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How NOT to teach RE - rant

Discussion in 'Religious Education' started by durgamata, May 29, 2011.

  1. durgamata

    durgamata Occasional commenter

    I think it is impossible to teach from a totally 'neutral' position - but the important thing is to make it clear that you have a view on this and then present all the evidence for any particular topic in as broad a way as possible.

    I agree with you that this teacher was not being professional in giving such a biassed account - but in my view she just needed to be frank with the class and say, 'This is what I think and why' THEN, THE IMPORTANT THING IS, SHE NEEDED TO GO ON TO PRESENT ALL THE STRONG ARGUMENTS AND EVIDENCE FROM THE SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY TO BALANCE THAT.

    I also hate to hear Atheist bigots spout on in a similar way - and there are RE teachers who are atheist exclusivists with just as poisonous prejudices. I have said before, here, how in my first teaching observation I was in a class which was studying the account of 'The Last Days' of Jesus. The class was divided into groups which had to role-play a court of law in which they debated the Resurrection. The exercise was engaging and challenging. I have since done the same kind of lesson. There is nothing wrong with that approach. But the different options which the students had to debate did not include as a possibility that the resurrection actually occurred.

    I have seen other examples of narrow minded prejudiced teaching - but again only from those who are unable to take the spiritual side of religion seriously. (One Catholic HOD required me to teach only selected miracles, for example, and to give the 'explanation' along with them - such as the feeding of the 5000 means that everyone was inspired to share the food that they had brought.

    I guess that until we have decent funding with all school RE departments staffed by specialist teachers, good RE Advisers on hand and quality CPD, this kind of thing will happen - but hopefully it is quite rare. I have certainly never come across it in my own career.
  2. durgamata

    durgamata Occasional commenter

    Most RE teacher Christians and people of faith who I have met are so aware of the 'political correctness' aspect that they fall over backwards in trying to present a fair and balanced argument which includes all perspectives - and they often tend to keep their heads down when it comes to their own beliefs. It is a tricky issue because it is natural for someone who had a strong faith to feel it is right and want to explain why they hold this belief - but the main thing to focus on is breadth of argument and clear evidence (of which there is abundant evidence for evolution and the Big Bang.

    I would want to talk to that teacher about this evidence. Perhaps she is not aware of it. Many Christians have no problem at all with these scientific revelations and simply view science as exploring the mechanism that God used. In my view science is like 'an extra gospel' as if God did create the world, then the Creation itself, which science studies, is a window into a deeper understanding of God.

    It is important that we ensure our students are aware that there is no proof either for the existence of God or for the non-existence of God. You can neither prove that God exists or does not exist. And the proof that many Theists use is their own inner spiritual experience, the living relationship which they have developed through many years of worship, prayer, meditation, reading and reflection etc. I wonder if you can share this thread with the teacher who annoyed you so much. Perhaps it will help her to teach in a more balanced way in future.
  3. durgamata

    durgamata Occasional commenter

    Thanks for using the word biased. I think that is better than the word bigoted which the OP used. I looked up bigot and it says -
    late 16th century (denoting a superstitious religious hypocrite): from French, of unknown origin

    a superstitious hypocrite or

    One who is strongly partial to one's own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ.

    I don't think that the teacher in question was being hypocritical or superstitious - and while she was certainly 'showing strong partiality to her own religious beliefs' I don't know that she was actually showing intolerance of any who held a different belief.

    I know many people take your approach -

    I think that this approach is intended to offer a 'neutral' perspective. I appreciate the aims and sincerity - and this is obviously much better than being biased, but I think it can be unwise because there is no such thing as a neutral perspective. Because our subject is one which requires our students to share their views and develop a degree of openness and sincerity, I feel it is important that we are open and honest with them about our own views. This doesn't mean 'baring all' or suggesting that our views are the right ones. Just letting them know, if they ask (and they usually do) whether we actually believe in God or practise a religion - and why we think Religious Education is so important and interesting that we have chosen to specialise in that subject. That just gives our teaching a context. And as we are able to present the information about the different religions in an honest way which is professional and free from bias, we teach them to do the same in their arguments - to be able to explain what other people believe and why - and at the same time to be clear about what they believe and why, too.

