Teaching Religion

Now that the twins are going to be starting playschool already, I have to face something I haven’t really given much thought to: religion. Apparently, even these neighbourhood-type playschools teach kids to pray.

Pray? Seriously?? Two-year-olds???

I hadn’t expected to have to teach my kids anything about religion at this age.. Not for a few years yet. But playschools teach prayers, what do you do?

I’m sure there are many who’d argue that it’s never too early to teach kids about god… But my problem is that prayers aren’t about god, not in this format. They’re just word strung together by someone else and chanted or sung by everyone together in public. It’s not as if the kids even know what they’re saying.

When I teach my kids about praying, I’d like them to learn what I believe – that praying is something that can (or even should) be done in private, maybe even in silence, and always with utter honesty and intimacy and sincerity – not using pre-formulated words uttered by rote along with hundreds of others.

I’d like them to learn about god in terms of morals, values, and a guiding philosophy of life, not about the rules and rituals of this religion, or that, or another. I’d like them to know that there are many different religions, but that what matters is not the declaration of belonging to a religion and living by its rules and rituals, but instead practicing “goodness” (for want of a better word) in whatever they do.

Obviously, these are not lessons for a two-year-old, or even a four- or six-year-old.

I know that as they grow, they will meet various religions along the way, and that’s fine. I’m not trying to insulate them from religion per se. What I don’t like is that they should have to “learn” any particular religion in school. Why? I’m not sending them to a seminary (if that’s the word I want). Why can’t normal primary education be divorced from religious education?

Of course, now that I come to think of this whole matter, religion was a part of the schools I went to as well. One was a Convent (need I say more?); then there was a school intended for children of Naval staff (I wasn’t; don’t even ask) and a DAV school (Dayanand Anglo Vedic – there’s a lot of philosophy, history and context to that, but I don’t honestly have a clue), both of which defaulted to Hindu prayers at assembly. Why the naval school should offer up Hindu prayers defeats me, but I suppose they thought they couldn’t just have the school band play merry marching tunes every morning.

So I shouldn’t be surprised that the twins are going to be learning “prayers” along with their colours and numbers and nursery rhymes. The best I can do is to take it as another kind of nursery rhyme… and let them get acquainted with my beliefs when the time comes (and also with Amit’s, which is that there is no god)… and hope that they choose whatever system works best for them.

But really – why do schools teach prayers? And why to two-year-olds? And how can they assume (other than those schools that, like Convents, statedly adhere to a particular religion) that Hindu prayers are best suited to all their students? I mean we do have people of other religions in this country, so if you’re not really affiliated to a particular religion, shouldn’t you just stay away from the whole thing?

4 Responses to Teaching Religion

  1. Siri says:

    Hi Mika, totally identify with this post of yours. I think the word I would use (besides and with ‘goodness’) would be ‘humanity’. To learn and extend a basic humanity to everyone. I think it is in France that religion has been seperated from schools in the sense that no one from ANY religious group is allowed to wear any sort of religious symbol and I dont know whether this extends to prayer or not but I would think that it would.

  2. 101dreams says:

    Ideally, schools should not teach religion. But then, schools in the modern world are a business and will finally cater to what parents/the public want.

    In India, I think we will see more schools that teach Hinduism. Convents and other Christian institutions will either turn completely secular to be financially viable or have to decrease in number.

    Unfortunately, truly secular schools will remain a minority as there are not too many Indian parents who would want their children to go to a school where they are taught no religion. (Unlike in France, where the govt’s move has the majority support)

    BTW, Tim goes to a school that does not subscribe to any religion. I should probably tell you about that sometime.

  3. Lubi :) says:

    I think schools need to teach “humanity”…and leave the religion bit to the parents.
    I totally agree with y’all…sigh…finally I find someone echoing my thoughts!!

  4. AM says:

    While I am against God and other related superstitions, I don’t necessarily agree with this stuff about the French govt. banning turbans and other similar objects. In Canada, the Sikhs in the RCMP can wear their turbans and this does not cause any problem, either to the police or to the people. I was in New York last week and it was Yom Kippur. Lots of Jews were wearing their traditional clothes in their work place and that is fine and should be encouraged. People by definition are different and should be allowed to express their individuality. France has serious troubles when it comes to managing the aspirations of the minorities. Such problems cannot be solved by forcing different ethnic groups to follow a one size fits all approach. If anything, it further alienates them.

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