Of Course Religion Should Be Taught in Public Schools

The recent controversies in Quebec about the government there requiring a course on  ethics and religious culture to be taken by every student in the public schools—particularly the current Supreme Court of Canada case of S.L., et al. v. Commission scolaire des Chênes, et al., also known as the “Drummondville case”—prompt a few reflections regardless of one’s feelings about the particular cases or the disposition of the courts.

1. Of course we should have education about religion in the public schools.  We must not keep confusing “formation in religion” with “information about religion.” The former is the proper sphere of the family and the religious group. The latter is the proper sphere of the state, as well as of the family, religious group, and other interested social institutions.

A school curriculum that did not include serious treatment of the role of religion in Canadian history and contemporary society would be obviously deficient. Christians, among others, have in fact been complaining for a long while now about the disappearance of religion from public schools as the vestiges of state-sponsored Christianity (which I am old enough to remember) have been sanitized in a pendulum swing toward outright secularism.

Now we have sensible people in Quebec, and in other jurisdictions, seeking to restore what should never have been lost and what was rarely properly offered in public education, namely, a neutral, descriptive treatment of the facts of religion in Canadian and world history. Christians, as well as all other reasonable people, should be supporting such ventures.

2. Of course such education must not imply that religions are all the same or that religious choices don’t matter. A good, basic education indicates readily enough that religions are not all the same. Their differences explain why people here and all over the world make a big deal about both religious conflict and religious conversion. Only people who don’t know much about religion or certain liberal elites who badly want all religions to appear the same ever suggest, in the teeth of evidence that abounds in any reputable textbook, that all religions amount to the same thing.

Any implication, furthermore, that religious choices don’t matter would be academically irresponsible as well. Religious choices have shaped Canadian history profoundly, as it mattered indeed which variety of Christianity would dominate this or that region, or how members of this or that minority religion would be treated, or on what basis governments would decide about issues ranging from  war and peace, to abortion and euthanasia, to marriage and divorce, to human rights  and immigration questions. We decide all of these things on the basis of our fundamental values, and since not everyone’s values (= religions) are the same, the decisions will vary. Any proper education in religion will highlight this fact.

Still, it is also a good thing for the Canadian state not to choose among religions, isn’t it? Freedom of religion and the disestablishment of religion mean that the state will play no favourites, will not speak or act as if one religion is better, truer, more noble than another. Just as I do not want secularism as a worldview privileged in the schools, I can appreciate that my fellow Canadians do not want my religion privileged there, either. And at the level of public interaction over issues of common concern–exactly what public schools are preparing students to undertake–it is exactly right that the state treat all religions equally, without making the religious claim that they are all basically the same, or that it doesn’t matter which one you pick, and so on.

3. Of course parental rights are not at stake here. Some of the lawyers in the Quebec cases, as elsewhere on this subject, have argued that parents’ rights are in peril if the state offers religious education that does not square with the parents’ views. Quite apart from the absurdity of conceiving of a program in religious education that would make everyone happy, the various pertinent clauses of Canada’s constitutional documents do declare that parents have the right to teach their children morality and religion as they choose, but such clauses do not exclude the state’s proper interests. And the state has the obligation to educate its citizens properly in matters that matter—which matters include religion.

On behalf of the general Canadian public, one might ask how good a job Christian parents are doing on their own in educating their children about religion. Polls from every source show that Canadians are as ignorant today about the basic matters of Christianity as any generation in a century. The polls don’t show other religious groups doing any better.

And how well are the same parents teaching their children about other religions? How many parents are even competent to do so? Answers: Few and fewer.

So why would Christians, or any other Canadians, fight against our schools teaching our kids what we clearly are not teaching them and clearly cannot teach them ourselves as parents? And let’s be clear: Canada’s churches and other religious centres are manifestly failing to educate Canadians in exactly the same respects. The state must not stand idly by while its citizens remain ignorant of one of the fundamental categories of human life.

