Ignorance means no choice
In the last few days over the Christmas period, I was hearing a conversation that left me feeling profoundly sad. It had to do with education - or, more precisely, lack of it. That won’t come as any great surprise to many of you in our ‘more senior’ flock.
I thought to myself that if I hadn’t had the opportunity to discover poetry, for example, or even physics - dare I say it! - then great swathes of literature would have been denied me, and I would never have heard of a whole world of inventions and discoveries. Of course, in this case it was neither of those subjects, nor was the conversation about education initially.
What I heard was that a young mother had taken her two sons (14 and 11) to a Carol Service at the request of a friend. When asked how the boys liked it, she commented that they had found nothing in it to engage with, and so thought it to be a waste of time. Boring, because people were singing about things they had never heard of. This particular mother had had a negative experience at a church when she was twelve, and so decided that never again would she darken the doors of another. And nor would her children.
‘Religion’ as a topic, is no longer taught in schools, so the whole gamut of human spirituality is akin to the knowledge of Africa in the 17th century; people may have heard of it, but have no clue where it is, nor anything about the many cultures that exist on that huge continent. Similarly, children today have no understanding of the spiritual elements of their human make-up. Even the most died-in-the-wool, hard-nosed, scientific atheist usually acknowledges an element of spirituality in the human being - but by being an atheist he or she has had a chance to make a choice. If our children are kept in the dark, they will never have even that opportunity.
I am not advocating for the instant reintroduction of Morning Prayers at Assembly each morning in school - though I don’t think it did anyone any harm. I would rather introduce the topic of spiritual development, and educate students in the world’s major faiths, explain their differences, their beliefs, and their customs. Then, having offered the subject on the curriculum, students would then have a choice over whether to explore it further, discuss it with their friends and family, or decide that it’s not for them.
This would be no more threatening or imposing than introducing Shakespeare’s Sonnets, John Donne’s Poems, or the concept of quantum physics, leaving the student to choose whether to pursue a career in space science, or aim for Poet Laureate.
Leaving the business of religious education to parents alone exposes the student to huge bias, and if the bias is towards ignorance, that is a big mistake. If a person has never heard of a topic, they will never know how relevant it may be to their life and welfare in the future. It is like restricting the palette of an artist to one or two colours only; or a chef to only two or three ingredients. This is to muzzle potential and deny opportunity. If your offspring is a swan and you only tell them about how well they can swim, how will they ever learn the exhilaration of flying through the dawn sky, honking their joy to the rising sun?
We deny spiritual education - not at our peril, but that of our future generations, who will be the more disadvantaged, ignorant, and lesser people for it.