Belfast Telegraph

Why we must take religion out of school once and for all

By Nuala McKeever

At long last the BOGOF approach to our education system here has caught up with us. The Build One Get One For-the-other-side-too style has proved just too expensive to keep up.

Reports say there are now 85,000 empty desks in our schools. A total of 85,000!!! Even I can tell that's not all accounted for by kids on the beak. I mean, you'd spot that number of mitchers in CastleCourt, no bother.

What tradition, religion, bigotry, pride and sheer inertia have failed to do, financial necessity might just achieve. We might, after centuries of teaching our children apart, have to let them be schooled together, in the same building, at the same time.

Shock, horror, probe!

The sheer insupportable cost of duplicating everything along sectarian lines is a blessing in disguise. We will, like children in a PE class, be forced to get into unfamiliar positions which we'll resist like mad, but then discover are actually quite good for us after all.

Not all the empty seats are the result of duplication across religious divides. I know that. But the economic imperative to shake up how we do things could be the best news for our young people in decades.

There's talk of state and Catholic schools being encouraged to share more or even amalgamate. I'm sure that idea horrifies some people. It horrifies me too. Because it falls so short of what we really need here which is to get religion out of school altogether.

Why is religion even a feature of education here at all? Don't we have enough of it at every turn without making it part of the school experience too?

If you're religious and want your children to be religious, then take them to church. Pray with them at home. Discuss the Bible or Koran or Bhagavad Gita over dinner. Make it the living thing you want it be by all means. Just don't expect it to be done at school.

Why should it be? Where is it written that religion has anything to do with learning? Unless you're on the outer edges of the belief systems that seriously think the world is only 6,000 years old and evolution is the devil's work, then why does what you believe about what happens after death, have anything to do with what you study 9-3.30 Monday to Friday?

The arrogant presumption that tradition makes it necessary to keep doing it this way because it's how we've “always” done it is appalling. We used to bait bears and throw donkeys off cliffs for fun. Don't spout tradition to me on this one, please.

Fresh, new, imaginative, creative, innovative. These are the sort of adjectives we want to put before the word “thinking” when we talk about how we plan the future of education here.

We're still living in an age of parochial insecurity and imposing outdated world views on our children. We tell them to mix, but by schooling them separately we really tell them not to mix. It's hypocritical to say the least.

I knew some good could come out of this financial crisis. If it forces us to rethink our blind affiliation to sectarianism then it will have been worth its weight in gold. Which, given the cost of the shiny stuff right now, is a heck of a lot.

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