Why I teach RE: A Personal Reflection #whyiteachRE

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This is a personal reflection on second level religious education and opinions expressed here are my own.

For those who know me they are aware of my online presence on twitter. Recently I found myself creating a new hashtag #whyIteachRE. Yes, I am a religion teacher, and absolutely love every minute of teaching religion. So, I found myself reflecting on why I teach RE. This reflection highlights just a few reasons why I love this subject.

If you type in religious education in Ireland into Google or any online platform you will see that it is quite a controversial and talked about subject. The majority of public comments under newspaper articles are calling for an end to religious education in schools, for religion to be left at the school door and only practiced at home. There is a mis conception that religious education is there to convert or indoctrinate our students. However one argument I read recently that I loved was ‘We do not teach french so our students can become french.’ There is also a call for philosophy or ethics classes to replace religious education. One recent example was a radio station suggesting that the new coding syllabus to be introduced into primary schools could replace religious education in schools. When it comes to subjects on the curriculum unfortunately the opinion of quite a few is that religion is at the bottom of the barrel.

Why is this? Whether you are religious or not you cannot deny that religion is part of human nature. Human beings have always had a need and desire to search for meaning in our lives. Throughout history ancient societies questioned the world we live in, where we come from and why we are here. Newgrange, the pyramids, astecs and ancient greek philosophers are just a few examples of how we search for meaning.

While searching and questioning some people found God. In fact in 2012 The Washington Times wrote that approximately 84% of the worlds population has some form of faith in a higher power. [1]

You can’t deny that this is a lot of people. Religion has been a part of our culture for centuries, it has formed the world we live in and continues to have a major impact today. We all have a form of belief. Even those who are atheist have a belief in science or believe in no higher power. This is also a form of belief.

From years of studying religious education I have come to the understanding that any major world religion humanist or non religious form of beliefs in the world stems from one simple concept. This concept is Love. Whether it is love of nature, love of God, love other people or one that is often forgotten how to love yourself, every belief system began from one simple idea how can we show more love? However, as many might argue religion has also been used for hate and I would have to agree. One modern day example that my students constantly ask about is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS. They learn about ISIS from the news, radio stations, from social media, from listening to their family members talking about the terrible acts of violence carried out in the name of ISIS. Yes, religion has one major flaw, human beings. I argue that religion is not the problem. In fact uneducated, violent, ignorant, prejudice and intolerant human beings are.

Simply removing religious education from the curriculum does not eliminate the problem. Students need to be educated about major world religions and other forms of belief to show that Islam for example is in fact a very peaceful religion. Muslims throughout the world, donate a percentage of their earnings to charity, they pray to Allah to show him love and respect, they fast to thank God for everything he has given them. Many beautiful ideas and traditions that people do not know about.

Removing religious education from the curriculum eliminates any opportunity for students to be exposed to world religions and other non religious forms of belief in a non biased fashion. Removing religious education promotes ignorance. When we are ignorant how can we teach our future generations that we can all coexist? We need to teach our students to show compassion and tolerance for different world beliefs. We need to create a future generation that shows L-O-V-E. Ignoring the problem does not eliminate it. This is why I teach RE.

To address the call for lessons in philosophy and ethics the religious syllabus at both junior and leaving certificate levels teaches students about issues of justice, peace and morality in the world. Students have the opportunity to talk, debate and learn about controversial issues such as the death penalty, abortion, euthanasia, religious conflict and the search for meaning in life. They study these topics from a religious and non religious point of view exposing them to different points of view. This allows them to have a well rounded educated opinion on controversial and difficult ethical and social problems. So, religious education provides the opportunity for students to encounter this much sought after ethical education.

The leaving certificate programme also gives students the opportunity to learn about philosophy. As part of the LCRE programme students learn about ancient greek philosophy, christian philosophers and modern day philosophers. This is one of my favourite topics to teach and the students absolutely love it.

So, to round it all up. In a world where acts of terror are done in the name of religion, in a world where 84% of the population are religious, ignorance in my opinion is not the solution. I teach religion to show our future generations that we can all coexist whether you are religious or not. To teach others about major world religions to promote tolerance and respect, to fight against groups like ISIS, to teach students about social and ethical problems like abortion and to teach them how human beings search for meaning including the development of philosophy. Religious education unlike other subjects on the curriculum has the unique ability to challenge students academically, ethically, morally and spiritually all at the same time. It is one subject in the curriculum the educates the whole person. This is why I teach RE. #whyIteachRE

[1] Jennifer Harper, 84 percent of the world population has faith; a third are Christian, The Washington Times, http://www.washingtontimes.com/blog/watercooler/2012/dec/23/84-percent-world-population-has-faith-third-are-ch/