Feb 2016 – Should BC schools adopt Quebec’s Ethics and Religious Culture curriculum?

Should BC schools implement a formal program of study of religion in our culture, perhaps using Quebec’s as a model? While gaining knowledge of various religions and their place in the culture would seem to be a good thing, objections were raised: associating a study of ethics with the study of religion; the possibility that non-religious worldviews would not be adequately covered; possible reinforcement of biases and adherence to specific religions; that the program involve teaching about religion, not the teaching of religion; the need for such a curriculum outside the normal social studies stream. The resistance to a new curriculum from parents, teachers and those responsible for education funding could be considerable.

Links:

Quebec Ethics and Religious Culture Program

Vancouver Sun article, July 2013

British Humanist Association Religious Education campaign

 

Following are the notes used during the discussion:

QUEBEC ETHICS AND RELIGIOUS CULTURE COURSE

  • taught in all elementary and high schools in Quebec
  • compulsory in all schools
  • private schools have an exemption, upheld by Quebec Superior Court. They’re allowed to teach what they deem an equivalent ethics and religion course suiting the Catholic outlook of the school
  • approx 2 hours per week
  • aim is to develop ethical thinking and dialog skills in response to the changing religious/non-religious diversity of cultural communities in the Province.
  • intent is for all students to understand Quebec’s religious history
  • adopted under the liberal government of Jean Charest
  • first taught in 2008-2009.
From Vancouver Sun article, July 2013:

McGill University law professor Daniel Weinstock, who was an early promoter of the program, emphasized the courses are not “confessional,” designed to advocate any world view. “The courses basically help students understand: What does the world look like from the perspective of a Muslim, Jew, secular humanist or even a Marxist,” Weinstock, a secular Jew, said in a telephone interview. “The concern was that kids would be leaving school without an important key to understanding the world around them.”

From Quebec government education web site:

“This program devotes special attention to the religious heritage of our society. The historical and cultural importance of Catholicism and Protestantism in Québec is especially highlighted, while Judaism and Native spirituality, which have also marked this heritage, are also covered, along with other religious and spiritual traditions that contribute to present-day Québec culture and that inspire different ways of thinking, being and acting.”

“The program also takes into account secular expressions and representations of the world and of human beings, which seek to define the meaning and value of human experience outside the realm of religious beliefs and affiliation.”

Concepts discussed
  • Ethical issues and questions
  • Forms of religious expression
  • Moral principles and rules
  • References – resources a person can use to nurture and clarify ethical reflection. References can be of a moral, religious, scientific, literary or artistic nature.
  • Values
  • World-views
Religions discussed:
  • Catholicism
  • Protestantism
  • Judaism
  • Native spirituality
  • Islam
  • Buddhism
  • Hinduism
  • Orthodoxy
  • Other religions
  • Other forms of expression
Analysis problems discussed:
  • Hasty generalization
  • Personal attack (ad hominem argument)
  • Appeal to the people (ad populum argument)
  • Appeal to prejudice
  • Appeal to stereotype
  • Appeal to the crowd (“bandwagon”)
  • Argument from authority
  • Straw man argument
  • False dilemma
  • Causal fallacy
  • False analogy
  • Slippery Slope
  • Conspiracy
CONTROVERSIES IN QUEBEC
  • Some secularists feel that teaching ethics and religion together lead people to think that it is not possible to behave ethically without any religious belief
  • Some French nationalists see the program as a kind of multiculturalism
  • Complaint that it makes religion relativistic – all religions are equally “true”
  • Idea that this is the purview of parents, not the state. Some parents desire to have their children opt out. Denied by Supreme Court.
  • Orthodox Jewish groups, while commending the concepts of the curriculum, note that Orthodox Jews are required by Torah law to limit their theological studies theology to the Torah

ENGLAND’S RELIGIOUS STUDIES PROGRAM

  • compulsory in all state-funded schools, but
  • not compulsory for any of the children to take the subject
  • must reflect the predominant place of Christianity in religious life and hence Christianity forms the majority of the content of the subject (see below)
  • all schools are required by law to provide a daily act of collective worship, of which at least 51% must be Christian in basis over the course of the academic year

Pupils study two faiths to help develop a stronger understanding of the central role of religion in British culture. The faiths included are:

  • Buddhism
  • Protestant Christianity
  • Catholic Christianity
  • Islam
  • Hinduism
  • Judaism
  • Sikhism
Humanist perspective:

Problem – A “religions only” curriculum addressing such topics as death, human relationships, war and peace, sanctity of life, etc. would leave an impression on youngsters that religion, in whatever form, has the corner on such matters.

Department for Education view  – stated it had worked closely with experts from all the major faith groups to develop the “more academically rigorous qualification”, which it says allows students to choose options including humanism and other religious beliefs.

Challengers – In February 2015, former Archbishop of Canterbury the Right Reverend Lord Williams urged a government rethink. He was among 28 religious leaders to sign a letter urging the government to allow students “the option of systematic study of humanism in [the program]”. Three families, backed by the British Humanist Association, challenged the Education Secretary’s omission of non-religious worldviews. In response to the High Court ruled that the education secretary made “an error of law” in leaving “non-religious world views” out of the new religious studies.

The ruling was welcomed by British secular and Humanist organizations for appearing to ask that the religious education syllabus not prioritize religious over nonreligious worldviews.

From Telegraph article, Dec 2015:

“Nicky [Morgan, the Education Secretary] has had enough of campaign groups using the Courts to try and force the teaching of atheism and humanism to kids against parent’s wishes. That’s why she’s taking a stand to protect the right of schools to prioritise the teaching of Christianity and other major religions.”

OTHER COUNTRIES

France
  • non-religious compulsory moral teaching (called Civic, Legal and Social education)
Ireland
  • Religious Education program
  • compulsory in many junior schools, available as an option for high school gradutation
  • covers communities of faith, the foundations of the major world religions, the sacred texts, religious practices and festivals for Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians
  • covers non-religious responses to the search for meaning, atheism, agnosticism and other forms of belief. Students are also educated about morality in a number of different faiths and their moral codes
Japan
  • religious education would contravene the constitutional separation of state and religion.
  • compulsory subject called “Ethics” in primary school, where the purpose is to teach moral values rather than to teach ethics as an academic subject
  • despite the constitution, references to the majority religions of Shinto and Buddhism are sometimes made in class texts
Malaysia
  • Moral Studies program compulsory for non-Muslim students at secondary and primary schools.
  • Muslim students instead partake in Islamic Studies lessons.
Scotland
  • Religious and Moral Education program from ages 5 to 14
  • Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies from 14 to 18
  • applicants for positions in the areas of Religious Education, Guidance or Senior Management must be approved by the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, which also appoints a chaplain to each of its schools
South Africa
  • Religion Education, i.e. education about diverse religions in the public school curriculum
  • does not promote any particular religion
  • adopted in September 2003
  • does not apply to private schools