RELIGION IN SCHOOLS: AN EX STUDENT’S POV

I find it pleasantly ironic that the most fervently Catholic nation in the world refers to their deity as Alla.

It’s a lovely linguistic oxymoron that reflects our country’s colourful history. However, there is a huge difference between an oxymoron and hypocrisy. It’s merely ironic that we refer to the Catholic God as Alla, but it is downright hypocritical of us to criticise certain Muslim denominations for their religious fundamentalism when we’re just as fervent and dogmatic in our customs. Sure, we don’t go as far as inflicting violence on non-believers or sinners, but we certainly know how to play the psychological guilt card on those who break the rules. And all this is very active within our schools, both Church and state, as we well know.

Here are a few points as to why I, an ex Church school student and teacher, do not agree with any religion being compulsory in any school:

It’s psychologically damaging

When I was a supply teacher for a Year 5 class at a Church school, as their class teacher, I had to get them through the Religion syllabus, which often contained appalling and graphic content on the death of Jesus and modern martyrs of the Roman Catholic religion. Not only that, but these individuals were to be seen as role models for the children, ie. they were being taught that they should be ready to die for their belief system. So I find it highly hypocritical that we’ve spent years dealing with censorship laws, only to force feed graphic material to our children in schools in the name of some invisible man in the sky. It was only a few weeks ago that someone on social media had commented on how their young child was re-enacting the crucifixion through their dolls. Can we all agree that this is incredibly disturbing?

Let’s also not forget that a number of religions, not just the Roman Catholic system, are against secular realities such as divorce, homosexuality, IVF, abortion and contraception. I’d very much like to know how such topics are dealt with in a class where at least one student was born from IVF, or happens to be gay, or is currently witnessing their parents going through a divorce.

 

It’s discriminating

As I’ve just mentioned, certain teachings of a number of religions give leeway to blatant discrimination. By dishing out these kind of ideas, we’re automatically ostracising students who don’t fit all the requirements, who don’t tick all the boxes. Now, I must stress that all this is dependent on the approach of the individual educator. I’m absolutely certain that the majority of Religion teachers are sensitive towards their students, and they have their best interest at heart. Nonetheless, if we did have to introduce a number of religions as separate subjects, we’d by default be segregating children and creating a tribal environment within the academic domain. It’s not a question of pitting the physics kids against the biology kids. It’s a question of singling out children of a different creed and harbouring the idea that common ethical ground cannot be met. This therefore defeats the objective of inclusion within schools.

To add, Religion teachers in Malta require a certificate by the Curia that deems them fit to share the teachings of Catholicism. So if a particular Religion teacher happens to be going through divorce proceedings upon the completion of their qualifications, they’re well and truly in the s***.

 

It’s time consuming…

Particularly in Maltese culture. Not only do children have to sit in for Religion classes at school, but many of them also have to attend Catechism lessons after school hours. Now, I appreciate that it is the will of many parents to raise Catholic children, but I’m sure many will agree that they purely send their kids to such classes to shut Grandma or the neighbours up. It’s such a cultural rite of passage in Malta that you’d essentially be once again ostracising your kids from the status quo. But I believe that times have changed from my younger days. Many secular parents are opting out of Mużew in favour of extra curricular classes or homework time. However, these could still encounter some form of backlash if their child happens to attend a Church school. After all, many parents only send their children to a religious institution for their academic prowess or their lack of faith in the state system.

Moreover, as a teacher, I’ve experienced many of my ex-colleagues complain that their lessons get cancelled to make time to celebrate mass. If I were a parent, I’d be quite angered to know that my child’s academic studies are being interrupted for whatever reason. I’m not saying that Catholic children shouldn’t attend mass. I’m saying that mass shouldn’t be celebrated during school hours.

This shouldn’t be about one religion versus the other. This should be about the validity of a Religion as a subject in schools, or rather, if Religion should be compulsory to all students. After all, the introduction of Ethics has seen glowing results, but the problem lies in the fact that not all schools have introduced it or are indeed willing to do so. We cannot eliminate Religion from schools, as this would render many teachers out of a job. But we should consider the possibility of it being given as an optional subject should a student decide to take a theological path in their academic studies.