4. Of course children will hear things in school with which their parents disagree. But so what if they hear something different at school than what they hear at home? Haven’t we all gone through that experience about a hundred times on a dozen different subjects? Did we all go immediately to pieces? Isn’t it part of growing up?

It is also part of parenting. The kid comes home confused because of what he’s seen in sex education or what she has studied in her science class or what he’s read in a novel or what she’s heard in the locker room. Whatever does one do? One talks with one’s kids and has, for once, a conversation about something other than what’s on TV or how the local team is doing in the playoffs.

So let’s support good, factual, impartial education by properly trained teachers. Religious studies should become a “teachable subject” for teacher training, the way English or physics is. That way we will have teachers who can give our children what we clearly are not giving them.

And then Christians, and those of other traditions, can give our children what no school can or should try to give them: rich, formative experiences of religious instruction, practice, devotion, and service. Schools can do what they’re good at, and families and religious societies can do what they’re good at—and the children, and the religions, and Canadian society all will be the better for it.

0 Responses to “Of Course Religion Should Be Taught in Public Schools”

  1. David Warkentin

    “Whatever does one do? One talks with one’s kids and has, for once, a conversation about something other than what’s on TV or how the local team is doing in the playoffs.”

    Well said!

  2. Reznor

    As to your point # 3, parental rights are certainly at stake. Thoughtful parents would not insist that religion be taught to the children only from a perspective that agrees with their own.

    You glossed over the heart of the matter which is; Quebec parents do not have the right to remove their children from these religion classes should they so desire. I’m frankly surprised that when children are being subjected to state-imposed indoctrination and you don’t see this is a parental rights issue.

    Although you argue that a benign survey of religions is possible, you ignore the practical reality that this teaching is being presented with the curriculum writer’s bias underlying the material, a secular bias intact.

    Will you make the same argument that it’s in a primary grade student’s best interest to learn of families with “two mommies” or “two daddies” and how various homosexual acts are performed with no recourse to remove your kids from the classroom if the material violates your sincerely-held religious beliefs.

    You speak academically with little regard for the practical aspects of how theses things actually work themselves out in a real classroom setting.

    • John Stackhouse

      You’re missing the whole thrust of the column. Why should parents have the “right” to remove their children from any old course with whose slant they disagree? Sex ed, or literature, or history, or religion, or whatever? The state wants well-educated children, and if parents won’t cooperate in that, they are properly subject to the sanction of the state. That’s why home-schooled kids must meet state standards.

      The state is not “indoctrinating” anyone in this case. I’m not “glossing over” anything, and you’re seeing demons where none exist.

      Of course primary school children should learn of homosexual couples and families in Canada: they are facts, part of reality, and any good education would discuss them. But if the education says that homosexuality is GOOD, then that is inappropriate for a state institution. Something might be legal, but not necessarily good: moral values within what is legal are to be discussed in school, as in other public institutions, but no position should be taken by officers of the state.

      As for speaking academically with no regard for practicality, etc., etc., I have eight years’ experience teaching religion in a public school–a university–plus more than twenty years parenting three sons through various Canadian public school systems, plus a variety of experiences interacting with teachers at various conferences I have addressed. So perhaps it would be well for you to take a breath, re-read the column, and see if there isn’t something useful in there after all.

      • Joel

        Like Reznor, I don’t find all of this convincing. You seem to be writing as if it’s possible for a teacher to avoid conveying value judgments in the course of communicating “facts” about the subject in question. You laud a “neutral, descriptive” approach–but description is not neutral! How we describe something, the overall framework within which we place it, would seem to carry a lot of implicit messages about the *meaning* of the phenomenon, and about the attitude that our listeners ought to take toward it. And even if the teacher herself managed not to convey any value-laden messages, those in her audience are all going to be bringing value judgments to bear on the “facts” they’re learning, so that whether the teacher describes phenomenon P in way 1 or way 2 can make a big difference in the evaluation that the hearers actually do form about P.

