Exploration or immersion?

30th May 2008 at 01:00
Two radically different sets of curriculum guidelines for religious education were published this week - one which advocates immersion in spirituality, the other which takes a more detached approach to religion

Two radically different sets of curriculum guidelines for religious education were published this week - one which advocates immersion in spirituality, the other which takes a more detached approach to religion.

The Curriculum for Excellence draft experiences and outcomes for Roman Catholic religious education take God's existence as a given and foresee a "journey of unfolding encounter with God".

Those for non-denominational schools acknowledge that study of Christianity is "essential" for all children, but treat religion as a subject to be examined dispassionately; in dealing with social issues, they explicitly advocate exploration of non-religious moral values.

The draft paper on religious education in Catholic schools, where that term is preferred to religious and moral education, states: "The outcomes envisage the children and young people on a journey of unfolding encounter with God within the context of their total experience of life."

The Catholic school "does not study religion as a phenomenon, from an external perspective". Teachers should help pupils "go beyond cognitive understanding alone", by engaging with poetry, prayer, meditation, music, drama and faith witness in a way that opens "not only the mind but also the heart and soul of the learner".

The existence of God is a given, reflected in phrases such as "I know that a loving God has created me"; and "I know that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and that I should treat it with reverence."

Catholic pupils should be able to appreciate "significant aspects" of other major religions - starting with Judaism and Islam and perhaps extending to Buddhism, Sikhism and Hinduism - and recognise their "sincere search for truth".

The paper adds: "Where appropriate, they will learn about stances for living which are independent of religious belief." But no detail is given about the appropriate time to deal with such beliefs.

The draft paper for non-denominational schools makes it clear that Christianity is still the most influential religion in Scotland, and that this should be reflected in classrooms.

But the sub-headings for "Christianity" in the draft outcomes and experiences make clear it is a topic to be studied in a similar way to other religions; the Catholic version organises Christianity into eight "strands of faith", such as "Mystery of God", "Revealed Truth of God" and "Signs of God".

The non-denominational guidelines make clear that religious values should not dominate: "For example, on occasions, in exploring a religion's moral values or response to a social issue it would be appropriate also to explore corresponding or alternative moral values which are independent of religious belief."

One primary headteacher from a non-denominational school in the west of Scotland, who asked not to be named, said aspects of the Catholic guidelines appeared to "fly in the face" of A Curriculum for Excellence's aims to provide deep learning and flexibility.

In upper primary, children in Catholic schools would be required to identify some Jewish and Muslim artefacts - a "nursery-level" skill, as she put it. In contrast, the non-denominational guidelines required deeper learning about other religions, with pupils at the same level having to explain the importance of artefacts.

She also pointed to the Catholic guidelines' requirement of two-and-a-half hours per week of RE in primary and two hours in secondary schools, whereas there was no precise allocation of time for other schools, giving them more curricular flexibility.

Michael McGrath, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, said he hoped the proposals would provide reassurance about the purpose of religious education in Catholic schools. Their approach would contribute to all pupils' search for meaning in life, and to their "personal response to the revelation of God", he believes.

The Reverend Ian Galloway, convener of the Church of Scotland's church and society council, thought the teasing out of the values on the Scottish Parliament mace - wisdom, justice, compassion and integrity - in A Curriculum for Excellence, would give religious and moral education a central role in schools.

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