Schooling religion

There have been so many things happening recently that I felt I should be addressing and shouting about, from attacks on immigrants in Tel Aviv (also giving us pause for thought in the UK on our own treatment of otherness and colour) to the Gay Marriage debate, which I am pleased to say the Reform Movement has spoken clearly in favour of, and I am expectantly waiting for the day I can perform not just a chuppah for same sex couples but a civil marriage, if that is what they seek. But in trying to get everything done at work before maternity leave begins, I'm afraid, dear blog, you have had to wait a little, and tweets have been about as much as I could muster.
This week, although slightly less interesting and sexy a debate perhaps, there has been a new parliamentary group of the RE Council launched, hoping to ensure Religious Education is included as a core part of our educational building blocks. Friends and colleagues such as Andrew Copson and the British Humanist Association are helping to ensure that a variety of world views are represented within such education. Having majored in comparative religion through University (deliberately choosing not to read theology) and having enjoyed RE throughout school, I am obviously rather biased that it is important to keep it in schools, but as a citizen of modern Britain, I am even more concerned that it remains in schools, and that it is done right.
I was not particularly drawn to studying Judaism any more than any other faith at university, in fact until half way through my second year when I realised I wanted to be a Rabbi I probably deliberately avoided it. Religion has always held a fascination for me as I wanted to understand what motivates people to believe what they do and to do what they do in their attempt to understand the world around them and the meaning their lives might hold. I have, in life, learnt as much about my own faith and belief through dialogue with other faiths and world views and their practitioners as I have through studying Judaism (which I've spent a fair number of years doing!)
I adored RE at school because it gave me a real sense of understanding the students around me, who were a pretty diverse bunch (in fact my group of friends at school included a Hare Krishna, a Jehovah's Witness, a Catholic, a lapsed Anglican and an Atheist). There certainly wasn't a focus on Christianity in classes beyond what was appropriate for covering world faiths and understanding the established Church, and RE has come a very long way since the bad old days when Christian doctrine was drummed into students with, it seems, no apparent benefit to them or the Church. 
In cash strapped times, it is understandable that savings have to be found, but I think we will really regret it if RE remains neglected and ignored in the corner of the classroom. When done well, RE is an essential tool to promoting understanding and celebrating difference. This difference in our students sitting in the classroom is here to stay, and we have to find ways of ensuring they don't feel threatened by that which they don't share, but interested in what makes us so diverse and interesting as humans. In a world dominated by reports of bigotry and racism, campaigns against a person's right to share their lives with another (justified in some cases by faith, and in others rights being campaigned for by the same faith), or fear of immigrants and xenophobia, we need to not just ensure RE is part of core education, but that what is taught is the building block of appreciating and understanding diversity and feeling comfortable and confident in the face of difference.


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