    I rarely speak about my own views or experiences partly because they are not mainstream and they are very private. But when the subject of life after death comes up, if I know a class well, I do tell them my own ghost story. It is very sweet. I was staying with a friend after her husband's funeral and he came that evening. We were sitting in her lounge, I was reading but she had fallen asleep, having not slept since his fatal heart-attack several days earlier. Suddenly there was a change in the room - which was as strong as if the air had been sucked out and the room filled with ice. I was terrified and just closed my eyes, folded my hands and prayed. Then she said, 'Can you see him?' She was so excited. But I was too scared to open my eyes. Later, when the room had returned to its normal 'temperature' and the frightening sensation had faded and gone, I did open my eyes. All was as normal except that my friend was so overjoyed. She said that he had just been standing there, large as life, with a huge smile. He had been an atheist and scoffed at our spiritual life (my friend is a student of the same spiritual teacher as I am and we both practise meditation.) She said that he had spoken to her and said, 'If I knew then what I know now, I would never have worried about anything.' I had not heard him say this - but then the message was not for my ears.

    Next morning we were in the kitchen preparing breakfast when her son Andrew (aged 15) came rushing downstaris. He burst into the kitchen saying, 'Mum, Mum, I just saw Dad in the bathroom.' Now if we had not had the encounter the previous evening (when our children were fast asleep in bed) we might have laughed at Andrew. But as it was she just said, brightly, 'Oh did you, love? I saw him last night. Did he say anything to you?'

    Andrew said that he had been in the bathroom, trying out his dad's shaver. He was on his own but suddenly he heard his dad say, 'I didn't know you were shaving yet, son.' He jumped round and there was his father, standing behind him in the bathroom. He stammered out something to the effect that he wasn't actually shaving, just trying it out. And his father said, 'I'm glad you are growing up now. Look after your mother.' and disappeared.

    So while I appreciate that many people don't believe in ghosts - and a lot of people think that when we die that's it, the end, and all we are is a physical body with a mind, both of which disintegrate when we die - I personally believe that we are more than that and death is not the end.

    The fact that I am prepared to share a story like that makes it acceptable for others to share their stories and experiences. I sometimes set a research homework with a questionnaire relating to views on life after death. Questions might include - 'What is your view on life after death?' 'What do you think happens when we die?' Explain why you hold this view, 'Do you believe in ghosts' and Explain why you hold this view.

    I don't think it is harmful to state our views or share our experiences - assuming we have a good relationship with the students. I think the harm comes when we are subtly putting pressure on our students to accept a particular view or to question a particular belief or to 'put down' a particular argument. We are not in the conversion business. We are in the 'open up the mind and think more deeply' business. And develop the capacity to appreciate different perspectives or opinions, rather than criticise them.

    I am going on a bit and it is very tangential, but that's what comes of looking in on the forum in the night, after a long day - but I'm travelling again tomorrow and may not get to see it then. Anyway I think that there is a real danger in trying to be too impartial. I think that the students respect our honesty. And if we can also teach them to be aware of prejudice or bias and on their guard against it, and to respect each other and never put each other down then I think we are doing a good job.
  4. ramaduds

    ramaduds New commenter

    Racism is never taught objectively...and rightly so! Although reasons behind racism are tackled, I would hope all RE teachers support the view that racism is wrong. However, I have witnessed lessons whereby sexism and homophobia are dealt with in the same objective manner as lets say abortion and euthanasia. Yes, you should explain why some Christians (Hindus/Muslims etc..) appear sexist or homophobic, why other's aren't and perhaps why some are self-confessed bigots, but you shouldn't (In my opinion) allow an unbiased discussion on whether you think homophobia or sexism is right or wrong - unless the aim is to rid prejudice! You'd never do it with prejudice towards the Black community so why the gay community?
  5. durgamata

    durgamata Occasional commenter

    I assume you mean anti-racism or an understanding of racism - are tackled. And I agree that nobody should be in a position of teaching RE unless they do genuinely respect everyone and regard racism as wrong.
    I can't imagine anyone teaching racism in our country, in RE or any other lesson, objectively or in any other way.

