From a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald:
But the experience taught me a number of things. Firstly, people’s belief systems are changeable but this process is complicated and is usually triggered by introspective interrogation and critical thinking, not by external correction and imposition of views.
Secondly, some people will always place more importance on faith than on facts. And this is their prerogative to do so.
Thirdly, young children may forever be asking questions about the world, but most of them will blindly believe whatever the authority figures in their lives tell them.
And this is precisely why it is unethical to indoctrinate children through religious direction.
That is not to say that children cannot be introduced to the concept of religion (and the fact that there are many many religions in the world — none of which have universal support and all of which have attracted considerable criticism). Nor does it mean that children cannot be introduced to ethical frameworks for decision making.
But surely it is important that we nurture children’s critical thinking and reasoning capacities rather than simply telling them to unquestionably accept what they are told?
The author asserts that ethics classes, recently trialed in NSW schools, teach children how to think, whereas ‘moralising sermons’ ‘strictly dictate right from wrong’.
My son is attending Anglican scripture classes at his public school. I don’t have much of an idea of what is taught; at his stage it seems to be fairly basic bible stories with the moral framework pointed out, including honouring God, honouring parents and treating other people with kindness. Perhaps the way these things are taught depends on the teacher as much as the curriculum.
I assume that at some point he will ask questions about it all for himself. Since he’ll be at a state school, he’ll be surrounded by other kids who don’t necessarily believe what his family does, and he’ll be bound to be challenged in that environment.
I am interested in the author’s point about teaching kids to think, rather than indoctrinating them. Many of us who comment on this site have experienced church environments where certain types of questioning are discouraged. Or at least, where you may be regarded as rebellious if you aren’t convinced by the answers you are given. You are ‘negative’ or heretical (depending upon the environment) if your conclusions don’t conform and this disturbs you strongly enough to be vocal about it or leave. There is strong social pressure to conform, and a price to pay if you do not. Of course this isn’t isolated to religious groups. Political groups are very similar. Even workplaces.
Is indoctrination then something we should be concerned about when it comes to religious education in schools for our children? Or is the author wrong to assume that this is what happens in religious education classes?