Shock and horror as children learn about Humanism… since the 1970s
Some responses to the latest “atheism in RE” story are unintentionally hilarious. Chris Theobald has a laugh.
The news that Humanism will be included in the new RE syllabus in a local authority in Lancashire from September has elicited a number of reactions in the media this week.
The Daily Express warns us of ‘Lessons in Atheism’ for young children. The move is opposed by Councillor Salim Mulla, chairman of the Lancashire Council of Mosques, who is concerned not to ‘confuse’ children. Only religious people have values so it’s better to force chidlren to adopt whatever belief their parents first give them, apparently:
I don’t think it is right. People are born into faiths and are brought up in that faith and that’s how it should stay. The non-faith beliefs send a wrong message to the children and confuse them. Values are very, very important. I don’t think the non-God aspect should be introduced into the curriculum.
However, those campaigning for inclusive RE lessons find an unlikely ally in Rev Kevin Logan of the Christian People’s Alliance quoted in the Daily Mail:
It is quite a change but it is completely right to recognise atheism and humanism.
I am certainly not worried about Christianity. It can stand against any belief and come out in a good light.
But perhaps our favourite perspective comes in the Sun from a Catholic priest from the Blackburn area, Father Michael Lavin, who stated with no apparent sense of irony:
I think that four years old is too young to be learning about atheism, at that age they hardly know what Christianity is.
It is difficult to get youngsters to understand theology and spiritual concepts. Children tend to struggle when you are making the first Holy Communion.
Father Lavin and others seem to fail to understand that for many parents and indeed current pupils, this news story will appear wholly curious. The study of Humanism has been a feature of school RE for at least four decades and first appeared in a local syllabus in the early 1970s. The Sun refers this week to “Double Atheism”, as if Atheism was going to be studied as a full, timetabled subject in and of itself, like Geography or Physics. In reality of course, it’s just about including secular views as some minimal balance against an overwhelming religious RE. Today, most of the 152 local syllabuses in this country include the study of the humanist view of life. True, that doesn’t always mean it’s taught, or taught well. But far from being an anomaly, consensus is building that any RE which fails to teach about non-religious perspectives, is missing something pretty big.
A recent poll carried out by the British Humanist Association found that when asked the leading question: ‘what is your religion’, a question designed to measure weak cultural affiliation, 38% of people in England and Wales say they have ‘no religion’. According to 2004 DfES Research Report 564, some 65% of 12-19 year olds do not describe themselves as belonging to a religion.
Learning about the non-religious answers to big philosophical questions alongside religious ones contributes to the development of pupils’ own views and educates them about the beliefs of millions of their fellow citizens. It ensures that students that are from non-religious families or who are not religious themselves are able to feel fully included in discussions around ethics and morality.
Chris Theobald is a campaigns volunteer for the British Humanist Association.
The British Humanist Association supports local SACRE representatives, for example in local authority areas where non-religious views are still excluded from religion or belief education.