The problem with teaching RE; it’s about opinions


There are actually many problems. However this short blog will focus on the nature of RE and the unique issue it has; it’s about opinions.

I see it as our job to teach these opinions, with critique, in a neutral, balanced style* as possible.

Therein lies a problem, can a teacher teach something neutrally? And indeed should they?

If I follow religion or a set of beliefs will these not come through in how I teach, what I focus on and the language I use? Should we teach a balanced view of racism and homophobia ?

I personally don’t tell students (or colleagues in school or elsewhere) about my faith. I want them to see me as a teacher, not a Muslim teacher or a Buddhist teacher. Sometimes my opinions come through. It’s human nature. Last week I commented on the kind Mr Gove sending us all a huge King James Bible. The students were probably clear about my thoughts on this. I really do try to avoid it and generally refuse if they ask me an opinion on something that isn’t illegal or could confuse them.

However this blog isn’t about telling students about your faith (another blog in that) but how RE is unique in that people’s own faith can seriously affect how it’s taught. I’m worried about that. On RE forums I’ve seen a discussion on an issue start with critique and then people with a faith become angry and upset that people may have critiqued something they believe as truth. If they’re doing this on an RE forum (not a faith forum) then what are they saying to the children they teach? Are they allowing them that freedom of critique even if they don’t agree? I fear not. And therein lies a huge danger.

I think we should allow students to explore all opinions and we should move away from presenting them with opinions, to them thinking of the variety of opinions there may be and doing independent research to find opinions they haven’t considered. If we give them the skills to come to their own balanced judgment then we’ve done our job. Giving them the opinions and/or telling them what to believe/is right or wrong, is problematical.

This leads on to the controversial issues. If we teach racism from a neutral perspective are we condoning it? In my lessons I’m developing the art of critique and this includes logic of reasoning, credibility & reliability. Students need to work out the illogical reasoning & flaws of racism. If I just said to them were not going to look at the views from the perspective of a racist I’m limiting their ability to skilfully assess reasoning. I’m not there to tell them, I’m there to help them to work it out. This is why I have issues with some faith schools. Some are limiting the students’ ability to do this and therefore are not giving their students the opportunity for further study (again, another blog).

I think the power of RE comes to developing the skills needed to study religions to come to insightful, logical, fully reasoned balanced arguments, not telling them ‘right’ from ‘wrong’**. In my opinion that is confessional RE or Religious Instruction which for the majority of people was ditched in at least 1988.

RE really does have its own issues that other subjects don’t.

* when I refer to ‘neutral’ in this blog I mean looking at both/all sides of an argument rather than presenting only one side.

**I do however make British law very clear to them


3 thoughts on “The problem with teaching RE; it’s about opinions

  1. You highlight some of the issues I raised in my post here I think we do have a clear position to maintain when it comes to British law, e.g. racism, as this is a criminal offence, and we have a professional responsibility to support the law. A critical discussion about religion isn’t against the law, as long as it doesn’t incite hate. Think we need to be very careful with the language we use with students when we want them exposed to different perspectives.

  2. I find it really interesting that you decide against sharing your religious views. It had been one of the most beneficial things I’ve done with my students. Horses for courses- naturally- but it had never occurred to me not to share, if they ask. The assumption they make is that a white RS teacher is obviously a Christian, discussing the idea of agnosticism with them has been a driving force in encouraging those in my class to hear all views before deciding/sticking to on their own. They know I have no interest in changing their mind, all I hope for is a valid reason. This is where my point (hopefully) makes it back to the content of your post. I will teach what I consider to be a balanced POV on all issues, including prejudice and discrimination. This means reminding students that I have no power over who they like and who they don’t but that they should at least be able to give themselves a good reason for it. Once we’ve looked at how scientifically the same we all are and the way that all religions teach equality, they generally accept that racism is an illogical concept if they are to follow any kind of legal (inc British values) or religious moral code.

    Enjoying catching up on your blogs! New to this!

  3. Pingback: Can the religious teach religion and should we tell? | Open Door Teaching

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