Opinion

Letters To The Editor: 8th February, 2019

Part of the problem of explanation is that letters to the Editor have to be brief or no one reads them. So, let me now write more fully to explain what a significant loss it would be to all students at Catholic schools if religious education were removed. This is quite apart from the loss of the essential right to pass on the Catholic faith by teaching its doctrines and of prayers, hymns and devotions. Look at the loss of so much general knowledge and special topics, normally covered over 13 years.
08 Feb 2019 15:26
Letters To The Editor: 8th February, 2019

A Huge Loss

Fr Kevin McGuire, Suva

I think Catholics have not done a very good job in explaining what a huge loss it would be to the education of all students in Catholic schools if the teaching of religious education were to be removed from the curriculum, whether by outright ban or by reassigning Catholic teachers away from Catholic schools.

Part of the problem of explanation is that letters to the Editor have to be brief or no one reads them. So, let me now write more fully to explain what a significant loss it would be to all students at Catholic schools if religious education were removed. This is quite apart from the loss of the essential right to pass on the Catholic faith by teaching its doctrines and of prayers, hymns and devotions. Look at the loss of so much general knowledge and special topics, normally covered over 13 years.

Take English. (pace those who speak only in acronyms). The Bible was once the common heritage of the Western World and its phrases and concepts common currency. This is still true in Fiji today. Without this background it is hard to appreciate the works of leading novelists and writers. For example, The Lord of the Flies by William Golding was once a senior textbook. It is now dropped, perhaps because non-faith teachers and the markers of exams did not understand it. The Lord of the Flies is Beelzebub, the Devil, and the story about original sin. Without that background it is as meaningless as reading Animal Farm without any knowledge of the Russian Revolution.

Take Philosophy. The philosophy of Aristotle and Aquinas validates the existence of objective knowledge and those principles of thought, such as the principle of non-contradiction, without which there is no empirical science. Religious education is shot through with philosophy because faith builds on reason just as grace builds on nature.

Take History.  Who today learns anything at school about the world before cellphones and social media? A religious education teaches about Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and, indirectly, a sweep of European and other history as it treats of movements like Protestantism and Marxism, and the struggles of Saints and Sinners. This will all be lost.

Take Logic: Where does this find a place in the Government curriculum?  It is all about “I feel that …”: there is only probability and contingency.  There is no certainty. (Newspapers also add “I believe that …”  to every positive statement you make. Have you noticed that almost every letter to the Editor reads like a Credo, I believe, I believe?) Logic helps us to discriminate fake news. Logic helps students use words correctly. Discrimination is not wrong.  It is unjust discrimination that is the trouble.

Take Geography. Religious education speaks of its Christian origins in the Middle East (still in the news) and how it spread to the ends of the earth. Many students today cannot read a map (and please do not change that to “I believe that …”) nor can they place anything much on a map. But lots of Fijians have been to the Middle East and knew some background because of their religious education.

Take Sociology. Religious education teaches the universal brotherhood of man and gives it a foundation. Nowhere in the Government curriculum is there taught, uncompromisingly, the importance of family as the basic unit of society.  Not everyone believes that a “five-parent” child will grow up normal. The rights of a child include the right of a child to life and to a mother and father who love and care for it. Is this taught in the Govt. curriculum? Fooling around with children’s lives is not OK. (Pace “Big Brother”: Children belong to their parents, not the Government.) We all know this is true, but can our Government teach this in its schools?

Social Justice. Will we strip out the reasoned justification for claiming human rights and the corresponding concept of obligations?  Human rights are founded on religious principles and so is all morality. It is not just a show of hands that makes things right or wrong. Religious education teaches the meaning of freedom: Which is freedom from unjust constraint and the freedom which comes from empowerment. (It is truth that sets us free.) Religious education gives democracy a foundation and imparts purpose to citizenship. It exposes dictatorship, totalitarianism and exploitation.

A child looks at the island of Ovalau and sees hills and trees. A geologist sees a volcanic island with a caldera, volcanic plugs, lava flows and the weathering of ages. He sees the same thing as the child, but sees it with an educated eye. So too, the educated Catholic. A religious education confronts students with their world, its virtues and vices and it challenges them to think.

Was it Socrates who said that an unexamined life is not worth living? And St. Augustine: What is the use of running well, if you run in the wrong direction?

Yes, let religious instruction begin at home where all education begins, but like any education it cannot stop there.Removing religious education from Catholic schools would be a huge loss to the education of all students at Catholic schools. This may also help explain why the Catholic community wants heads of Catholic schools and teachers who are on the same wavelength and who share their faith.

If numbers of unqualified teachers are posted to a Catholic school it can mean that a child may go without religious education classes for a year or even years.

If the posting of non-Catholic teachers to Catholic schools while Catholic teachers are posted to non-Catholic schools is for some reason unavoidable because, for example of teacher shortages or plain confusion, that is one thing. But if it is done with malice aforethought in order to destroy our Catholic schools’ ability to teach religious education, then this is setting aside our Constitutions.

I think the Education Department may be catching on.

Feedback:  jyotip@fijisun.com.fj

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