What harm do religious education classes do?

Self flagellation must be in the more advanced classes!
Self flagellation must be in the more advanced classes!
Self flagellation must be in the more advanced classes!

After the meeting with the Board of Trustees, I thought that there were some things that were fundamentally misunderstood by them. So I put together another email explaining a few other things and addressing a few of the points they had raised during the meeting that weren’t covered by my original proposal. Core to this was the apparent belief that there was no harm in allowing the classes, even if they couldn’t justify them. See the links to the attachments I sent them at the bottom.

This blog is part of a story about my experience with religious education in my Daughter’s school. If you missed the start of it, you can find the beginning here.

From: Dave Smyth
Sent: Thursday, 20 August 2015 2:06 p.m.
To: Judy Eagles
Cc: Yaron, Office, Dean
Subject: Bible in Schools Classes

Hi all,

Please pass this onto the other board members and anyone else who may be interested.

Thanks for the opportunity to speak at the BOT meeting. Please find attached my presentation as well as some other material that is relevant to the points I’ve raised. The presentation also contains links to sources.

A key point is that despite claims to the contrary, the Ministry of Education does not in any way endorse or approve the bible in schools classes. The link I provided to the Human Rights Commission document clarifies this and I have also attached the Advertising Standards Authority decision from 2007 ruling against the Churches Education Commission who made the claim.

I don’t believe that tradition, status-quo or apathy by the community is any justification for keeping something that not only isn’t supported by the Ministry of Education but has been promoted to our school community with false and misleading information for several years.

The sources I’ve cited make it very clear that the organisation running these classes has the ultimate aim of building Christian faith in school children. Regardless of whether or not any individual believes this to be a good thing, this is not aligned with the Ministry of Education curriculum, which is why the classes have to be run while the school is technically “closed”. If the Ministry approved of them, this would not be the case.

The personal beliefs of any individual board member are not relevant to a decision on these classes. This is not about whose beliefs are right or whose values and morality are better. It’s also got nothing to do with whether or not the classes are effective at “recruiting” new followers.

The usual answer to something like this is to base a decision on a majority vote. I believe community support for religious instruction in Christianity (which is what we have) as opposed to an unbiased study of different religions would have very little support if the school community were informed of the facts. However, putting children into a situation where their parents have to decide whether or not they should be segregated from their peers because of their religion, is a basic violation of their human rights and the religion-free (secular) school system we are supposed to have. A majority (no matter how self-righteous) cannot vote away the human rights of a minority under the guise of democracy.

The ethics of allowing anyone into the school to spread their own spiritual beliefs to children are highly questionable. If those beliefs happen to the same as yours, you might see spreading Christian faith to school kids as a good thing, but that is not relevant to your role as a (hopefully unbiased) board member or as a member of the school community.

The question was asked; “What harm does it do”. Firstly, I don’t think that this is a valid basis for preventing change in the face of pretty overwhelming evidence that the classes should never have been approved or promoted in the way that they have been. However, there are many different negative impacts from this kind of teaching. Some of these also relate to what continued learning in Christian beliefs creates.

  1. The lack of objectivity in allowing untrained members of the public access to teach their religion means that the kids are not given any opposing or differing opinion on which to balance the teachings. This is the dictionary definition of indoctrination.
  2. Bible classes teach children magical thinking instead of critical thinking and promote faith over reason.
  3. Studies show that religious children have trouble telling fact from fiction. “[A] young person cannot judge what is allegorical and what is literal; anything that he receives into his mind at that age is likely to become indelible and unalterable.” Plato.
  4. Segregating and isolating children from their peers based on religious beliefs creates social divides and exposes the minority to negative attention from their classmates.
  5. Bible lessons undermine the approved school curriculum. The very first lesson for 5 year olds teaches Creationism. This is intellectually dishonest in a school environment.
  6. Religious instruction undermines parental authority. At the meeting, I said that friends’ children have come home and told their parents that “God made them”. This was dismissed as children getting confused. This is not children getting confused, this is what they are being taught in the RI classes. If a parent says that the bible teacher is wrong, who does the child believe?
  7. Bible teaching does not encourage freedom or diversity of thought. It encourages rote learning and unquestioning faith.
  8. The Human Rights Commission has heard many cases regarding religion in schools. While these cases generally remain private to protect the child, the cases brought to the Commission have to establish that harm has been caused before they can be heard.
  9. Read the attached essay by Mason Torrey about growing up with religion and also being involved in child evangelising and bible in schools teaching. He’s mainly referring to his experiences in churches in Whangarei.
  10. Children lose 20 hours a year of classroom time to religious instruction.
  11. Teaching bible beliefs ultimately means that children learn that they are flawed from birth (original sin) and that the warm fuzzy god they learnt about also has a place called Hell. This betrayal of the pure love they thought god offered is confusing and upsetting to a child and teaches them a threat-based model of reality where they fear things that they have no control over (and in my opinion, don’t exist). The child has no chance of defending themselves emotionally and this creates insecurity.
  12. Children will also eventually figure out that not only does non-compliance with a Christian god result in torment, hell, death and suffering for them but also everyone they care about. Basic instruction in Christianity creates the foundations for these beliefs. Obviously this creates more fear for their parents and other family members if they do not do things like thanking Jesus, attending church or saying grace before meals.

Attachments

regards,
Dave Smyth

For further views on how religious instruction harms education, watch this talk by Aron Ra.


I’d be interested to know what you think about this response to the board. Please comment below!

On 15th October 2015, I finally got a response from the Board of Trustees…

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