Why teach Religious studies?

When I tell people what I do for a job I am normally greeted by one of two responses. 1. “Why do you do that? There’s no way I could do it” or 2 “so you get nice long holidays”

Let’s dispel the rumour of number 2 first of all. Yes… I have long periods of time when I do not have to be in the school building, that does not translate to long holidays, and I don’t know any teachers for whom it does. For example this summer I am taking the first couple of weeks off from doing any school work, will be seeing family and going away with the husband, then I will be doing lots of work ready for heading back in September. Again, there may be long periods of time when we do not have to be in the school building but that does also mean that there is no choice about when we take our holidays. 

That’s enough on that one! 

Let’s look at the first response “why do you do that? There’s no way I could do it”. Why do I do it? Well… it’s not for the holidays! As a secondary school teacher it’s not for the end of year presents either! So why?

After the year I’ve had I sometimes wonder, but then I step into the classroom, have a chat and often a laugh with the pupils, and I remember… it’s because of them.

I’m also ridiculously passionate about my subject. Growing up in Birmingham I was surrounded by people of different faiths and I loved the diversity. I’ve always loved trying to understand why people believe what they do and how that affects their actions. Faith has always been an important part of my life and I want to understand how that transfers for other people.

But passion just helps me to teach with enthusiasm. Back to the question. Why do I teach Religious Studies?

This morning there were three posts on Facebook that reminded me why I do my job, and specifically teaching Religious Studies. The first post was a friend who had written that her young son was “working on countering extremism… it is very had work. There is lots of extremism to counter.” The second post was a friend who had that their young daughter liked the name violet, except that it sounded like violent. The final post was an advert for a book about Islam and the Qur’an by the leader of the English defence league.

The first two posts from my friend’s children warmed my heart because they knew that extremism and violence were bad, but they broke my heart because they knew that extremism and violence exist. We live in a world where there is a lot of hatred, a lot of violence, and increasingly extremism. We also live in a world where people are informed that these things are often put down to religion. I cannot tell you the amount of times pupils have asked me “would there be any war if there wasn’t religion”? Which brings us the final post that I saw this morning, I’m not going to go into detail but the blurb on the back of the book was enough for me to put my head in my hands – understanding the Qur’an in minutes rather than months! Any religious scholar or person of faith would tell you that understanding religious scripture is a lifelong journey.

Why do I teach Religious studies? To dispel myths and stereotypes portrayed on social media – well media generally. But this is only the start… I try to create a safe environment where pupils feel comfortable to share their views, but to question things, and to know that it is OK to question. Together we look at what different religions teach, the basis for those teachings and how it affects their every day lives. 

My hope is that the young people who go through my classroom will have a respect for everyone, no matter who they are or what they believe; but that they will not accept everything blindly but will have the confidence to disagree with justification.

Whether we like it or not Religion is a part of our history, and our present society. Surely we need to try and understand it.

That is one of the many reasons why I teach Religious studies.

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