Call to modify religious studies

KATHRYN KING
Last updated 12:00 07/03/2014

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Religion should be part of every child's education, but not the way it's taught now, says a professor.

This week, Palmerston North's Milson School changed the proposed times for new Christian Religious Education (CRE) syllabus classes to outside school hours, after a complaint from a parent.

The move followed that of Auckland's St Heliers School, which made the same decision last month after two complaints to the Human Rights Commission and one official complaint to the school was made by parents about classes from the same provider, the Churches Education Commission (CEC).

Massey University religious studies lecturer Dr Christopher van der Krogt said what had happened in the schools was "starting to look like a trend", but not because people were anti-religious - more likely, they wanted to take personal control of what their children were taught.

Dr van der Krogt said it was the perspective on religion that their children were being taught that was the likely bugbear for parents.

It was important to separate values from religion, everybody needed to have values, but not everybody needed to have religion.

Trying to ground those values in a particular religion made them vulnerable, because children may grow up to reject that religion, he said.

The Manawatu Standard has been inundated with feedback from readers since the first story on Milson School was published earlier this week. That first story attracted more than 100 comments on Facebook.

In the 2013 census, just over 44 per cent of Palmerston North's population identified themselves as Christian, a drop from 51.6 per cent in the 2006 census.

People identifying as having no religion were on the rise, from 34.1 per cent to 40.1 per cent between census collections.

The CEC website states teachers teach Christian beliefs, and are encouraged to use the term "Christians believe". Teachers are not allowed to evangelise, pressure children to become Christians or talk about hell, but "present Christian beliefs through a fun, engaging 30-minute CRE lesson".

Religion should be taught in an objective way so children were prepared to live in a multicultural society, Dr van der Krogt said.

"It should be teaching about religion, not teaching religion. Teaching about religion should be a regular part of every child's education.

"It would be awful if children grew up not knowing who Jesus was, but I think it's pretty bad if they grow up not knowing who Mohammed or Buddha were."

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Palmerston North minister John Hornblow, the Anglican Dean for the city, said he was a primary school teacher for 15 years, teaching 5 to 8-year-olds, and some of that time he took his own religious instruction classes.

"Even 40 minutes a week of values-based teaching, that makes a difference.

"It won't transform kids, it won't convert kids, and that's not the purpose of it, what it will do is reinforce the values held by society and by the school."

While the values being taught were from a Christian base, they weren't exclusively Christian and were commonly held in society, he said.

Mr Hornblow said religious education had been part of the education system for 137 years, and had consistently changed with the times.

It was concerning that there was a trend around the country for a small number of parents to impose a view that may silence other parents, he said.

"We do live in a new era where there is diversity, so let's talk our way through that."

"I want to see the dialogue happen overtly, transparently, and where it takes people with us, rather than polarises people and creates division in our society."

Mr Hornblow said people today had a strong belief in their spiritual life and were seeking other avenues to explore it, rather than expressing it through orthodox religion, and that was a healthy thing.

- Manawatu Standard

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