Religious Instruction

Should our kids be taught religion in primary school?

This is my column this week in the New Zealand Herald, which is published in the digital edition every Thursday…

How do you feel about primary level children receiving Christian teaching at school?

Do you know whether or not your children’s primary school provides such classes?

Recently, opposition to these classes – or Religious Instruction (“RI”) – in schools has flared up again, as the Secular Education Network launched a campaign informing parents exactly what such instruction entails.

In a country where only 49 per cent of people identify as Christian, it’s a weird little anomaly that Christian Religious Instruction takes place in schools.

If your school provides RI, to do so legally it has to be technically “closed”, even though it happens during school hours. You can ask for your children to be removed from the class but, understandably, many people don’t. Kids don’t generally like to be different.

The classes are taken by a few different providers, that aren’t registered teachers, and are subject to very little oversight.

Regardless of your own views, what do we know about how children of primary school age process information? From a psychological and educational view is it a good idea to “teach” religion to primary aged children?

Now of course, this conversation quickly descends into a “pro” versus “anti” religion shouting match, but in my view that isn’t actually the issue. It’s about whether teaching religious views, that some believe, and others don’t, is developmentally appropriate.

One of the problems when trying to assess such things is how hard it is to look back as an adult and see things from a child’s point of view. We encourage and train our children to listen to and believe what the person standing up in front of the class says.

Generally, that’s fine because when it comes to primary education we want our children to be indoctrinated: with reading skills, times tables, writing and spelling and other useful skills. And we trust schools, teachers and our education curriculum to make sure that what they get indoctrinated with are facts.

It’s also true that children don’t develop the psychological capacity to critically assess and question information they are presented with until around approximately 11.

But practically speaking it’s easy to tell when children develop the ability to think critically. It’s about the same time they decide their parents are wrong about most things, and stop listening to us.

And right about the time our little darlings stop listening to us, is the right time to teach Comparative Religious Studies, where the history and ideas of all religions are taught and examined. Critically.

Now, I’m not going to tell you what I believe, because it’s none of your business. But there is one value I hold, for myself and my family above all others: Freedom.

Freedom to believe what I like, and your freedom to believe what you like.

I don’t have the right to tell you what you, or your children should believe, any more than anyone else does.

And even more so when they’re too young and psychologically incapable of questioning it.

If you enjoyed this article please make sure you click here to view the the original article in the NZ Herald.  The Herald measures the popularity of columns based on how many people view them.  So by viewing the orginal article you’ll be telling the Herald you like my column!


Leave a Comment

  • Robert Nawalowalo October 12, 2017, 7:04 pm

    I don’t think that it is a “weird anomaly” that some Christian input would be encouraged to primary schools, when “only 49{1b812f7ed7a77644fff58caf46676f6948311bf403a3d395b7a7f87010507f87}” of New Zealanders identify as Christian. That’s got to be the majority religion then! Christian Religious Education should logically be encouraged, as half of us believe that it is beneficial, and spiritually healthy, surely psychologists would be in favour of these outcomes.
    We shouldn’t feel threatened by our children being taught some bible stories, and that God cares for them, for maybe an hour a week, especially as they are already being taught to question, and receiving a lot of good factual education during much of the rest of the week?

    • Kyle MacDonald October 12, 2017, 7:09 pm

      I completely understand, as you are clearly Christian, that would work for you. For people that aren’t: it doesn’t. Respecting all beliefs is my point, not holding one above the others. (And BTW, 49{1b812f7ed7a77644fff58caf46676f6948311bf403a3d395b7a7f87010507f87} isn’t by definition, a majority – it’s a plurality. 51{1b812f7ed7a77644fff58caf46676f6948311bf403a3d395b7a7f87010507f87} would be a majority.)

TO BUY MY NEW BOOK "Shit Happens: Lessons for Dealing with Life's Ups and Downs"... CLICK HERE