Should Religious Education be taught to primary aged children?
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.
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.
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?
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..