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Salient. Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 26, No. 7. Tuesday, June 18, 1963

School Religious Problems Insurmountable?

School Religious Problems Insurmountable?

A clause in the recent amendment to the Education Act which permits religious instruction in State Primary schools was decisively rejected at the annual meeting of the New Zealand Educational Institute last month, because It elves teachers the right to teach religion in school.

While supporting the legal introduction of religion in the school syllabus, the NZEI reaffirmed a decision taken in 1959, that no teacher should be allowed to take part in religious instruction in school, by 140 votes to 16.

The amendment enables school committees, after consultation with the head teacher, to provide for thirty minutes of religious instruction daily to be given by voluntary instructors approved by the committee.

This was contrary to the expressed views of the NZEI and also the Commission on Education which studied the problem of religion in schools. Parliament followed the recommendations of the Commission in all but this point.

The Minister of Education, Mr. Tennent, explained that this was because many teachers were already teaching religion and pointed out that the amendment specifically stated that no person is to bring pressure to bear on a teacher to induce him to take part in religious instruction or observance.

The problem of religious instruction in New Zealand schools has aroused controversy many times in the past but few people realise just how great are the obstacles to achievement. All who feel the need for a system of Christian education are aware of the sometimes incredible lack of knowledge of the life of Christ and the Bible among many New Zealand children.

From the teachers' point of view, there are two alternatives. They can either take the responsibility of teaching the children of parents whose beliefs differ from their own, from a syllabus with which they themselves may not be in entire agreement: or they can refuse to teach religion on grounds of conscience, and thus decrease their chances when applying for a position where an applicant who is willing to teach religion will be preferred.

Some teachers, understandably, feel unqualified to teach religion and are reluctant to undertake the responsibility. No-one can be expected to teach something in which they sincerely disbelieve but if the alternative will mean jeopardising his career a teacher might submit rather than limit his chances of advancement in his chosen profession.

As for the parents, their dilemma will depend on whether they feel a responsibility to ensure that their children are educated in the doctrine of one sector scriptural passages and ideas acceptable to all Christian faiths. Probably all New Zealanders believe in the right of everyone to follow his conscience in adopting a creed on which to base his life. So some parents may find themselves wondering if they have any right to indoctrinate their children in a belief which they might otherwise reject in later life if left to choose for themselves. Others may believe that they can provide adequate religious education for their children in the home, and fear that their children will be given ideas with which they do not agree. There are those who believe that the religious teacher's aim should be to present but not to impose faith, that the crystallization of principles should be left to the pupil himself.

This suggests an interesting parallel which was drawn by Adam Gowans Whyte in "The Riddle of Religious Education."

"The primary purpose of every syllabus of religious instruction, agreed or otherwise, is to induce belief in Christianity and the more successful the teacher the more the class will present a uniformity of belief. This method of education in fact bears a strong likeness to the Nazi method of impressing a particular ideology on the plastic mind of youth. In both cases one set of principles is inculcated to the exclusion of all others, and the process of bringing unique personalities to a standard pattern is fostered by daily acts of ritual."

One of the major problems of teaching an interdenominational syllabus is the possibility that children will be confused by apparent uniformity of the various sects and disillusioned when they meet ideas which seem incompatible with what they have been taught, This difficulty arises from attempting to teach a belief without reference to a creed. Eventually they will come in contact with beliefs or practices which apparently contradict what they have learnt.

Probably many people hope that religion in schools will mean a decrease in juvenile delinquency but if half a century of religious instruction in Britain failed to decrease the number of non-practising Christians, much less improve teenage morality, it seems unlikely that it will do so in New Zealand—not in the near future, anyway.

The obstacles to a workable system of religious education in New Zealand are many and one can't help feeling that there is wisdom in the words of Dean Inge: "Religion is normally not taught, but caught, like measles, from someone who already has it."