Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Blackburn schools to teach humanism in RE

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For an idea of the bizarre and confused way in which education and religion meet in this country, you need look no further than the SACREs, or Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education – committees made up of representatives of religious groups (which includes humanists), local councils and teaching associations, which help to determine the content of the Religious Education syllabus in their local authority's schools.

The reason I mention them is because of a story I just came across via the National Secular Society concerning the news that Blackburn with Darwen (which is where I grew up incidentally) will be adding humanism (a term entirely interchangeable with atheism, in the Lancashire Telegraph's report) to its RE syllabus from September, following a review by the local SACRE. Interestingly, given the recent debate over the extent to which Census data influences policy, the report suggests the decision was influenced by the fact that over 10,000 people in the area answered "None" to the religion question on the 2001 Census, with Fiona Moss of the organisation RE Today, which has advised on the new syllabus, pointing to the need to include all groups:
“We really must recognise that some people do not believe in God and do not have a religious background. We have to make children aware of non-beliefs. We want to support children to engage and enthuse them about RE to become good citizens in Blackburn and the world. The aim is for them to be confident wherever they settle.”
The council's school improvement officer, Dot Thompson, is pleased with the new syllabus, describing it as "imaginative and creative", although not everyone in the area is happy. Salim Mulla, chair of Lancashire Council of Mosques, argues that humanism has no place on the curriculum, suggesting, it would seem, that teaching it would wrongly give children the idea that not subscribing to the religion of their parents is an option:
“We believe it is important to have faith values whether that is Christian, Islamic or any other religion. The values are very, very important. I don’t think the non-God aspect should be introduced into the curriculum. 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.”
Meanwhile, the local paper's weekly Christian columnist Rev Kevin Logan (whose views on evolution once drove me to sending a letter to the paper when I was reading it during a visit to my parents) welcomes the move, albeit with something of a backhanded compliment:
"It is quite a change but it is completely right to recognise atheism and humanism. They are religions like any others. It is just that people worship man instead of a god. I am certainly not worried about Christianity. It can stand against any belief and come out in a good light."
Not the most sophisticated debate, then. And just to ensure the level is maintained, the paper have added a handy poll on the issue, which asks you to answer "yes" or "no" to the question "Should atheism be taught to primary school children?" I'll leave you to decide whether to get involved in that one.
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