    Can you explain a bit more clearly what you mean when you say -

    It is important to explain

    and that requires an understanding of the different ways in which fundamentalist and liberal Christians approach and interpret the Bible. If the books are written by people of their times, then they reflect the world view and beliefs of that time. As intimate human relationships were understood as a means to procreation and that could only happen in heterosexual relationships then it is understandable that there was prejudice against same sex relationships - at that time. But our world-view today is not the same.

    One factor influencing our world view is a planet which is heavily overpopulated. So if a couple choose not to procreate, they are actually acting in a way which benefits the environment and supports a more sustainable future for our species.

    Another is the development of genetics. We can now recognise that our sexuality is, to some extent, determined by our genetics - so homophobia is just as unacceptable as racism. It is judging and condemning someone for being who they are, not for a choice that they make.

    Homophobia is such a big problem in many schools - and so deep seated in our society (to say nothing of its strength in other countries) that it is helpful to use a selection of readings from different sources when exploring this issue - many of the students in our classes, while being strongly anti-racist, can be quite strongly homophobic. I don't think it is helpful to try to change this attitude by saying overtly, 'Homophobia is wrong.' But if you introduce a range of readings then they make our young people think things through themselves and unconsciously start to question their own, possibly long-held homophobic opinions.

    Does that make sense?
  6. durgamata

    durgamata Occasional commenter

    I think I get your argument now. And that is - you are suggesting that we don't just open up a new topic such as 'is homophobia wrong?' 'Is sexism wrong?' and then allow general discussion on that topic.

    I agree with you that there is such a widespread prejudice in our society and among the students we teach that all we are likely to do is to give them a nice platform to air their prejudices. And that can make it harder for them to take seriously or think about any other perspective. Having made their views public and reinforced them by airing them in such a discussion, they are likely to be more closed towards other perspectives.

    That is why I prefer to introduce such a topic by giving a class a range of readings to study and digest. There may be some good videos which explore homophobia and racism too. Then, if we are to have some discussion, it will be after learning about several different perspectives and case studies.

    When looking at the question of the Death Penalty I have used the film 'Let Him Have It' which covers the story of Derek Bentley who was hanged in 1953. Here is what Wiki says about that film -

    Let Him Have It is a 1991 British film, which was based on the true story of the case against Derek Bentley, who was hanged for murder under controversial circumstances on 28 January 1953. While Bentley did not directly play a role in the murder of PC Sidney Miles, he received the greater punishment than the gunman (who was below the age of 18)....

    The title of the film is taken from Bentley's alleged cry of "Let him have it, Chris!" shortly before Christopher Craig shot and wounded the first policeman on the scene. Crown prosecutors suggested that Bentley meant "Go ahead and shoot him," whilst Frank Cassells for the defence argued that he meant "Give him the gun" (and thus, surrender).
    Craig was sentenced to gaol "at Her Majesty's pleasure", and spent ten years there. He has been a law abiding citizen ever since.

    Derek Bentley's father bought an expensive bottle of wine in 1958 to celebrate their victory should Derek be proved innocent. However, Bentley's parents never got to drink it. His father William Bentley died on 12 July 1974 and his mother died on 10 October 1976.

    The film's end titles state that Bentley's sister Iris was still fighting for his pardon, however seven years after the film was made and after numerous unsuccessful campaigns to get Derek Bentley a full pardon, his conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal on 30 July 1998. However, Bentley's sister had also died by this point.

    Derek Bentley was mentally *** and epileptic. He idolised Christopher Craig who was a confident, cheeky lad whose family were involved in a lot of petty crime.