        All this, I suppose, is truistic, so I assume you just mean that, despite the inherent limits in their ability to do so, teachers should try to be as neutral as possible. But it seems dubious to present a goal of neutrality as an obvious and straightforward solution. It would make more sense to portray religious education (and most other subjects too) as inherently fraught–difficult and messy and consequential and ultimately non-neutral, even if an effort for neutrality prevents the blatant “bias” that we might otherwise see. On the ground, in the actual classroom/textbook/exam/homeschool, somebody’s point of view on religion *is* going to be privileged. We certainly won’t have the same point of view winning out to the same extent everywhere–it will vary markedly from teacher to teacher–but curriculum writing, standard setting, and actual instruction will all be potential battlegrounds for determining which perspective will prevail, if anyone cares enough about it to fight over it. Whether or not they care enough to fight, what ends up being taught will make a real difference.

        Again, maybe this would all seem obvious enough to be uninteresting to state. And it doesn’t necessarily detract from your overall point. But it would somehow seem more realistic if we explicitly point out that a liberal democratic society doesn’t have some easy solution for education under which everyone will be equally privileged and all will be well.

        • Graham Veale

          We can certainly strive for neutrality in Religious Education.
          1a) Religion can be discussed using methods and arguments that are non-controversial; that is, methods that the various religious and non-religious traditions accept as valid. Quite often the facts are not in dispute. Rather it is the interpretation of the facts that are disputed. For example, the “appearance of design” in nature is not disputed by anyone. However we can dispute whether a valid design argument can be based on this foundation
          1b) RE then allows students to develop skills in critical reasoning – they learn to build valid arguments or to infer to the best explanation.

          2a) Some Religious controversies cannot be decided, even in principle, by using language and methods available to all parties. For example: the Muslim belief that the Koran is sublime. This seems to be believed on the basis of the Muslim’s subjective experience. A Muslim and a Christian might disagree on the best conception of God’s Holiness or Love. A secularist and a Hindu might disagree on the nature of human flourishing.
          2b) This allows the RE teacher to build the skill of “empathy”: the ability to view the world through another’s eyes. The virtue of never dismissing another person’s experiences.
          2c) This allows the student to see possibilities and ideas that never would have occurred to them if they had stayed within the confines of their own experience. It suggests various new ways of viewing the world. (It can even suggest the validity of “different ways of knowing”!)
          2d) This is NOT an argument for comparative religion or religious pluralism. To see an evangelical put this into practice read Timothy Tennant’s “Christianity at the Religious Roundtable”. Without giving up Christian exclusivism Tennant engages Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism in conversation. In doing so he better understands what is unique about the Christian worldview, and strengthens his own faith in that worldview.

          3) The RE teacher should be “up-front” with the class about their own religious commitments. They should encourage the class to discuss lessons with other with different worldviews.

          4) The curriculum can also aim at neutrality. So Philosophy of Religion and Ethics should be central. The Quest for the Historical Jesus or the growth of Islam can strengthen students historical skills. The impact of Christian Theology on literature is another neutral path into the study of the New Testament and Christian Thought. For example, rather than studying the Gospels in isolation with my 11-12 year old students, I look at “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and ask how the New Testament influenced CS Lewis. (We can even ask if CS Lewis got it right!) My 13-14 year old students look at the film “The Mission” and examine the relationship between Jesus’ teaching and the behaviour of the Jesuits.
          In this way I do not presume the truth of Christianity – but I can still explain what it means.

          G Veale

          • John Stackhouse

            I’ll write more about this question in another blog post soon, I hope. But for now, let’s agree, shall we, that there is a middle ground between claims for objective, neutral certainty and claims that all opinions are up for grabs with no way to tell whose are better or worse? We call some of those in-between discourses disciplines, and the discipline of academic religious studies has been active for more than a century in discussing religions without obliging the teacher or student either to promote a favourite religion or to declare all religions the same or equal.

            I’ve taught world religions in a public university setting and used textbooks that also managed quite easily to mark out such an intermediate position. So we need not panic that sheer relativism or skepticism or secularism will dominate the public school teaching of religion. Properly taught teachers will properly teach our students.

