Teacher Andrew Jones argues that students should help shape what is taught in RE and engage all the debates and ideas studied
Should a childs' religion be labelled by that indoctrinated by their parents, or should they have the freedom to choose? Photograph: www.alamy.com
Having just taught a series of religious education lessons called 'Religion - Do we have a choice?', I decided to re-read a chapter in Richard Dawkin's http://richarddawkins.net/ book The God Delusion entitled Childhood, Abuse and the Escape from Religion. As on my first reading, I was struck by Dawkin's anger and annoyance at a newspaper labelling children in a nativity as Sikh, Muslim and Christian. The objection is that these children have not had the freedom to choose their religious beliefs and are indoctrinated by their parents.
Dawkin's objection is indirectly tackled through the series mentioned above as each lesson asks students to evaluate whether an individual chooses to join a religion or whether they have their beliefs and cultural identity assigned to them by family, friends and community.
For example, students explore and debate the merits of infant baptism versus the idea of an adult baptism or whether Brit Milah (the Jewish rite of circumcising eight day-old boys) celebrates 3,000 years of tradition or takes away the child's right to decide for them self whether to be faithful to the religion of their ancestors.
However, what really interests me is not the deep philosophical debate on choice and rationality, but what the students' views tell us about the changing nature of religion in Britain today. Importantly, their views not only reveal how our ideas of what is religious or what it is to be spiritual, have radically changed over the last few decades, but they also have massive implications for the content of religious education in secular schools, especially those located in areas where church attendance or affiliation to other religions is low.