Yesterday at the Chartered College of Teachers conference in London, NATRE were represented. These guys, along with RE Today, are the prime source of excellent RE learning for schools, so it was pleasing to see, on Friday, the Guardian in its leader column, make an excellent case for RE from a perspective that is not always heard clearly.

It is the Guardian, of course, and so has to play to its gallery. Thus the title of the piece, the hook to make its traditional readers take note, but which hardly does justice to the content, is The Guardian view on religious education: teach humanism too.

The argument it makes, though, is simple, and with one wonderful swipe at Dawkins et al (“the facile confidence of the New Atheist movement…pushing at an open door”) it starts like this:

  1. Religious studies remains popular to young people at A level and is therefore of interest to them. NATRE need more RE teachers to meet demand.
  2. RE functions as a basic ethnography, at the very least, teaching us about the anthropological and cultural practices of groups of people we do not know well or have much to do with.
  3. RE is actually more ambitious than this, dealing with a “knowledge” or belief system that cannot be learnt using a modernist, scientific pedagogy. The methods of enquiry are different. “…there is no experiment that can determine whether God is love, or whether Muhammad is his prophet…that can determine the truth of a humanist belief in human rights. These are the sort of beliefs that can all appear absurd…and where they flourish they are not taught as schoolroom propositions but transmitted in thick cultural bundles of habit and ritual: that is why there are so many middle-aged agnostics who still love to sing the hymns of their childhood. The truth of such propositions is tested by the heart. Their meaning is personal, and grows over the course of a lifetime.”
  4. RE – and only RE, probably – can “help people think about this kind of moral reasoning and imagination
  5. Although this takes place across the school (“a good school teaches ethics – such as the virtues of tolerance and respect – continually in every lesson and outside the classroom too. Pupils learn about them by practising them”), it still needs to be reflected on and this is where RE helps. In a world where most young people are guided by an “undogmatic humanism”, which certainly ought to be taught.
  6. Conclusion: “At a time when British identity feels uncertain, RE provides an important tool for understanding ourselves and where we’re going.”

This is not the complete argument for RE, naturally, but a great place to see a partial argument represented. Nice to read. Good to see in the public space, and a good thing to give thanks for.

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About Huw Humphreys

I am a headteacher in the city of Milton Keynes, where I have been since April 2011, looking to make education effective for the whole child and keeping a distant relationship with the powers that be and their narrowing approach to education... but most of all I am looking to find out what it means to be both a follower of Jesus Christ and a passionate educator in the midst of an unsettled community. I am also a part time musician, part time linguist and lover of history and literature...committed both to freedom to learn and depth of learning for all our children. The views on this blog are all my own, and not in any way those of the school I lead!

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