            Indeed, if we don’t teach religious studies well, we’re going to keep running into various extremes of the treatment of religion and ethics in public institutions….

  3. Glenn Smith

    As a Quebecer, and a prof at a major Québec university where I teach future primary school teachers how to teach this Ethics and Religious Culture programme, I am delighted to see a lucid evaluation of the issues at stake in the present debate. Finally, someone outside Québec is speaking into the issues.

    As a parent of three daughters that have worked through all levels of the Québec publically-funded system right through graduate school and continue as committed followers of Jesus, I have long held the view that the most “dangerous course” in our curriculum was the math courses. Just pick up any textbook from the field and it is packed through with a materialistic worldview. For example, “If Jean has five DVDs and Martine has seven DVDs, how many do they have?” Any Grade One kid will answer, “More than I have and I want more!” I have yet to meet a parent who wants her child exempted from the math course for worldview reasons!

    The issue continues to be, how do we as parents continue to be involved in the education of our children and not delegate all of it to the Ministry of Education. This is a noble vocation; one that congregations across Canada dare not ignore. If we do, it is to our own peril!

    John, thanks for speaking the truth.

  4. Graham Veale

    Amen and halleIujah! I teach Religious Studies in a state school in Northern Ireland. This column presents a barnstorming defence of Religious Eduaction, and a critique of the manner in which many Church leaders want Religious education to be taught . In fact, I think a copy should be e-mailed to every Church leader in Northern Ireland. TIn Ulster Churches tend to want RE to function as a form of Religious Instruction ( what you helpfully label “religious formation”). As Church membership and attendance falls, Schools are expected to “Church” pupils. This is an exercise in futility and self-defeat.
    Instead, a strong programme of Religious Education/Studies broadens student’s minds, and their capacity for tolerance.It is important that every student realise that secular solutions are not the only solutions. Religious Studies provides students with the broad perspective that the secular media lacks.
    I’m quite open about my evangelical faith – as students need to be aware of my biases. At the same time I help agnostic and atheistic students form better arguments for their positions. (And when I do this, they tend to take Christianity much more seriously).

  5. Graham Veale

    My comments were a bit incoherent …
    the short version is “well said, that man!”

    Graham Veale

  6. Graham Veale

    I would, however, caution against stripping parents of the right to remove their children from religious education classes. Or, at the very least, the right to remove children from certain lessons or certain teacher’s lessons.

    The topics studied in Religious Education go to the very core of a person’s identity; it seems unlikely that Science, or even Literature, classes would throw up the same moral and existential challenges. Schools need to approach these topics with care, and cannot set out to impose a religious, secular or denominational agenda.

    If parents have the right to remove children from certain lessons, then schools must work out their teaching practices with parents in mind. This demands a certain amount of negotiation with parents. The School must balance the demands of the curriculum with the families right to parent. Different schools will strike different balances. If parents lose the right to withdraw their children from class the style and content of RE lesson can be dictated from the centre. Schools lose a degree of flexibility. The School also loses an opportunity to forge a bond of trust with parents.

    Without a strong bond between families and teachers schools cannot function. Allowing parents certain rights has the long term effect of strengthening the ties between family and school. In thirteen years of teaching in Ulster I have never had a parent ask for their child to be withdrawn from class; and Ulster is at least as divided as Quebec.

    Graham Veale

  7. standing water

    Great article, but I don’t think you really communicate much sense of what is at stake—or, rather, what has been lost by the secularization of the educational system, which is not a work in progress, but which is now totally complete. If you have not been a primary school student recently, well, you are very lucky. It’s nothing more than a cultural theory horrorshow where all of the teachers trot out their favorite Cultural Theory talking points, with which they bombard the students.

    “34 H. 6. 4. Our law is founded upon the law of God.
    Keyleway 191. The law of God, and the law of the land are all one. [Fineux, CJ: Le ley de Dieu & le ley de terre sont tout un et lun et lauter pfferre et favor le comon et publike byen del terre]” (from Judgements of the Sages of the Law against innovations, prefaced to Jenkins’ Reports)

    So what has been lost by the removal of God is nothing more than the foundation of the law. The law of God proceeds from God, and our Law is founded upon the law of God, so removal of God, and removal of the Law of God (daily reading of Lord’s Prayer/Scripture) is an attack upon the foundation of the Kingdom/Empire/Country/Call it what you will.

