Friday, 4 July 2008

Giving RE a bad name

A rather worrying article in the Daily Mail today, alleging that two schoolboys were given detention because they refused to 'pray to Allah' as part of an RE lesson.

Which political party do you think is making an issue of this?

Perhaps the Labour Party, having responsibility for the nation's education? Nope.
Perhaps the Conservative Party, being entrusted with representing the Opposition view? Nope.
Perhaps the Lib Dems, doing whatever it is they are supposed to do? Nope.
Perhaps the BNP, doing what it does best, stirring up resentment and division? Of course!

As soon as Islam is mentioned, the mainstream politicians and the Lib Dems retreat into their bunkers. They know that to express a point of view could end their political career, leaving only the BNP prepared to take on the issue.

Now, I am not rushing to judgement regarding the school or teacher. I know very well how a teacher's words can be twisted a thousand times between the lesson and the story appearing in the Daily Mail.

If the story is true, then it is of course very worrying. There is no way that children should be forced to pray to Allah or to anyone else in an RE lesson. That should not be the point of the lesson. Even if it is not true, this is the sort of story which gives RE a bad name. It has taken decades for RE teachers to achieve any kind of credibility, and this is the kind of story that we can all do without.

I find the Deputy Head Teacher's comments very worrying, if correctly reported: "It's difficult to know at the moment whether this was part of the curriculum or not. I am not an RE teacher, I am an English teacher." Eh? Three answers: (1) It shouldn't part of the curriculum (assuming the reports are correct) and (2) A DHT is paid his or her large salary to do more than be a specialist in their own subject. If he doesn't know that praying to Allah is not part of the curriculum of any normal comprehensive school, then... I shall be charitable and presume that he has been misquoted. Finally (3) if the teacher has articulately given [him] her version of events, then why does he not put us out of our misery, and just explain what that articulate version was?

It is perfectly reasonable for an RE teacher to ask children to act out what religious people do as part of a ceremony. However, they should make clear that it is not actually prayer/worship, it is only a role-play. They should also be very sensitive about children not wishing to be part of a role play. That may be as simple as a child being shy and self-conscious, or as major as a real religious or moral objection to the activity. As I say, I am not making a judgement on what the teacher actually said or did. I know very well who people can be misquoted and how children can misunderstand the simplest of instructions.

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