After last night’s society and religion debate on Newsnight Scotland, Secular Scotland tweeted:
#newsnightscotland glad to see that both of our members got good points in, shame they never got longer
— Secular Scotland (@SecularScots) February 25, 2013
You’ll have to forgive me, but one of these “good points” struck me as an attack on an undisclosed number of teachers, senior management teams, local authorities and HMIE. Secular Scotland have perhaps bitten off more than they can chew, and I hope an apology is forthcoming.
The comment in question was a woman in the audience who presented as fact the claim that in religious areas of Scotland, Christianity enjoys an exclusive place in religious education.
Just unpack that. There are parts of Scotland where teachers fail to comply with their legal obligation to give a balanced presentation of Scotland’s religions. And according to Secular Scotland, this was a “good point”?
This is an attack on an undisclosed number of teachers. I was left wondering, “Where’s the evidence for this?” For a person representing any organisation making this claim, one would hope there’s more than hearsay and anecdotal evidence. The suggestion wasn’t one or two incidents, but a widespread problem across Scotland’s religious areas. That’s a lot of teachers – presumably at both Primary and Secondary level – failing in their responsibility.
It’s an attack on senior management teams. SMT’s are responsible for the way in which schools interpret and implement policy. One can only assume that if the problem is as widespread as Secular Scotland make out, SMT’s are aware of it, and complicit in the whole affair. This implies a colossal failure in management. Are Secular Scotland really saying that head teachers are failing the pupils in their care?
The buck doesn’t stop with classroom teachers and SMTs. If this were really the case, the problem would go all the way up to Education Departments, perhaps even to elected representatives on regional authorities in Scotland. That’s because for Christianity to enjoy the exclusive position SS claim, Education Departments would have to more than turn a blind eye to it. There would be, justifiably, a barrage of complaints, investigations and eventually sackings.
And this colossal scandal would suck in Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education, who are the central body tasked with ensuring education in Scotland is maintained at an incredibly high standard. Surely, if Secular Scotland were right, HMIE would have to have turned a blind eye to the imbalance?
Except Secular Scotland are talking horse-mince. There is no grand conspiracy, or even failure here. In fact, as usual, their fight isn’t for Secularism, but against Christianity – because according to their “good point”, this is a problem in Scotland’s “Christian” areas. I guess that’s the Highlands and Islands?
But Christian teachers in the Highlands and Islands, because of their respect for the religious beliefs of others, probably take religious education a lot more seriously than most. They will, with integrity teach honestly and without criticism the ideas foundational to Islam, Buddhism, or Hinduism, just as they will teach Christianity. I’m willing to wager, young people educated in the Highlands and Islands have no stomach for sectarianism, not because they are secular, but because they are taught from an early age to respect their neighbour.
Secular Scotland used this silly claim to suggest all teaching of religion should be pushed out of schools. But the truth is, humans are religious beings. The world we live in is shaped by religion. If we are educating young minds with no sensitivity to that, we are failing our young people. Of course there’s a place for religious education in our schools.
Secular Scotland need to stop attacking teachers, SMTs, and so on, and instead look at what happens when balanced religious education is ignored. When you put general religious education solely in the hands of religious bodies, you get sectarianism, not respect. In Libya, for example, the liberty of the Arab Spring has meant the Christian population has been reduced by a forced exodus of 90-95%. The same religious cleansing is taking place in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and so on.
Never has there been a more important time for partnership between the state and Christianity. Religious education in Schools promotes respect and tolerance, especially when it’s done well, like in the religious areas of Scotland.