I was first brought to consider this by a question one of my
year 10 students asked me during an RE lesson. “Miss, what do you think about
abortion?”, she said. I paused. We all have a natural curiosity, especially
children, and as teachers we are sometimes posed questions that we feel
uncomfortable answering. It can be easy to respond to some personal questions. For
example, it is easy to tell a student that “you should never ask a lady her age”
when they ask you your age. We may find that other, more controversial
questions are less easy to answer. This is an example of one.
“I have this rule,” I told her, “where I never tell my students what I think about things, because I want you to form your own opinions and I wouldn’t want to influence your opinion in any way.” She didn’t look too convinced. This is my scripted answer to questions of that nature. “What do you think?” I responded, hoping that reflecting the question might stop her from probing any further.
Did I do the right thing in responding in this way? Should we be instilling our own beliefs and values in our students? Is there a fine line between education and indoctrination in RE? How much we should choose to let students in to our own worlds, and what impact does this have?I believe that RE should develop deeper thinking skills. It should open minds. We want our students to be free thinkers. We want to highlight the dangers of conformity. At the same time, in scripting this response to my students, am I not underestimating their own critical abilities and philosophical skills? Am I overestimating my own powers of my own influence as a teacher? By refusing to give students my own opinion for these reasons, am I assuming that my students are that easy to brainwash? The whole subject challenges my own value system because, on the one hand, I want to encourage my students to confidently express their opinions on issues, and at the same time, I am not modelling this behaviour I want to see in my students by withholding my beliefs.