Non-religious views acceptable

11th July 2008 at 01:00
The continued over-emphasis on Christianity in the recently-published outcomes for religious and moral education undermines the non-confessional and philosophical approaches which have allowed the subject to flourish in recent years
The continued over-emphasis on Christianity in the recently-published outcomes for religious and moral education undermines the non-confessional and philosophical approaches which have allowed the subject to flourish in recent years.

The retention of the language of "Christianity" and "Other World Religions" is unhelpful. The presupposition that RMPS is confessional will be perpetuated, as will the negative views of many pupils about Christianity. A particular system of belief should not be given a privileged position in the curriculum (can you imagine a modern studies curriculum where the headings were "Socialism" and "Other political beliefs"?). "Other" has a host of connotations about the worth of these beliefs and the underlying beliefs of the educational provider.

Though study of non-religious views is sanctioned in the outcomes, it is in the context of considering religious responses to questions and issues, giving the impression that non-religious views are a negative shadow to theological responses. This marginalising of non-religious views, to which a third of Scots subscribe, effectively excludes those who follow these philosophies.

The repeated connection of religious views to pro-social values represents a new form of confessionalism (albeit multi-religious). That is, the outcomes conflate religion with pro-social values. The dissonance pupils will feel between that and their real world will make the task of the teacher, who advocates open, philosophical enquiry, impossible.

I level this criticism at the wider principles and capacities in A Curriculum for Excellence; language and bullet points, particularly about values, suggest assumptions about the pre-existence and worth of certain values, making effective citizenship education hard.

The repeated emphasis on the national context is disquieting. RMPS has struggled to engage pupils existentially. The parochialism of references to the Scottish context undermines this. The danger of a culturalhistorical approach is that it will render RMPS dull.

If we are seriously to engender pro-social values, it must be through the recognition that pupils in 2008 inhabit a world of hyper-reality and "cyberia" where beliefs, practices and identities interpenetrate. These pupils need navigational tools for this reality, which can be found in philosophical and international contexts - not, for example, through facile lessons on Reformation history.

To use a crude analogy, making Scottish historical beliefs and traditions so central to the curriculum is the same as telling the child of 2008, who peruses the belief supermarket, that they should only buy mince and tatties.

RMPS has struggled since 1972 to be a credible subject, and has happened in some departments because teachers allow pupils freedom of thought. This is in danger of being undermined by the politicisation of these outcomes, which coincide with there being a nationalist government in Scotland.

The profession resisted the Conservative governments' attempts to "Christianise" the curriculum when 5-14 was developed. Perhaps it needs now to fight against the "tartanising" of the curriculum today.

Graham Nixon is a lecturer in religious, moral and philosophy at the University of Aberdeen.

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