Can the religious teach religion and should we tell? by @open_door_teach

The struggles of religion...

Isn’t it interesting the things we do that we just assume everyone does? It wasn’t until discussing this issue here that I appreciated the range of views out there. I have always openly shared my religious views with students. If I’m being honest, I don’t think this was a conscious decision as a trainee.

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Kymberley Joy and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

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A student will have asked whether I’m a Christian (I’m white and I teach RS so I must be, right?) and my brain will have been running on either ‘mustanswerstudentquestionstoproveIknowmystuff’ autopilot or after months of little sleep and busy days perhaps it just didn’t occur to me that it may not be the best idea…whatever the reason- I did. It is only the last few years that I’ve really seen sharing my own views as an asset in the classroom and I’m so glad that I do.

I teach in a school that may appear very diverse, though actually in terms of religion the vast majority of the kids I work with are Muslim. This begs the question, would I would be so forthcoming with my views if they were likely to spark a debate, or cause a situation between us where they felt that their views were not being appreciated? I can’t say for certain what choices I’d make. However, I do know that my agnosticism has been a way to introduce so many positive qualities into my classroom. It helps promote tolerance of world views besides your own, my students never feel that I listen to their views but think they’re wrong (I hope) It also breeds a culture of being able to ask questions and the understanding that we don’t all know everything. I tell them that one of the reasons I class myself as an agnostic is that as an RS teacher I encounter all kinds of wonderful things from all religions, so how could I choose just one to subscribe to?

With older students it enables me also to share the darker side of religious history (and present) and explain how this may make it hard for people to believe. The scene is set for me to play the role of devil’s advocate convincingly as they know I am not swayed by any religion, but I am careful to impress upon them the love I have for religion and it’s value for individuals and society. I love how it reminds them that I don’t suppose to know everything about life, death and beyond and that the beauty of RS is often in the questions we can’t answer- not those we can. A quality I’m working on is that of embracing ‘being stuck’ how rewarding it can be to not have a scoobydoo! (Then of course, how to unstuck yourself using a plethora or well differentiated resources, of course)

At first people ask why I teach RS if I’m not even religious, I explain to them how I feel- that I just love the good that can come from it. The sense of community, morality and hope. I’m upfront that if I were, maybe I’d find it hard having to teach views that I categorically do not agree with, that I would worry about swaying students towards views of my own and that an objective nature plus a love of religion is the easiest way I can think of to deal with our subject. Usually the same people end the conversation by saying ‘I suppose it would be hard to teach RS with strong personal beliefs, actually.’ I respond with the fact that I’ve always envied that spark of faith I see in others and the way it gives purpose and strength to what they do, though I do wonder if it makes the job harder.

The very nature of the subject is designed to encourage sharing of ideas and the nature of the assessment criteria leans towards justifying opinions. The AQA spec we follow awards 50% of its marks for providing a range of views and justifying your own. Is it right to expect students to do this if we won’t? Are we just depriving them of an alternative view they may be able to use?

I guess what I’m asking is two fold really. I’m interested in how you find teaching a broad and balanced curriculum if you have strong beliefs of your own and then, whatever your beliefs, do you share them?

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