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Education is never "secular"

Celebrate

Copyright 1997 J. K. Phillips
All Education - a 'win win' situation for everyone.
(If only!)

Education is a multiconceptual word. The word evokes a spectrum of images ranging from institutional labels to philosophical ideologies and signifies a range of activities as diverse as the people engaged in them, or mentioning them. For some to be called "Educational" the activity must result in some form of worthwhile personal change and to others it must have some form of intrinsic worth and choice. The term is also used to cover any activity in a building or institution that is labelled "educational". Education seems to range from being whatever anyone likes to call it, to what the political power of the day enforces!

The conglomeration and accumulation of opinions and beliefs does not easily produce a consensus as to what it actually is, but we all think we "know" what we are talking about when we use the word.

I rather like the concept of leading out (Groome. 1981. P.3) as a definitive characteristic of all education, because it allows room for most definitions of education. It also allows room for self leading and leading out by others.

Education, whatever kind and however we view it, is never neutral (Hill. 1996. 71). It can be viewed as a religious activity because it involves knowing the world through other peoples world view. It has consequences for political, social, religious and every other area of life. Yet the word "secular" is often coupled with it as if some learnings are value free, truths outside of the cultural, gender and language constructs that make it subjective.

"Secular" education is no more free of religion than "Religious" education. It could even be called propaganda because it seeks to communicate only one world view - what is thought to be a non religious one.

Without knowledge of our religious heritage how can we study our past? Art History, Culture and the other subjects we view as of "educational" value need religious literacy. A very truncated and biased view is passed on when we cut out references to religious "matter." For example, what insights would you bring to Michelangelo's "David" if you know nothing of the biblical account that prompted this work? Perhaps you would interpret him as a sex symbol? If religious knowledge is not included in "educational" activities, would it be more realistic to call them propaganda.

We have taught various science theories as though they are absolute truths only to find out that the world wasn't flat after all. And in the future our base of 10 may not be politically correct no matter how easy it is for us to use now to interpret and communicate number.

The attempted secularisation of schooling is one form of hegemony that can silence many. It limits the potential joy in learning by denying people the opportunity to see, consider and analyse more than one perspective. It is a form of rejection that can affect achievement, success and well being and can lead to feelings of alienation in some groups.

Oh for a world where everyone is open-minded enough to close the mind, and close minded enough to open it, and wise enough to know what is appropriate. This is an "educational" direction worth pursuing.

Reference:

Groome, Thomas. Christian Religious Education. 1981. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers.
Hill, B. (1996) Can Religious Education Be Theologically Neutral? Los Angeles: Internationl Seminar On Religious Education And Values.