Thought for the Day - Rev Andrew Martlew - 02/02/2013

Good morning.

I’ve been following with great interest the debate on the English Baccalaureate.

It surfaced again this week – the Education Select Committee voicing concern about the pace of change in the exam system.

Putting aside my own problem with not being able to spell “Baccalaureate”, I’m worried about the scope of the new Certificate. When it’s all finally in place, all the core subjects will be included – but art, music and religious education won’t be. Which says to me – and perhaps to others – that they aren’t important.

In the case of RE, this isn’t new. For years it’s been called a “Cinderella subject” within the world of education – marginal, unlike like Maths, English and Science which are seen as “useful”.

I admit it can be difficult to teach, particularly when it’s done well.
It’s not just the specialist knowledge – every teacher needs that.

But RE isn’t just learning about faith and belief, it’s also an opportunity to learn from them. It asks deep questions about the meaning of life and death, and this can be just as challenging for the teacher as it is for the pupils. As the local Vicar going into a Primary School, I’ve had questions put to me about my own faith that have made me really stop and think – not just to find an answer that an eight-year old can grasp, but one that satisfies me, as well. And sometimes I’ve thought about my answer long after I’ve left the classroom.

If education is about helping people to understand the world they’re growing up in, it seems to me that knowing about religion, and understanding religious ideas, can be, at the very least, a useful tool.

As I look at the news - at events all across the world - so many of them seem to have a religious element. In some cases religion seems absolutely central – it’s what drives people to do the things they do, good, bad and extreme. Or it may be a convenient flag under which to fight a different battle. And it’s RE that will help me decide which is which.

Much closer to home, if I want to be friendly with my neighbours, I need to understand them – and they need to understand me.

And I don’t think we can do that if we don’t understand each other’s beliefs, whether we call them religious or not.
Where we don’t know - or don’t understand - all sorts of fears and prejudices can take root. That’s as true within religions as it is between them. The role of RE is to help young people think deeply about their own beliefs, and the beliefs of others. It’s a core part of the educational process – helping people to understand their world – and to appreciate all its richness and diversity.

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