Regarding Religion Education

I was discussing with my JBQ after our Sunday lunch about the seperation of Church and State. This exists on most western countries but it’s not as a clear cut in Greece. On Greek public schools you have 3 hours per week learning about Orthodoxy for almost 12 years of public schooling. I personally find this terrible, unbalanced and useless (plus it’s stealing time from more important topics that could be taught, e.g. computer programming).

From all these 12 years, only 1 year (towards the end of high school) Greek teenagers are learning about other religions. To give you an idea, there are about 2-3 pages about Islam, another 2-3 pages about Budhism etc. Even if this sounds like a terrible non-balanced education for Greek kids, it is better than the non-existant religious education on other countries. From all my years on the Greek schools studying about “theology”, that year where we very scarcely were educated about other religions is the only one that actually stuck with me and that I found interesting.

So I thought that it would be nice if western public schools were having 1 hour per week to study religions of the world, just for “general knowledge” purposes.

JBQ argues that it’s not legally possible though to:
a. Put together a few pages per the most followed religions in a book (e.g. 10 of them) without breaking the law, because according to the law all religions are equal so you can’t just study only a few, even if these are the most followed religions.
b. You might have to team together all kinds of Christian churches under the same chapter and that might not acceptably by some organizations. If you do that then Jews, Christians and Muslims must be under the exact same chapter too because they fundamentally believe in the same God. This can create lots of problems with religious organizations because nothing is clear cut.

So yes, there are problems putting together such a book that could be taught in a public school. But on the other hand, we both recognize the need that kids must learn (from a 10,000 ft point of view) about other religions and cursory study them. Be careful, we are not talking about learning about these religions in order to endorse them, but because this is a very good way about learning about PEOPLE of the world and why they do the the things they do or why do they behave the way they do or why they wear the clothes they wear. Learning about their beliefs is about learning about people and this is very good for general knowledge and social acceptance.

But religions are still such a taboo that it’s very difficult to objectively write or teach about them. A shame really.

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Thom Holwerda wrote on October 22nd, 2006 at 10:48 AM PST:

In the Netherlands, we have arranged in our constitution something called “the freedom of education”, which essentially means that anyone is allowed to start a school, and that you are allowed to send your kids to a school you choose (instead of i.e. the state). This was a major point in Dutch politics in the 19th/early 20th century (together with voting rights for women); it’s referred to as the “school battle”. The battle got resolved when “public schools” (schools with no religious foundations) were created equal in the constitution to “special schools” (schools based on religion). The former was forbidden by law before this equalisation.

In any case, this now means that in The Netherlands you have various different types of schools; ones that are not religious, ones that are Catholic, ones that are Reformed (Protestant), and yes, today, even ones that are Islam.

Important to know in this respect is that dutch society was heavily “columnised” until roughly the 70s, when the columns started to come down. Columnification means that each religion/political ideaology had its own political party, newspaper, broadcasting company (TV and radio), sports clubs, you name it. You had a Protestant column, a Catholic one, a Liberal one, and a socialist one. The leaders of each column (party leaders) cooperated on the highest level (the roof of the temple supported by the columns, so to speak) in order to run the country. Voting results were predictable, since you could simply check how many people were in each column (simply put).

When TV came, decolumnification began, because it allowed people to see members of the other columns, and noticed they weren’t all bad they were made out to be.

However, and here finally comes my point, religious education still exists in the Netherlands, albeit not as thorough anymore as it used to be. I have been to religious primary schools, yet we were never taught from/about the bible, neither did we pray or whatever, and today, you’d be hard-pressed to find any differences between religious and non-religious schools.

My high school was utterly and completely non-religious; Latin/Greek schools are NEVER religious over here. Yet, I have been taught the basics and stories surrounding ALL major religions on that school. I have been taught the entire history of Islam, Catholicism, the various variants of Protestantism, Judeism, Buddhism, Confusianism, and Hinduism. And of course, being a Latin/Greek school, I learned a lot about the Roman/Greek religious ideas well.

My point (sorry for the long history lesson) is that there is really no need for a special religious class. I got taught all those things during History, Latin, and Greek classes, even on a almost anti-religious school.


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Eugenia wrote on October 22nd, 2006 at 10:58 AM PST:

While you can study these religions in a History lesson, it would only be a small part of a year’s History lessons and it will NOT study the social implications or how the religions changed or didn’t through the years. There is not enough time to learn important things about the 10 most popular religions in a school year in a history class which is not really very much into it. IMO, there is a need for a separate class, about 1 hour per week, for 1 school year.


Thom Holwerda wrote on October 22nd, 2006 at 11:18 AM PST:

and it will NOT study the social implications or how the religions changed or didn’t through the years

Well, it actually did in my school. We studied an entire religion for a few months, from the early beginnings, right up to today. Including implications, as you call them.

Remember, we had about 4-6hrs of History class each week. A lot more than the 1 hour you think would suffice.


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Eugenia wrote on October 22nd, 2006 at 11:36 AM PST:

You said “an entire religion”. I am talking about the 10 most followed religions, not about 1 or 2 religions. A few pages for each.


Thom Holwerda wrote on October 22nd, 2006 at 11:46 AM PST:

No, I said: I have been taught the basics and stories surrounding ALL major religions on that school. I have been taught the entire history of Islam, Catholicism, the various variants of Protestantism, Judeism, Buddhism, Confusianism, and Hinduism. And of course, being a Latin/Greek school, I learned a lot about the Roman/Greek religious ideas well.