    1 Samuel 15 is instructive: if you fear the people and obey their voice (submit totally to parliamentary democracy) then you are not a servant to the King, and, therefore, not a servant to that which makes the King, the Law. The real problem with religious morality is that it tends to be taught as an absolute framework not subject to exceptions by mere men.

    How do you possibly teach ‘thou shalt not steal’ from the Mouth of God one day, have a policeman come in the next and tell the kids how him and his buddies steal vegetables like marihuana and opium from people, because they fear the voice of the people and enforce the people’s statutes? This is exactly the sort of hypocrisy that obedience to the Law avoids: no stealing means no stealing. Period. Full stop. And that is simply one example—I am sure people could draw others more in line with their own particular research interests; I simply favor liberty, dislike robbery, no matter how many statutes the people have created purporting to allow for robbery as “law enforcement.”

    My solution is very simple: every day, over the Public Address system, have a reading of the Lord’s Prayer and the daily lesson from Scripture. Those with ears will hear, and those who do not have ears, will not hear, same as it ever was. If you have not looked into the flimsy (unappealed) case law that removed daily Scripture from British Columbia’s schools, it might be an interesting bit of trivia. The whole point to scripture is that, taken as a whole, it is self-explanatory; that is, there is not a need for “teachers” to make sense of it all in the sense that there is for physics and math. Well, actually, I guess that treads into arguable theological grounds—are the scriptures sufficient, or do we need scriptures + a priestly class to herd us around? Anyway, thanks for the article!

  8. erahjonojohnsto

    Mostly bait and switch arguementation, John. The issue has never been about religeous education per se but rather the state COMPELLING students to learn about religion in such a manner that the exclusive claims of Christianity are denied.

    It is interesting that the Quebec courts have confounded themselves by to date ruling on behalf of the state position in Drummondville and the Church position at Loyola. Apparently institutional Churches can object in principal to state mandated corriculum but not the parents of the children themselves.

    Re read your critique. You have the heart of a totalitarian and a very unkind and disparaging view of parents intentions and objectives regarding the children they love.

    • John Stackhouse

      Oh, dear. Must we stoop to pronouncing on other people’s hearts? Can’t we have a reasonable discussion about matters of common concern?

      I don’t want the state running roughshod over other institutions or individuals. I can be, and have been, a fierce critic of public schools in this or that respect, in this or that jurisdiction. But nor do I want another social sphere–parents and families–having absolute sway over matters that concern other institutions as well.

      There is nothing I can see in the Quebec curriculum to contradict the claims of any religion, Christianity or any other, to be the best religion. Standard religious studies textbooks don’t discuss such claims, either. They describe each religion’s claims, in fact, and help students understand what and why their neighbours believe as they do. How can thoughtful parents be against that?

  9. Graham Veale

    Accusations of “totalitarianism” don’t resolve debates. More constructively I can point out that in Ulster dialogue between Roman Catholics, Protestants and a (secular) British Government produced a RE syllabus that the vast majority of parents are comfortable with.
    A key part of the syllabus, and the instructions to RE teachers, was that an RE teacher should not seek to undermine any pupil’s faith or lack of faith. Rather, we are to reinforce a students convictions. We are to help them understand their faith, and their reasons for believing (or not believing).
    There has been some evolution, away from Catholic and Protestant distinctives, and toward understanding other religions and secular alternatives to religion. The curriculum grants teachers enough flexibility to evolve.

  10. erahjonojohnsto

    Fair enough, I will allow you to speak to the condition of your heart. I withdraw the comment. Still this post glaring ignores and misrepresents the contention of those who legally protest the Quebec governments actions. You defeat your own straw man arguement here, John and nothing more.