    There is a lot in this case - and brought out vividly in the film - which our students can think about and discuss in a strong and insightful way. Have any other teachers favourite resources for exploring racism, sexism, homophobia etc that help our students engage with them in a deep and thoughtful way?
  7. durgamata

    durgamata Occasional commenter

    Just spent a bit of time trying to trace some articles and films I have used on homophobia issues - not found much so far but I know I attended a lecture by someone from the organisation 'Courage' which was very inspiring - and articles from their website are on

    I think the lecture was by Roy Clements and info on him is on http://www.courage.org.uk/articles/articles.asp?CID=4.
  8. durgamata

    durgamata Occasional commenter

    Just uploaded one article which you may find useful. Do suggest others - films, articles, readings etc relating to homophobia or any of the other issues we explore which can be difficult to resource.
  9. ramaduds

    ramaduds New commenter

    Clear up a few points:
    • By saying 'teaching racism', i meant in the same sense as 'teaching contraception' - how how to be racist/how to use contraception - but more tackling the topic of racism
    • We teach Christain attitudes towards the role of women (traditional and modern) in a similar way we teach abortion (reasons for and against). I'm not suggesting the 'textbook' definition of traditional view: equal in eyes of God but take on different roles, in reality we all know it's more complicated than this. My point is we shouldn't treat 'arguments for and against...' for ALL ethical issues at that age.
    • With regard to reasons why some Christians/Muslims/Hindus etc... appear sexist/homophobic - I meant in the proper sense, not in the Natural Law, traditional teachings... I meant those who purely act out of hate. I have seen teachers teach (e.g.) Civil Partnerships in a FOR and AGAINST format, with biblical support favouring against, and only generic references used in support such as 'equality' and 'shows love'. Sometimes completely objective teachings can actually transpire into very biased attitudes to pupils. Comments like 'Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve' making pupils laugh are more memorable than a general attitude in support of civil partnerships.
    After re-reading my short rant I appreciate some of what I said was misleading. I encourage topics such as the Death Penalty to be objectively discussed. Sometimes I will play 'Devil's advocate' as long as they are aware that i'm just challenging their points on an academic level. Other times I will get them to work together to come up with lists for and against. The internet/textbooks etc... have many examples of when ethical topics are displayed in lists of 'Reasons For...' and 'Reasons Against...'. This is demonstrating the range of opinions on an ethical issue. I have never seen a textbook of RE include 'Reasons for Racism...' and 'Reasons against Racism...' Often just a few examples of what racism is and then extensive teachings (from whatever religion) against it. It might include a small paragraph on when some memebers of that faith community have shown racism but not 'arguments in favour'. I completely agree that it shouldn't! BUT in comparrison I have seen RE lessons where people feel they need to teach ethical issues objectively so teach 'Is being gay right or wrong' or 'Is their anything wrong with sexism?' This in my opinion allows the students to feel their sexist/homophobic views are as valid as, let's say, their view on why abortion should become illegal.
    My point is, we shouldn't be forced to teach all RE topics objectively - racism, sexism and homophobia are all wrong and illegal. But other's would argue that if euthanasia is wrong and illegal should we teach that is wrong also. We encourage students to think critically of euthanasia but not of racism.

    I feel like i've ranted again, hope i'm at least slightly clearer!
  10. durgamata

    durgamata Occasional commenter

    Hello Ramaduds. That is much clearer, thanks. I agree very much with your approach. I know a lot of great RE teachers who use the 'Devil's Advocate' approach - but my own preference is to find writings from real people, real life, which illustrate the realities which challenge prejudices. I am not comfortable with making 'lists for and against' when we are exploring ethical topics and I don't think it is helpful to use an approach which implies that there is no 'right or wrong' answer. In my view, when we explore ethical or moral issues we need to develop a sympathetic way of understanding why someone might behave in a certain way (such as being sexist, homophobic or racist) but we need to give a lot of evidence why this is not acceptable.

    I have some readings about real people who have tried for years to 'act' as if they are heterosexual, denying their own nature and living a lie - which has inevitably ended up hurting other people as well as themselves. One couple were 'childhood sweethearts' whose families encouraged them to go around together. As the boy grew up he recognised that he had homosexual feelings but thought it was wrong so he fought them. The girl fell in love with him as she grew up and both families encouraged the 'romance.' They were married and had two lovely children, but as time went on the man found it more and more unpleasant sharing a bed with his wife and dreaded her touching him. Naturally she couldn't understand the problem and thought she was at fault.

