shapes many people (perhaps)for the better, offereing them guidance where they are lost. I also think that the strands that run through many of the religions would make the world a better place if everyone followed them, having said that, these same books could (and do) promote bloodshed and fear.

Jainismus. Thank you, yes true, I think children should be taught these areas too, but the border becomes fuzzy as 'religious education' suggests tackling religion rather than belief... There are people that believe in tarrot cards and mediums, but I think we would have to draw the line somewhere, for the sake of primary teachers sanity!! Although, you've got me thinking about atheism... Maybe that would be included.


Talisker profile image

Talisker 5 years ago from UK Author

Will apse, yes humans are funny creatures, however they label themselves!


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

Thank you for publishing this outstanding piece of work. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this controversial subject. Though I am quite familiar with American schools I don't know much about education in Great Britain. But I honor teachers everywhere as those engaged in one of the most noble and needful professions of all. Welcome to the HubPages Community!


Talisker profile image

Talisker 5 years ago from UK Author

James, many thanks for your kind words! Yes it's a complex issue which cannot be swept under the carpet. Teaching is very rewarding profession although it's hard work! Thanks again :-)


emichael profile image

emichael 5 years ago from New Orleans

Very logical, and well thought out. Teaching children about what others believe is a vital component of their upbringing. To not do so makes it almost inevitable that they will not only feel what they believe is better than what others believe, but consequently that they, as individuals, are better than those who believe differently. It's one thing to come to the belief that your religion is true while another is false. It is another thing to believe that you, as a person, are worth more because of it. And, you are right, a more well rounded, comprehensive religious education would go far to protect against that kind of thinking.


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 5 years ago from The English Midlands

Hi Talisker :)

I agree with you. Teaching children about the various religions is very useful and worthwhile ~ but it should never be a matter of indoctrination.

As an agnostic, I had no problem teaching RE lessons in a non-faith state school, but I did have some misgivings, when I was working in a faith state school.


Talisker profile image

Talisker 5 years ago from UK Author

Hi emichael. Thank you for taking the time to read my hub and for your comments. Yes (to use a cliché)knowledge is power Children are also very suseptible to indoctrination because of their innocence.

The problems lies in the fact that very often religion is not practiced quietly for personal reasons, rather it is used for political or social agendas, the result can be a frightening sweep of brainwashing. IF however children are aware that such things can go on in the name of religion, then at least they can realise it and not taint 'religion' with the brush of extremism or corruption. They are bodies of their own.


Talisker profile image

Talisker 5 years ago from UK Author

Hi Trish-M. Yes certainly when you're in the school setting, you realise the power you have to shape little people's minds. Many kids love their teachers and idolise them, therefore if they tell them something as 'truth' it will most certainly be taken as so.

Many thanks for you comments. I look forward into reading your hubs, I think we share similar views!

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