For God’s Sake by Trevor Plumbly
My schooling was pretty basic really: the three Rs, with a bit of Geography and History chucked in to break things up, took care of the basics. But there were, of course, oddities: PE for example seemed to be a futile attempt to transform a mob of unwashed and undernourished slum kids into pre-teen Greek Gods, but the real zinger was Religious Instruction; what this hour long yawn was supposed to achieve is still beyond me, it was quite clear to me at an early age that there was no way Jesus was going to pick me for the sunbeam squad. We were regaled by stories of God’s mercy and the infinite love of his only Son; the kicker was if we didn’t pay due attention to all the wondrous works, we were caned by the bloke sharing all this good stuff with us. As a result, I’ve always been a bit wary of the amount of religion we should put into young minds. I’m fine with religion based schools where parents and pupils know what they’re signing up to, but let’s keep religion out of general schooling. I am not atheist, agnostic, or anything really; to be honest, I believe in the principle of a God but I’m just not sure which particular one to lean on. I go to church occasionally but it wouldn’t bother me much if it were a cathedral, mosque or synagogue, and I’d like to feel that kids today could be allowed to have the same freedom of thought.
Educate or Instruct?
Recently, in NZ, several parents took exception to religious education classes at a school, and rightly so; surely spiritual education for young children should be a family matter based on their own values and beliefs rather than instructed by someone committed to their own religious path. Sadly, holy lunacy is a growth industry: recently the Melbourne Age reported that young students were given ‘Biblezines’ as graduation gifts. These little gems contained all sorts of sexual taboos from not wearing tight jeans to the importance of wearing a bra and strenuously avoiding any form of homosexual feelings. Stuff more suited to the bible belt of the USA than Australia. The UK fares no better, with educationalists concerned that the observance of Christian festivals could offend children of other faiths – this sort of stupidity takes us back to the 19th century missionary zealots. If we intend to allow these nutters unrestrained access to our children’s minds, perhaps studies of Torquemada, Matthew Hopkins and Adolph Hitler should be introduced to balance the scales a bit. But why not bar all forms of religious teachings from the general curriculum and put religion back where it belongs: in the churches? State schools obviously need to be reminded that their purpose is to educate not indoctrinate.
Logically, teaching children the difference between right and wrong is an essential part of the education process, but introducing religious concepts into that process at an early age is tantamount to brainwashing. It draws lines and distinctions in minds too young and undeveloped to cope with them properly, or question their validity. The theory of hell is a bit beyond the grasp of most adults, so planting it into young minds turns it into nothing more than an emotional whip. Looking back, I remember our school day always started with a prayer and I guess some still do, though how they find one that fits today’s cross section of cultures and beliefs is a bit beyond me. Surely a minute’s silence would make more sense: those that are so minded could reflect on their own particular God, while others could muse on sport, homework or even the opposite sex. I reckon that that would be a damn sight healthier and more productive than slotting kids into religiously structured pigeon holes.