A religious valuation

12th November 2004 at 00:00
One of my colleagues from science was recently teasing a member of our religious, moral and philosophical education (RMPE) department that all they did with the pupils was make posters.

The implication was clear. The scientists were engaged in the serious business of teaching pupils about a substantial and solid body of knowledge - that was self- evidently of immense value. In contrast, those teaching religious, moral and philosophical education were playing. Although a jocular comment, it was an insight into our subject hierarchy and values.

Why do we undervalue these colleagues? Could it be that religious, moral and philosophical education teachers are just not up to the mark? Those religious, moral and philosophical education teachers that I have known over the years have impressed me by their reflective attitude in contrast to the vacuous, superficiality that sometimes clings to colleagues with subject gravitas.

No, the real reason they are the Cinderella subject is to be found, not in the inadequacy of the personnel but rather by examining the values that dominate in our society today.

First, we are increasingly an instant gratification, individualistic society that only values what we perceive to be utilitarian. Second, there is an outlook that only a scientific understanding of life is of value.

It is important that we resist this tendency to exalt the rational, objective, empirical, while disparaging the emotional, subjective and mystical. We need an education that engages all of the brain. Children need to be able to interpret a complex world with an array of tools. The caricaturing of religious, moral and philosophical education as "touchy feely" and obscurantist threatens to deprive children of the one subject that is capable of asking the really big questions.

At a more mundane level, many headteachers are still guilty of either confusing or deliberately abusing the role of the religious, moral and philosophical education teacher in connection with religious assemblies.

Until this is rectified and colleagues teaching religious, moral and philosophical education are given parity of treatment, instead of being treated as an extension of the chaplaincy team, their subject will continue to suffer.

Finally, could it be that the subject's low status is partly the result of a growing prejudice in an increasingly secular society? We are proud of our tolerance but does it increasingly operate within narrow parameters? Our children are living in a post 911 world, where the promise that globalisation would make us a world community, with shared values, lies in tatters.

Convergence based on toleration was always an illusion. We become more polarised with every passing day. Science has undeniably brought us undreamt of affluence, but our relationships are as fragile as ever.

Paradoxically, we ignore the people best placed to provide leadership as our schools grapple to make a contribution to the sanity of our children.

David Halliday Teacher of history and business education Eyemouth High

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