So – why am an RE teacher? In recent days I’ve asked myself this as I’ve seen headlines like this appearing in the national press, combined with RE not being included in the EBacc, which will become the standard ‘kite mark’ qualification for pupils from 2015 onwards.
It’s dispiriting at times, especially when you’re working with pupils who often ask why they have to study the subject, or even parents occasionally challenging the usefulness of RE on parents evening. You wonder why you bother – why spend the hours of prep – or the year training – to be part of a subject that some would have us believe is dying, and at worst utterly irrelevant to society today.
I guess my answer is to share with people the conversations we have in RE – about who we are, what makes us ‘human’, what helps us to understand what is right or wrong. My instinct (perhaps wrongly so) is that we provide a unique space in a frenetically busy timetable for pupils to ask huge questions about life, death, purpose, meaning. We complement subjects which help pupils to understand the nuts and bolts of what we are and why we are.
In a place like Devon we provide a vital space for pupils to explore the world ‘out there’, when they may have little contact with different cultures or belief systems. Without this, it’s easy to have a negative mindset about anyone or anything ‘different’.
We live in a world that is still defined by what we believe – somewhere in the region of 90% of people across our world claim adherence to some kind of belief system. Even atheism is a belief system – so we need to study why we believe what we believe. We need to learn from each other so that we can defeat fundamentalism and ‘phobia’ wherever we find it. We open people’s horizons, not close them down. We learn about belief because, basically, we all have something within us that needs to believe in something. When we understand that, we understand ourselves and each other. That’s worth something, isn’t it?
Perhaps it’s the name? Religious Education makes you think that we spend our time indoctrinating pupils into some form of religion – mainly Christianity. That we present a glossy understanding of the religions we study, never really exploring some of the problems religion creates. I for one would prefer it if we focused on something like philosophy and ethics, whilst retaining the importance of studying religions for how they have answered the biggest questions.
Whatever we call it, RE has a place in our classrooms. Not just because I need a job, but because pupils need to explore the world in which they’re growing up and trying to make sense of who they are. I think we provide many of the tools that will help them to do this successfully. We help pupils be lifelong learners by having an open mind to whatever they encounter.
If you’re a doubter – I invite you to come to my classroom for a day…
Tomorrow we explore our response to asylum seekers and immigrant workers, we try to define what makes us human, we think about wealth and poverty. That’s a day well spent, I think.