Secular Scotland, Teachers and Religious Education

After last night’s society and religion debate on Newsnight Scotland, Secular Scotland tweeted:

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”?

Attack!

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?

Talking Mince

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.

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2 thoughts on “Secular Scotland, Teachers and Religious Education

  1. Interesting blog Gordon. However, instead of misrepresenting what I said, perhaps you should go back and watch it again on iPlayer. It seems your memory needs refreshing. Being a helpful sort, here is the link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01r2rr1/Newsnight_Scotland_25_02_2013/
    The relevant section is at around 34 minutes.

    For one last time, my issue is with education policy, which is wishy washy. If you check my actual remarks again, you will see that at no time did I espouse the removal of religion from education. I am a vociferous advocate of religious education. As this is plain from the actual footage which you base your untruthful accusations upon, I expect an apology will be forthcoming?

    You also fail to mention how I clarified on Twitter last night when you accused me of lying, that I speak from personal experience. You have also yet to take up the invitation we have issued twice for you to come and talk to us on Secular Scotland and learn about what our experiences have been to prompt the comments. Obviously you feel no need to check the veracity of your facts before you comment.

    I would imagine that every parent would wish for their child to achieve a good education regardless of their geographic locale, that was certainly my wish, but not my experience. It has not been the experience of many parents I have spoken to. Should you decide to engage with us properly and have an actual discussion, I would be happy to clarify further for you. That would be useful for all involved, as I suspect our desires for a good education for children are not so very different.

    • Caroline,

      Thanks for engaging. What you stated as fact last night was:
      “My concern about the Scottish education system, particularly with RME, is that the policy is very wishy washy. You get some schools, particularly in very religious areas, that only teach one point of view, i.e. Christianity, and there are schools in inner city areas which teach across the spectrum. So you get very, very different education being had by the kids in different areas.”

      In terms of fact, you said “religious areas” so it’s not limited to one school, or even cluster of schools in one area. You give the impression that teachers in these areas don’t teach “across the spectrum”, unlike in urban areas. As one teacher friend of mine remarked today, “That’s my experience, Gordon. Shame so many have such a blinkered, uninformed opinion.”

      Granted, you went on to respond to Glenn Campbell’s question about what you’d like to see done by asking for a standardised curriculum across the board. But my reflection on the subject doesn’t end there. Engaging with your colleagues manning Secular Scotland’s Twitter account, the point was made SS would like to see religious teaching exclusively in the hands of religious groups, and out of schools all together. Sorry if I miss represented you personally, but I don’t think I’ve misrepresented the goals of Secular Scotland.

      My point to you personally would be that, a) you’re experience is at best unusual, at worst biased and untrue, and b) your solution is what many many teachers, but particularly Christian teachers in schools up and down the country are already doing.

      To be honest, I’m not into debating on Facebook, it’s great for sharing news and photos, but a poor forum for discussion of this sort. Plus, the secular Scotland Facebook page looks like you guys talking to eachother and merely reinforcing your opinion. There are friends of mine at Solas would be happy to engage though, at https://www.facebook.com/solascpc

      Best regards,
      G.

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