Soap Box - For heaven's sake

12th September 2008 at 01:00
Why apologise for a subject when the only thing that's wrong is some people's attitude towards it?

"Sorry, you're teaching RE this afternoon." I have lost count of the number of times teachers have apologised for this subject. Sometimes it is a handwritten note or eyes rolling as the class teacher leaves for planning and preparation time. It seems there is almost a fear of RE - a subject that needs to be done with a huge groan or sneakily avoided in the hope the assemblies will count.

I think there are many reasons why it is disliked. It is a tricky subject and one that people don't want to talk about, let alone teach. There is anger towards it being the cause of many problems in the past. "Religion has caused many wars," the critics lament while sipping tea in the staffroom and poaching the last biscuit. "Nothing but trouble."

It is true, religion has caused wars, but perhaps if someone had taken the trouble to teach societies about other cultures and nationalities, tolerance might have been born then. Tolerance has to begin somewhere, and where better to learn it than in the classroom?

If children can learn about different belief systems and show respect for them, then surely that is half the battle won. Maybe today's children won't feel so uncomfortable discussing or teaching RE in the future.

"I'm not religious," is another argument. "I feel uncomfortable teaching something I'm unsure of." You could say the same about any subject. In science, the human body is taught, but we're teachers, not doctors. It is easy to feel intimidated by difficult spellings and unfamiliar pronunciations of holy days or influential people, but the internet helps here.

"RE is so boring," is another cry "The children hate it."

I'm not surprised by that particular attitude. Any school subject can be uninteresting if it is not packaged correctly.

RE touches base with the pupils' lifestyles. It challenges them to think for themselves, think about each other and decide whether they believe in anything at all.

I love teaching RE. It is the window on people's lives. A nosy parker's dream - I'll happily include myself as one.

Cindy Silvester is primary supply teacher in Manchester.

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