    Things came to a head when he met another man and the two of them fell in love. He left his wife for this man - and she had a nervous breakdown. Their children were in care for a while. I met her when she was just trying to rebuild her life as a single mother, taking the girls to visit their father (and his new partner) each week, and trying to deal with the fact that the man she still loved deeply and regarded as her lifelong husband was never going to come back. She also had to explain to the girls just why their daddy had left home. They were in primary school and other children/families must have been gossiping. One day they asked, 'Is Daddy Queer, Mum?' She said, 'No. Daddy is not Queer.' Another time they asked, 'Is Daddy Gay, Mum?' And she answered, 'Yes. Daddy is Gay.'

    The important thing that I tried to convey in sharing this story is that there are many ways of being sexual. That is the reality. And if our society doesn't recognise this fact, if it puts pressure on everyone to fit into a particular stereotypical role of what adult sexuality should be like (heterosexual, romantic, get married and live happily ever after etc) it is damaging people. And that is abuse just as real as racism or any other kind of prejudice.

    The interesting thing about the lecture I attended by the man who started the charity 'Courage' is that he is an Evangelical Christian. He had such a strong belief that homosexuality was wrong (belief based on his understanding of Biblical texts) that he campaigned for a long time against homosexuality. He married and supported other Gay Christians in fighting against their sexuality and trying to become heterosexual. Slowly he began to see that this was not right. It was harming people and even driving some to suicide. This changed his attitude and he came to realise that our sexuality is just that. It is not something we can choose, but part of who we are. And he founded Courage to support homosexual Christians and help educate the Christian community in general.

    Regarding Euthanasia, I show some cases where a loved one has helped someone who is ill and in pain to die. It seems a kind and loving action to take if someone is suffering so badly and has such a poor quality of life. Then I contrast this with statistics and examples of cases from Holland, from clinics in Switzerland which encourage people to come and be killed - and other countries where euthanasia is legal to show how it can often be abused.
    Then I give questions to discuss such as

    Should old people, sick people, vulnerable people, be at the risk of being killed by those who don't want to care for them any more?

    Many people 'want to die' because of depression or mental illness. Does that mean that their family or society in general should help them die?

    Is life only worth living when it is comfortable and easy?

    What can the religions teach us regarding this?

    Life is sacred. God is the only One who has authority over life and death.

    Is it right to 'play God?'

    Is the idea of 'putting someone out of their misery' or 'putting them down' (as we do all the time with unwanted or sick animals) acceptable?

    In order to 'be kind' to someone who is finding it hard to manage their illness or pain, should we end their life or look for ways of making their life more bearable?

    We all will die in time. Statistics show that elderly people who live in situations of dignity and respect, even when they are in pain and suffering, tend to live longer than elderly people who live in conditions which are crowded and impersonal. If people are happy and cared for well, they tend to live longer than those who are miserable and not so well treated.

    If there is no God, no point in anything, if life has no meaning and death is the end, then why rush ending it? Why not just make it as happy and strong and full of love and experience as possible.
    If God does exist, if life is the most precious gift God has bestowed upon us - and if life is full of meaning, then ending life early is wrong. Killing someone, for what ever reason, is wrong.

    At the end of the day, my aim is for the students to think deeply about all these issues. I will make my views clear - and explain why I hold them, but like another teacher mentioned on this thread, I make it clear that there are strongly held views for and against ethical questions such as this. I do not expect that all of my students will agree with me. But they do need to know what they believe and why. And they need to have been given the opportunity to understand different perspectives and points of view.

    When I was 16 I went on an adventure holiday to learn rock-climbing and sailing. I met an African boy whose father had smuggled him out of Nigeria as the Biafra war was not going well for their people. We became friends and he told me that in Nigeria he had been a soldier. His best friend had been badly injured and was begging him to kill him, to put him out of his misery. He was in such agony. This lad asked me what I would have done? To this day I can not answer that question. Either way, if I had killed my friend as an act of compassion and love - or if I had left him to die slowly and in agony - I would have been haunted by the decision for the rest of my life.

    We can't always have the 'right' answer. We can't always 'do the right thing.' But we can think deeply about important things, try to understand both sides and do our best, from the position we are in, to do what we believe to be right. I think that is what I try to convey in Ethical Question lessons. Some issues are clear cut - this is right and this is not right. Others are more complicated. For me, life and death are God's to decide.

