State theology teachers have responded to a dressing down they received from the children’s rights commissioner Despo Michaelidou who has backed up a lyceum student giving her views on religious education in the school newspaper.
The article was titled ‘Religion in schools: Choice or obligation?’ and threw out some ideas for a possible new approach to religious education. The teen made some astute observations such as morning prayer being “a reiteration of meaningless sentences that students learned to repeat like little robots”. She also dared to suggest that religion classes do not encourage critical thinking.
The article caused a stir with some teachers using phrases such as “shame” and “disgrace”, effectively bullying the child online. Most unchristian when you think about it.
In their rather weak response, state theology teachers, members of the Oelmek union, said they did not seek to censor the girl, which was true as an organisation, and it did condemn the blowback from some teachers.
However, the union said they did want their side to be heard, suggesting the girl should have sought them out first because other pupils or theology teachers were not offered the opportunity to know the content of the article before it was published so they could “revise points deemed offensive”. This was an outrageous demand. The girl was under no obligation. She was giving her opinion based on her own experience, which she was entitled to do. The correct response from teachers would have been to take up the topic in class and have a debate about it so everyone could give their views, not water it down before publication.
Unfortunately in Cyprus everything is rigid and learned by rote. Critical thinking is not encouraged. How must that teen have felt after putting a lot of thought into a well-reasoned article only to have it torn down by adults whose job it is to lift children up and prepare them for life?
And, of all the subjects to be taught by rote, religion is probably the worst due to the dearth of actual facts as to the nature or existence of God, or not. What’s the answer when a child asks a teacher to explain the inexplicable? Church dogma? No one has the answers, and that is why questioning religion, any and every religion, is necessary.
There will be some kids who won’t question. Most probably don’t really care and daydream through class, so when you find someone genuinely inquisitive, they should be encouraged to debate, not slapped back into place.
Religion is a personal affair, a family affair and a church affair. It only belongs in school within an historical and cultural context, so it’s time to stop ‘teaching religion’ and teach kids ‘about religion’ instead. Right now, if you want to put teenagers off religion altogether, school is definitely the best place to do that.