This guest post is written by Kate Harveston, a writer and political activist from Pennsylvania. She blogs about culture and politics, and the various ways that those elements act upon each other. For more of her work, you can follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her blog, Only Slightly Biased.
In the Western world, the new wave of liberalism and acceptance sits with difficulty alongside the
stigma associated with traditional religion.
Seen as outdated and irrelevant, as well as archaic, religious education in schools is losing importance, and publicly funded religious schools are under threat more than ever before. It is not hard to understand how this has happened, and with the rise of political correctness, getting through a religious education class having escaped accusations may seem an impossible feat for many teachers today.
So while there is the temptation to avoid the controversial subject altogether, schools are not dinner parties, but in fact are quite the opposite — they should be the exact grounds on which people can feel free to discuss otherwise awkward subjects calmly and in a controlled environment.
Education is about informed discussion, inspiring critical thought and hopefully developing more civilized levels of consciousness. With civilization comes acceptance and liberalism — which, ironically, are more necessary than ever, given the continued religious tensions in the 21 st century.
If religious education was entirely wiped from the school curriculum, ignorance, enlightenment and tolerance would decrease rapidly. Without the state’s input, some groups could be more at risk for radicalization. Ignorance in itself would be massively isolating, as 80% of the world’s population identifies with a religion. Regardless of affiliation, religious education is a tool for peace we cannot afford to be missing from the next generation’s resource pool.
Religious education is important in itself, as it provides a point of reference, perspective and circumstance for most of the human race’s existence up until now. Whether we subscribe to it or not, religious belief has shaped and continues to shape our world. Without understanding religion, it would be more difficult to fully appreciate literature, history, art and our legal system.
Religion is also the starting point to education on philosophy and, of course, politics. In terms of power over people, religion is the oldest form of politics, remember? This isn't to say we should force students into religious curricula; rather, that classrooms should be a place to debate and discuss how religion has had a massive effect on our history as a people.
Regarding a child’s development, having the freedom to debate in a classroom setting is key to building capacity for critical thought and the inclination to argue logically, as well as inspiring questions about the purpose of our lives on this planet. Creativity and rational thought do, in fact, have a home in the classrooms of religious education.
Children and young adults need the space to develop all aspects of not only their intelligence, but also their social conduct, and the basis of both of these lies in the challenges arising from religious debate and even civilized disagreements between individuals or groups.
You may believe religion is outdated, or you may yourself be religious. Regardless, religious education is imperative to a holistic foundation for our future generations. Lack of understanding breeds fear and uncertainty, which, in turn, breed prejudice.
Given that the majority of this world’s population identifies with a religious group, it would not only be a tragedy, but an extremely short-sighted decision to eradicate religious education from school curricula.