Religion in Schools – Anti-Education in Action

My son has just started school. I’m not religious (but not anti-religion), neither is my wife and our son is not baptised. But the local National School  is just 200 metres away and it makes perfect sense for him to go there. In his class are all sorts of ethnic groups but already there are signs of Catholicism everywhere – even some of the molds for the Play-Doh are in the shapes of Crosses and the Star of Bethlehem.

Young children are very curious and the question “Where did I come from?” is a natural one for them to ask. This is soon followed by “Where did you come from?” and eventually deep thoughts about the nature of existence – and death – will occur to the child. This is a very normal process and to interrupt it with simplistic and even puerile answers to deep questions is a perversion of education. Education is about giving children knowledge, it’s about developing their ability to think and it’s about encouraging them to value learning. Giving dogmatic answers to fundamental questions – even when the child may not have actually asked the question – is a completely unwarranted intrusion into their development. It is a national scandal that the State’s education system is still being corrupted in this way.

By all means teach religion at some stage – even if it is just Catholic or whatever dogma – but do so when the child understands that religion provides an explanation for existence. Some children may well believe it and others may not – so be it.


About Greg Foley

A lecturer in Biotechnology in Dublin City University for more than 25 years. Trained as a Chemical Engineer in UCD (BE and PhD) and Cornell (MS). Does research on analysis and design of membrane filtration systems.
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3 Responses to Religion in Schools – Anti-Education in Action

  1. bealoideas says:

    Its a Catholic school! Anyway pupils aren’t penalised for questioning or not believing it.
    By your logic we shouldn’t teach history, Irish, economics or literature until a certain age. All of these subjects contain value judgements that subjectively put one set of culture on a pedestal.

  2. foleyg says:

    This is not about Catholicism – I’m not a hypocrite! I think religion is different from other subjects and is about a lot more than values. Most religions are fundamentally about providing an explanation for our existence and our ultimate destiny. Other subjects have much more humble objectives. Furthermore, we already do make decisions about what subjects we teach at each level of education. There is a recognition that certain things are best thought when the child has developed to an appropriate level or has the cognitive tools to make teaching of that subject meaningful.

    I just think it is a pity – and fundamentally contrary to the spirit of education – that at a time when a young child is at his or her most questioning, we provide dogmatic answers to very natural and deep questions. I’m not exactly sure when we should be teaching dogma – I have no problem with doing so as long as it is taught in the knowledge that it is dogma (“This is what we believe”) – but my gut feeling is that dogma should be introduced by parents – if they want to – in a nuanced kind of way. If a child asks where you go when you die, then as a parent you might say “to heaven” and just leave it at that – or you may not.The very young child will probably be happy with that – for the time being – but then at some later time will no doubt return with follow-up questions like “what’s heaven like?” or whatever. The parent can then make a judgement about whether they should introduce dogma at the stage. My point is that it seems wrong to interrupt this normal flow of questions at a very early age – something that is surely the antithesis of education. I have no simple answers here just a gut feeling that we’re not going about things the right way.

  3. bealoideas says:

    The normal flow of questions is not being interrupted. I can’t speak for all religions but for the major ones leave huge room for questions. Mainstream religions aren’t taught dogmatically anymore. they all cover other religions too. I can recall when I was in primary school that certain subjects like maths and science were taught dogmatically but shouldn’t have been. I suffered because of that. Your working on the premise that religion dulls the curious mind or is some sort of enormous catch all. That is untrue. Curious minds are probably something we are born with or without. I am convinced that with the right passionate teacher they will develop irrespective of the environment.

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