    I hope that if I had been in that boys shoes I would have carried my friend out of that hell-hole to somewhere that might have offered him the possibility of healing. If that was not possible I hope I might have stayed with my friend and held his hand through the hours of his final dying agony. But it is quite possible that I would not have been able to stand seeing him suffer so much or having him beg me to end his life - and I would have speeded up the inevitable. But legalise euthanasia, I am dead against that. I think it is much too easily open to abuse.
  11. Views are as valid as your ability to defend them.

  12. I teach evocation as a fact in my RE lessons ( Because by the definition of a fact as something empirical veritable thats what it is, Creation is not.)
  13. durgamata

    durgamata Occasional commenter

    I teach the evidence (at least some of it) for evolution including the fossil record and DNA - and evidence for the Big Bang theory. But I also explore the statistics behind the universe - such as the way gravity is exactly right - a tiny bit stronger and it would all have imploded back without forming the universe - a tiny bit weaker would have prevented galaxies forming and solar systems forming and so on.

    The same is true for evolution - if it is the random collision of molecules in a primaeval soup which created life - statistically so unlikely as to be viewed by science as an impossibility. There is lots to explore and debate here.

    there is nothing to prove God was not the source of everything, the essence and the reason for the Big Bang. There is nothing to prove that God was the source either - but The Source is one of the ways of defining God - and without an original source which is God, eternal and ever existing, there has to be matter - or a previous universe or some other scientific reality which pre-dated the universe. Whatever way you look at it there is a mystery at the heart of everything. Theists just choose to call that mystery God and strive to develop a relationship with it. The fact that they do experience a growing and living relationship, particularly if they follow the discipline and teaching of a religion, proves to them that God is real and their religion is a good way of approaching God.

    I teach that there is a physical aspect to life which science explores. But there is also a spiritual aspect which religion explores. One without the other can only offer partial truth. Like two eyes to see perspective, we need insights of science and religion the physical and the spiritual, to understand reality in its fullness.

    Science is exploring one kind of question, Religion explores another. Science finds out what is here. Religion asks why and from whom? The creation story is poetry, it looks at relationships, meaning, goodness and beauty. Science is just about what is there and what forces make it change. They really are both required and compliment each other beautifully. But one without the other - and you get all kinds of problems.

    Religious philosophies which deny evolution and the Big Bang are closing their eyes to the evidence. Also, at least in the case of Christianity, they are mis-reading their source of Authority. The Bible is a collection of many books by many authors and the stories in Genesis pre-date the editor who collected them and wrote them down. They originate in the Oral Traditions of the peoples of the Middle East and as Oral Tradition belong to a genre which is rich in symbolic meaning but which is poetic and mystical, not intended to be read in a literal way or taken at face value.

    Having said that, what do Fundamentalists gain from their literal approach to scripture? They gain a sense of surety, security and strength which more liberal Christians lack. And that enables them to pray with great power. There are many incidents of miracles and close personal encounters with Jesus among fundamentalists. My guess is that God is not so much bothered with what we believe about the way life began - but more interested in how much we love Him and try to see and serve Him here in the world, in our day to day lives.

    This is something good to explore in class discussion. I often encourage a poetic response to this unit of work. One poem I remember is simply 'God? The Seed of Time.'

    Another thing is to show the way that we are still learning and science doesn't have all the answers. The latest studies suggest that the universe is expanding at a rate which is speeding up - so extrapolating back it could be that the universe did not begin with a bang, more a tiny breath - the softest breath of God perhaps - and then accelerated into an explosive blast.

    Encourage imagination and creativity, poetry and art-work on this subject - take a time machine back to the first moment of creation. You can interpret it in a theistic or atheistic way. Some paint a great hand. Others a massive explosion. some combine the two.

    As with so much relating to RE, the fact is we do not know.The fact is that there are mysteries and questions that we can not answer. And that is a very important concept to embrace.

    I always aim to encourage deeper thinking and no fixed closed answers.
  14. What is evocation?

  15. durgamata

    durgamata Occasional commenter

    Well spotted. I guess its a typing error. I didn't even notice - just read it as evolution

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