    The complaintents in the Drummondville case do not question the validity or value of information regarding various religions per se, you assume so. They simply wish to protect their right to have their childrens religeous education affirm the exclusive claims of Christianity. The present mandatory course rejects such claims and will not teach them as such. As a consequence they would like to withdraw their children from these classes.

    Further the province of Quebec as well as imposing 12 years of compulsory ERC classes upon it’s students legally prohibits the Catholic school system and similar Protestant schools from teaching similar courses as an alternative within their education sysyems. The implications for other faithed based educations be they Jewish, Muslim or otherwise are clear though they are yet to be specifically outlawed by statute.

    Perhaps you are unaware John but many, many parents wish the schools they send their children too to teach the Christian faith from both a formative and informative perspective. Under the present legislation this has been outlawed. Forgetting the condition of anyones heart on this matter I and many others view this as an illegal and antidemocratic intrusion by the state into the religeous purview of parents and their children.

    Even the Quebec courts themselves recognize the dilemna this legislation has caused by it’s contrary ruling in the “Loyola” case. The court in this instance has recognized the Catholic school boards right to teach a “Catholic” understanding of religion and ethics. The present situation is then that a school board may be exempt but that parents cannot exempt their children. A rather illogical and contradictory outcome at best. One that will hopefully be redressed by the Supreme Court.

    Whatever the outcome I will continue to support efforts that combat the states intentions to solely determine what may or may not be taught as religeous and/or ethical within our schools and insist that all students learn it.

    Call it what you will, John but the point of view you support makes this exclusive claim.

  11. Mark

    The topic brings to mind the part in The Screwtape Letters where Lewis suggests that the danger when it comes to human spirituality is not that one will be surrounded by atheist friends with strong arguments against Christianity, but that one might be so distracted by life (or so prone to religious indifference, or whatever) that important religious questions never come to mind. Setting aside the question of whether parents should have the right to withdraw their students from a neutral, information-based course on religion, the unintended benefits of such a curriculum (from a Christian perspective, anyway) may very well include the awakening of young minds to questions that would otherwise have gone unasked.

  12. erahjonojohnsto

    One would assume that similar, information based courses on religion, have been available within the province of Quebec as they are available here in Ontario, as I would assume they are available in all jurisdictions throughout the country. One wonders then why in Quebec it is deemed essential that students receive mandatory instruction in religeous and ethics as determined by the state for their entire elementary and secondary tenure.

    The “Loyola” case clearly recognizes the impending collision between Catholic and public school systems. If the province is to be sole arbiter of what may ar may not taught as religeous and or ethical, inevitably it will bump up against the particular teachings or faith claims of a specific group. The Drummondville case is the beachead ruling necessary for state legislated secularism to prevail. In due course any religeous and or ethical teaching that does not conform to state mandated corriculum could be and likely would be legally challenged.

    It is for this reason that many other religeous organizations have asked for standing in the Drummondville case. They recognize the clear threat to the teaching of their faith claims.

    The province of Quebec wants to be sole arbiter as to what can be taught as ethical within it’s classrooms. Really, ethics are that empherical? Dissenting claims are unacceptable to the point that they can be made illegal? What happens when a secular ethic affirming same sex relationships conflicts with a religeous ethic that views such relationships as disordered. What happens when a religeous ethic affirms prolife when the secular state mandated ethic affirms prochoice. Will it become illegal to teach moral oppositon to abortion?

    Ethics, that is to say what is good, what is right, what is moral will become the exclusive teaching domain of the state, legislated by law, mandatory for the citizenry.

    If that isn’t an essential totalitarian platform, I’d like to know what is.

  13. Graham Veale

    It would be inadvisable for any educational body to set up an RE curriculum without consultation with religious groups and parents representatives. A confrontation between Church and State is not inevitable.
    I teach Religious Education in a state school in Northern Ireland. The curriculum (and board guidance) insists that every student’s faith should be supported. It is bad practice to evangelise or to promote scepticism.