Not just one, but ALL of them.


memson wrote on October 23rd, 2006 at 1:01 AM PST:

Secondary School… i.e. High School in US parlance. However in Junior and Infant school we were exposed to other religious belief systems.

You can’t really avoid it these days. We have a high number of Muslim, Hindu, Sikh (etc) children. We can’t ignore their religions. In fact, kids will have been celebtaing Divali last week in a lot of schools. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divali


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Eugenia wrote on October 23rd, 2006 at 5:01 AM PST:

Mike, in France this would never happen…


mikesum32 wrote on October 23rd, 2006 at 8:19 AM PST:

You mean to say you can’t be taught about religion ?

We just went for one day to those places, but had no religous classes to speak of.

Except chorus, but that was an accident. :-)


memson wrote on October 23rd, 2006 at 11:20 AM PST:

In the UK we have a subject called “Religious Studies”, aka RE. In RE we learn EXACTLY what Eugenia wishes for the world to learn. We study all of the worlds major religions in detail, and a lot of the minor ones (e.g. Jains of India.. fascinating people..) We learn all aspects of the religion. Customs, “dogmas”, history et al.

We have this lesson for (in my case) 2 hours a week for 2 years (compulsary) and then it is an optional subject that has a qualification at the end of 2 years (GCSE.)


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Eugenia wrote on October 23rd, 2006 at 11:25 AM PST:

Memson, is this university, college or high-school? I personally want this subject to be taught at public high-schools in order to have an impact.


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Eugenia wrote on October 23rd, 2006 at 12:07 PM PST:

I just don’t know if you actually learned anything about the religions themselves and their dogmas and beliefs rather than just their history.


Thom Holwerda wrote on October 23rd, 2006 at 12:12 PM PST:

Well, when I say I do, I assume you believe me. I learned a lot more about all those religions than just “a few pages for each”. I learned their core values and beliefs, history, teachings, important figures, you name it.


mikesum32 wrote on October 23rd, 2006 at 12:25 PM PST:

I’m pretty sure there is no problem with teaching about religous beliefs.

“This is what Jesus said,” and “this is what Christians believe,” is different than, “Let’s all pray to Jesus.”

In my junior high school, we went to visit an Islamic center, and went to see the Hare Krishna temple at Moundsville.


memson wrote on October 24th, 2006 at 4:12 AM PST:

The problem witht he US and religion is that too many people believe that Christianity is the only option. The impression always portrayed – often by the US itself – is that a lot of people will not believe anything not contained within the Bible is serious and important enough to be classed as a valid religious belief. This is why much of the conflict currently happening in the Middle East escalates from a simple ousting of a nasty regime into an all out crusade. Blair is as to blame as Bush on this one. Most people in the UK would rather have not been dragged into the fold.

l3v1 makes me angry in a way. Comments like this are not helpful. Kids need the full picture, not snippets. The snippets they currently gain in the US media and US school system are some of the main reasons as to why the biggotry and closed mindedness prevails. The items he/she listed were seemingly all biblical. Though many of the events could be taught from a Jewish/Muslim perspective (in fact, the Egypt ref I assume was Moses related.. which is completely a Jewish story and has little to do with Christians, except that they would not exist without Moses.)

Thank goodness some educational systems actually try to educate our children!


l3v1 wrote on October 24th, 2006 at 10:04 AM PST:

I don’t think putting together a book would be the problem. It would be hard work to put together a list of _all_ existing and died out religions, but it would not be impossible. The problems come when you try to formulate the text of the book. It would be totally impossible to describe these religions in such a way that it could suit everyone. There would be some people who would say their religion was treated unequally, either by words, or by text length differences, etc. In this world, there is no such thing as real objectivity. No way. There will be someone, always, who will think otherwise.

This could only be done if there were some concensus in doing this, and every religion’s leaders could agree on a few select people to put that book together. Can you imagine they agreeing ? I can’t. Especially in the US where everybody thinks (s)he’s more equal than the rest of the bunch.

When I was in school, we had 1 hour/week, when priests/etc. from different religions came to the school and we went to the lesson kept by the man/woman in our own religion (5-6 of them) – it was not that strict though, you could go to another one, sometimes I did, but this wasn’t common. We liked it this way, there were never problems, not among the children, not among the parents, not anywhere.

As I know of, we all turned out all right, no terrorists among us, no religion switchers among us, some mixed religion marriages, no related problems that I know of.

Sometimes problems become problems only when dumb people have too high concentration in one area. Go figure.


l3v1 wrote on October 24th, 2006 at 10:12 AM PST:

Regarding teaching about religions in history lessons…

During my school years religious issues were only talked about when these issues were needed in the context of the respective history topic. I remember, because I used to like history lessons, we had great history teachers all along. Me, personally, wouldn’t like my children to be taught more than that during history lessons. But I wouldn’t mind a separate History of religions lesson of something similar, every now and then. I think these topics need to be separated, especially for evading possible unwanted consequences. Mixing religious issues with … anything at all is not a good way, I think. These days, I would think the only walkable path would be not teaching religious topics in non-religious schools at all (that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be talked about then the specific topic requires it, e.g. Galilei, crusades, Egypt, and so on).


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