But Is This Religious Education?


My daughter’s class have recently been asked to compose a prayer. It doesn’t sit comfortably with me.

In truth, I don’t fully understand the context and how this was positioned with them, and I would like to better understand that.

What’s the thinking behind this? Is it, as a wise friend suggested, because they are learning about the structure of prayers? Hmm, maybe.

Is it to allow a freedom of creativity to the kids and an opportunity for them to formulate and articulate their needs, wants and fears. I can see the value in that, but I’d seriously question using this format to do it.

So what is the point?

To frame this within religious education seems something of a misnomer to me.

Religious education is surely about teaching children about religions. What people believe, why they believe it, the beginnings of these faiths, the contemporary practices integral to them and so on. This is hugely valuable. Religion influences politics, warfare, conflicts, and then brings meaning to life to many, reassurance in times of need and is capable of provoking passionate responses and reactions. In an increasingly multicultural society, religious education is crucial to engender greater understanding, appreciation, respect and tolerance of all.

Religious education is also a chance for children to reflect upon their own behaviours and consider those of others, consider the impact that they each make within society, debate issues around compassion and morality.

Religious education, to my mind, is not teaching kids that God exists and to pray to Him, if that was indeed the message here. No, I don’t want that for my children. This is a message that I’m just going to feel the need to undo.

Don’t get me wrong, just as I object to a teacher telling them that God does exist, they don’t come home and I tell them that He doesn’t. That’s not my call to make. They can make their own decisions about religion, having been properly educated around it.

I want them to be taught that ‘some people believe that..’ ‘this is why people might pray..’ or ‘this is one way of viewing religion..’ and so on. Then with a decent religious education, they will be free to form their own opinions and make their own choices. I do not consider that it is up to me to impress my religious views onto them, so I certainly don’t believe that it is up to their school to do that.

At the moment, Boo’s leaning towards being a non-believer though I can see that changing throughout the next few years, and Little Man’s decided that he’s a Christian. Why? “Because Jesus was kind.” OK, that’s a good takeaway message though not really the whole picture. Kind how? “Because he gave us Christmas and Easter so I can have presents and chocolate.” OK, that’s definitely not the whole story, but something’s been learned there somewhere along the line!

I feel that religious education needs to stick to facts, just as Maths, Science and English do. Not the ‘facts’ as perceived by its teacher. At primary school, teachers are the purveyors of all knowledge. My kids take things they are told as fact, they trust in their teachers. I really don’t want to be undoing that unerring trust around this subject. I want them to be taught to think for themselves around religion, which they can only do when educated properly and objectively about it.

I know I am in the vast minority of people who actually enjoyed and valued RE at school, and who probably remotely care now. But what do you think? Have you encountered this?


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2 thoughts on “But Is This Religious Education?

  • Louise Houghton

    Interesting subject J. My two don’t talk much about the level of religious study they get at school though for a primary I know there is quite a lot of prayer and they took a small course about the bible. I, too, loved RE at school really enjoying learning all about different faith, culture and creed. I just tell my two to take from what they are taught and that is ok with me. As you say, the decision is up to them as they develop and grow. I was taken to church, went to Sunday school but when I reached 16 I told my mum that I couldn’t take communion because I felt a hypocrite – I did like a good hymn to belt out though! She did actually say to me once that I am more of a Christian than some people she knew at her church. I always think that you don’t need to believe in God to be a good person. I tend to think go with the flow, kids will make up their own mind in general and we just need to be there to support that decision.x

    • Jocelyn Post author

      Thanks, Louise. Oh who doesn’t love a good hymn?! I think as I have spent so much time studying religions, at school and at uni, it’s enabled me to make informed decisions myself which is what I want for my two. Objectively formed decisions!