Evan Harris – On Teaching RE in schools

There is a great article in todays Guardian by Evan Harris (Previously a Liberal MP, secularist, and is very science friendly)…

Is science teaching undermined by religious instruction in faith schools?

The evolution-creationism debate in schools must be about religious education lessons not just science lessons. This is my blueprint for better RE

From time to time there are concerns raised that some state-funded religious schools teach creationism, or intelligent design, in their science lessons.

The last Labour government and the Conservatives in opposition have always denied this is a problem and have always said that they will not stand for the teaching of creationism in science lessons. Ministers always say that creationism can’t be taught in science lessons

Whenever this issue cropped up in parliament I was always concerned that the debate was missing the point. It is no good teaching about evolution (which is a scientific fact) in a science lesson at 9am then at 10am, in a religious education lesson, instructing pupils not to believe it.

The whole problem with RE lessons is not that they exist but that they amount to religious instruction. There is no basis for allowing state-funded schools to indoctrinate their pupils, even if that is what their parents want. They can provide this in optional after-school (or lunchtime) classes or clubs. They could even have something on a Sunday where children are taught to be believers. They could call it Sunday School!

The recognition that RE lessons are proselytising is reflected in the right that parents have to withdraw their children from these lessons. In contrast, they can’t withdraw their children from biology lessons even if they have profound religious objections to their being taught about sexual reproduction or evolution – these subjects are recognised as non-proselytising.

Secularists like me believe that RE is a valid subject for study in the curriculum but should be about what different religions (and other world views like humanism) believe; it should not be about what ought to be believed. So Catholic schools should be allowed to use RE lessons to teach that the Catholic church opposes contraception and believes that homosexuality is a sin, but not that the children ought to believe those things. The lessons should set out contrasting views on that subject.

Guardian : Read rest of article here …

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