    The point of Religious Education is not to communicate information about different religious traditions. RE provides the student with a rich intellectual and experential resource, which allows her to see radically different answers to moral problems and to conceive alternatives to modern prejudices and biases. And it allows the religious student to see secular alternatives to religious answers to existential and moral questions. Any course which prejudged answers to questions about sexual ethics, for example, is simply wasting the students time. It is obvious that an RE course which criticizes traditional religious sexual ethics to promote concepts like “homophobia” or “heterosexism” is not totalitarian. However it would be a worthless exercise, and should be criticised on those grounds alone.

    To be fair to Dr Stackhouse – and many respondents are not being fair to Dr Stackhouse – he stated that Religious Studies should not be about Religious Formation. In other words, the school should not set out to give the student a religious character, or to confirm the student’s religious convictions. So I think that it is safe to assume that he does not believe that the state should be in the business of promoting the secularist mindset either. A straightforward reading of his post implies that he wants to see religious and secular alternatives examined and discussed in Schools. While I strenuously disagree with Dr Stackhouse over a parents right to withdraw their child from certain classes, I can only describe some of the reactions to his post as hysterical.

    Graham Veale
    Head of Religious Education
    City of Armagh High School
    Northern Ireland

    • John Stackhouse

      I appreciate much of what you’re saying, Brother Graham, but I stoutly disagree with your contention that “the point of Religious Education is not to communicate information about different religious traditions.” It certainly is, or at least it certainly should be. Long before we get into questions of moral reasoning, which seem to be your favourite part of the curriculum, we need basic content: who thinks and believes and does what, and why. And that sort of teaching certainly can be done well in a secular school setting–perhaps especially well there, in a setting that favours no particular religion. Or do I misunderstand you?

      • Graham Veale

        I meant to type ““the point of Religious Education is not to MERELY to communicate information about different religious traditions.”
        There is a dangerous fashion in education in Northern Ireland to ignore the communication of information to focus on “evaluation and understanding”. You are quite correct – the latter is impossible without the former.
        And the communication of information is what makes lessons entertaining, to my mind. The teachers that inspired me inspired me with knowledge and insight. Insight cannot exist in a vacuum.
        So that’s an important correction. Sorry for any confusion.


  14. Glenn Smith

    I tihink we had better pause for a moment and get some historical perspective and civil discourse in this exchange. The language is getting rather harsh.The Loyola case is not about the Catholic system and the public system – that is Ontario nomenclature applied to Québec. This case is about private school education. The Drummondville case is not about secularism at all. The government does not want religion out of the school system….it wants it taught in all schools to have an educated citizenry. This case is about parental rights in the religious education of their children. That is an important, critical issue but not the only issue.

    Québec has always been recognized in Canada for being on the front end of moral and religious education in the publicly-funded system. Until recently, the confessional system – on the Protestant side – provided for education about from a Protestant worldview. But it was always “education” not “formation” because it was from that worldview perspective. (However, I fully recognize how hard this is to do – I was writing policy papers on it for over a decade! But, it was a noble mission.) The present course is rooted in the structure and oreintation of the old Protestant Moral and Religious Education cirriculum.

    The ERC programme is not perfect and it has its foibles (lackof textbooks for kids; teachers in the system are not being given enough resources to update their skills in this new programme; etc; etc.) However, as with any programme, put it in the hands of good teacher and it is a fertile ground for formation in the 21st century.

    As I already stated a couple of weeks ago, As a parent of three daughters that have worked through all levels of the Québec publically-funded system right through graduate school and continue as committted followers of Jesus, I have long held the view that the most “dangerous course” in our curriculum was the math courses. Just pick up any textbook from the field and it is packed through with a materialistic worldview. For example, “If Jean has five DVDs and Martine has seven DVDs, how many do they have?” Any Grade One kid will answer, “More DVDs than I have and I want that many!” I have yet to meet a parent who wants her child exempted from the math course for worldview reasons!

  15. Graham Veale

    There is no reason why a religious school could not run Religious Formation classes alongside Religious Education classes. They have different, but complementary, goals.

    Is there anyway to see the content of the ERC course online?

    Graham Veale


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