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Why are our taxes paying for magic fairy stories to be told in schools?

State-funded religion classes are a waste of time and should be scrapped, Aaron McKenna writes.

Aaron McKenna

WHEN WE SEND children to school from the age of around four until 17 or 18, we hope to equip them with the required foundational skills to lead a successful life.

We teach them to read and write, to count and to apply logic and reason to problem solving. We might teach them a few languages or some practical skills leading on to a trade.

Over 14 years, they learn everything from their ABCs to the principles of geology. And then we spend a significant amount of their time teaching them about a magic man in the sky who may or may not exist. It is a bit ridiculous.

I say this as someone who believes that there is, indeed, a magic sky fairy. I personally subscribe to the Christian view of said omnipotent being, whilst also being open to the idea that I could be wrong in either his or her or its existence, form and nature.

I can prove nothing and I believe in faith, mainly because (let’s face it) I’m afraid of dying and sort of hope there’ll be someone I know there to meet me at the end for a big reunion.

Exemptions 

Religion in schools is a multifaceted and contentious issue, touching on our national history, parental preferences and sheer practicality when you consider how many schools are operated by Church bodies.

It bubbled to the surface this week with national media coverage of a secondary school student’s attempt to opt out of religion classes.

From my recollection, when you didn’t want to do religion you were just sent elsewhere; or kept in the class and allowed to do some homework for lack of a better, more supervised, place to send you.

I went to an Educate Together primary school and a Catholic secondary school, both excellent places where exemptions were dealt with sensibly.

Funnily enough, when I was in my multi-denominational primary school, the majority of the class still did their Catholic religious education and went on to do their confirmations and communions through the school.

Those not wanting to take part – as I innocently didn’t notice at the time, mainly the Protestants – went off with the teacher to do other stuff.

Exemptions for kids who don’t want to do religion shouldn’t really be the issue at all, though.

What we really need to take a step back and think about is the fact that two-and-a-half hours of every week in primary school, about 10% of the total time available for classroom learning, is spent on this mystical topic.

An hour goes on physical education and the very real problem of childhood inactivity and obesity. Maths gets four hours, by contrast.

In secondary schools it’s not much better, with two to three class periods per week typically going on religion.

13/8/2014. Leaving Cert Exams Results Minister for Education Jan O'Sullivan has said that parents have the right to withdraw their children from religion lessons. Source: RollingNews.ie

Secularism

School time is not a disposable asset.

We pay good money to put well-educated people in front of youngsters for an aggregate total of thousands of hours over 14 years and we then dedicate a significant portion of that to focusing on a completely discretionary topic, on which much of the population cannot agree and for which there is no proof (ie the existence of god).

The modern religion syllabus does allow schools to focus more on a broader view of religion in the world and developing morality, but a teacher or school can choose to follow a fairly Christian-centric route through the whole thing if they so please with the optional modules.

Schools should be completely secular in the content they deliver.

Our education system, paid for by taxpayers of every viewpoint, should deliver youngsters with as rounded and impressive an education as we can to equip them to be independent thinkers and capable of reaching their full intellectual potential.

When we think of religion in schools we also tend to think of good old comfortable Christianity.

We tend to be less comfortable when it’s suggested that we might have Muslim schools, where the girls are covered up and the call to prayer blares out a couple of times a day.

Are you happy for your taxes to pay for that? Well, in my secondary school every morning we sat on state paid-for time to listen the lord’s prayer. What’s so different?

Tolerance

Religion in schools inevitably both forces our particular viewpoint onto unwilling people, and wastes their time generally.

Kids who get an exemption from religion and get to do their homework in the class time essentially get a free ride of additional time to themselves. Good for them. But what if we dedicated that time to teaching them, and the others, something a bit more useful?

Religion as it exists in the world can be adequately covered off in a neutral way in social education classes, as can morality and developing a balanced worldview.

This does not need to be done inside a syllabus that also contains modules on studying the bible, one of the most incoherent and downright mad books you’ll ever read.

Schools can be used as facilities for religious education. It makes sense that if parents, of any creed, want their children to receive some religious education that they be allowed do it in the otherwise idle school building… after hours.

We are a tolerant nation and everyone is free to practice their religion or non-religion, and should be facilitated in their freedom.

People should also be free to not worship or engage in religious activities, and the state should not be paying people to deliver a religious education during limited time available to impart some other fairly important things to kids.

True secularisation begins in schools.

Aaron McKenna is a businessman on columnist for TheJournal.ie. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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