In the US, there is a lot of news about schools who have violated the separation of church and state by teaching Christianity. This is likely not surprising to anybody who is reading this. But, where I live, we seem to have a different problem. We don’t have separation of church and state, but we do consider ourselves a cultural mosaic. We have people from many different cultural and religious backgrounds living in one country. As such, we have Catholic schools and private schools with various religious backgrounds for parents who want their children to be educated in their religious tradition. However, our public school system shies away from any mention of religion. They refuse to mention Christmas and instead refer to ‘the winter holiday.’ They do all sorts of weird things for Halloween to allow kids to celebrate it without acknowledging it’s history.
I find those practices more silly than anything. It’s silly to take Christmas pageants away from children because a secular pageant may offend some Christians and a Christian pageant denied other belief systems. Yes, Christmas is the Christian version of a holiday that has been celebrated for thousands of years. Calling it the winter holiday does better acknowledge others. But they didn’t just change the name, they also removed the usual activities that go along with the holiday. When I was a kid, we had a pageant where we would sing songs, play games, and get candy. It was fun and I only had one teacher who tried to make it religious. As for Halloween, it’s fun. Many schools have taken away the kids’ opportunity to where costumes lest they be seen as offensive. Other schools have very strict rules about what costumes are acceptable. I think that the rules that the school board in my city are trying to implement are an example of political correctness taken too far.
But that is not my biggest concern with this issue. I am far more concerned with the fact that there is no talk about religion in our public schools. The Catholic school system does a better job of teaching children about other religions. Insistently, they also do a better job of turning out atheists. But that’s not really important. I would like to see the school board education children about different religious traditions and different cultures. The children are going to grow up believing that they cannot talk about their beliefs in public, which will lead to adults who naturally assume that everybody believes what they believe, which will lead to tension and miscommunication. I say this because I have already seen it happening at my university. Rather than understanding each other and exposing ourselves to different people, we cannot fathom each other and we isolate ourselves in groups where everybody is just like us. A great metaphor that I heard once is that mosaics have borders and none of the colours ever cross the borders. This seems unhealthy to me. Instead of embracing diversity, we are hiding from it.
This isn’t to say that children should be indoctrinated into a religion. I think that one of the greatest fears that I hear is that if we implement a religions education program in schools, then children will be indoctrinated into whatever religion is being taught. That seems silly to me, and it underestimates the critical thinking skills of the children. All that need happen is for the teachers to speak in a ‘this is what some people believe’ manner. I’m sure the older children would even enjoy teaching the children their own religious traditions.
Religion is an important part of many peoples lives. Schools shouldn’t be used to isolate children from differences or to accept a signal belief system. Children need to know that diversity exists in the world and that diversity is okay. They need to know how to approach people and how to deal with difference. Children should also be given the tools to determine what they believe for themselves.