Monday, April 23, 2012

Paganism in British Schools

Here's some good news for generational pagans and druids in the United Kingdom. The new religious education syllabus adopted by Cornwall Council schools includes paganism and druidry alongside more mainstream religious such as Christianity, representing the first time that pagan beliefs have been made part of the study of world religions by any British school.

The syllabus, put forth by Cornwall's advisory group, makes it clear that students ages 5 and above will learn mostly about Christianity, but 40 percent of the other religious material will be devoted to non-Christian and pagan beliefs.

"It is clear that Christianity should predominate at each key stage and should feature in no less than 60% of the religious education taught. The other religious traditions should occupy no more than 40% of RE time over the key stage," the syllabus reads.

The study materials will also help children "understand the basic beliefs" of paganism and recognize children of pagan parents who are also following the religion.

So this can only be a good thing, right? Any child raised by pagan parents is going to want to see their own beliefs included in a class that purports to teach the beliefs of world religions, and from a social perspective this sounds like a pretty good way to explain to their classmates that just being pagan doesn't make them evil devil-worshippers. Predictably, though, some conservative Christians are lodging complaints, I suppose because that's just what they do whenever the word "paganism" crosses a public official's lips.

Still, the decision to provide students with more exposure to pagan beliefs is seen as controversial by some, with critics claiming that modern-day pagans and Wicca followers, a minority group, are pushing for such beliefs to be made more prominent in British society.

"Religious education is squeezed already – there's barely enough time to cover Christianity and the other major religions," said Mike Judge, a spokesman for Christian Institute, an organization working for the advancement of Christian education in the U.K.

"Introducing paganism is just faddish and has more to do with the political correctness of teachers than the educational needs of children," he added.

It seems to me that if pagan kids are being bullied because of their religious beliefs, greater understanding of those beliefs has a whole lot to do with those kids' educational needs. Of course, conservative Christians tend to be the most vocal opponents of anti-bullying laws as well, so presumably this aspect of the new religious studies program either doesn't even occur to Judge or simply strikes him as completely irrelevant.

It also amazes me, having followed similar disputes in the past, how weak and unappealing some of these Christians must find their beliefs to be. Could this be another case of fearing that if kids find out that paganism exists, they'll ditch Christianity in a heartbeat? If that's what's really going on here, it seems to me that problem is not with paganism, but rather with the sort of Christianity that people are more desperate to escape than to practice.

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V.V.F. said...

It totally makes sense for Cornwall schools to include druidry in their religious studies curriculum. When the BBC is reporting matter-of-factly on new initiations in the Gorseth Kernow, then Cornish kids definitely deserve to be educated about it.

Personally, I kind of wish that Wiccans, specifically, would stop pushing for this kind of advocacy, but mostly just because the ones who do are all idiots.

Scott Stenwick said...

While there certainly are idiots who advocate for greater recognition of alternative religions, I still view it as a net good overall. You're going to find jerks in just about every movement, and unfortunately they tend to get the most attention because they yell the loudest.

Frater Serpentis et Aquila said...

I couldn't agree more with this:
"If that's what's really going on here, it seems to me that problem is not with paganism, but rather with the sort of Christianity that people are more desperate to escape than to practice."

I was strongly raised Christian and when I began my study of Paganism and occult traditions I found life, beauty, inspiration, and freedom, and nothing but rigidness, boredom, and guilt in my mother's Christianity.

V.V.F. said...

"...they tend to get the most attention because they yell the loudest."

Pretty much what I meant. (Being BTW and all.)