Religion in public school? Yes, thank you!

The debate on the subject of Religion usually has two fronts to justify itself. On the one hand, it dialogues with public opinion to argue for its inclusion in the education curriculum. On the other hand, within the Church there are those who argue that it would be better to eliminate the confessional subject and provide a good catechesis from the parishes.

Santiago Mata-June 17, 2022-Reading time: 4 minutes

Narnia, a Catholic Religion activity for public school students in Madrid. In the photo, the rapper Grilex in the 2022 edition.

It is not uncommon to hear that Religion should not be in the school curriculum. public school The teaching of Religion in secondary school, and that of course it should not score (something that has already been imposed in Spain by the LOMLOE). Those who say so sometimes reject the teaching of Religion as if it were something unscientific. Others reject it from the Catholic camp, thinking that its defense makes relations with non-Christians uncomfortable, or that it is a useless effort in view of the ever-decreasing interest of students or, even more, the indifference of parents. Would it not be better to concentrate on giving a good catechesis in parishes and denominational schools to those who are really interested?

Who chooses Religion?

Thanks to my modest experience as a teacher of Religion in public education for six years, I have seen how useful this subject is for our society: I will show you the results, if you will allow me.

To begin with, withdrawing to parochial barracks or to schools where the fish is already sold, means not submitting ourselves to quality control. In the public education system, the number of students who demand the subject -because the children ask for it and not their parents, let us not deceive ourselves- is around a third of the total in Spain (with great differences, in my school it exceeds 40%). Abandoning it is not coherent with the teaching vocation and it is also giving up the challenge of being chosen, examined and preferred not only by the students, but also by the educational community in general.

Going to the peripheries

We can invest resources and money in providing magnificent teachers and classes to schools and parishes where we promise to offer a quality religious education... But we will do so by moving away from the place where the students really go. And with this exquisite distance we will betray them, because those children who prefer Religion class to other alternatives -now in practice origami, due to the work of Minister Celaá, today ambassador to the Vatican- will not foreseeably set foot in a parish for many years, and even less to sign up for classes far from their vital environment. The students who attend Religion in public education not only rarely or never go to Mass, but they do not even make their First Communion. Precisely because for that they have to go out of their increasingly reduced vital environment.

In short, Religion in public schools may have few hours, fewer resources, and a public unwilling to make an effort. But that is what happens with all subjects, so either we give them what can be given in these circumstances, or they will have nothing. In many ways we teachers of Religion (public, I insist) are told that our classes will be for many the last occasion to hear about God, or in our case to have Catholic doctrine correctly explained to them. Of course, one cannot put gates on the field or cut off God's hands. Precisely for this reason we cannot deny them this viaticum. And yes, to hope that it will not be the last occasion: but if we deny them, they won't even have that.

Less prejudice among students

For those who are squeamish about wanting to differentiate - or separate and even confront - the Religion class and catechesis, I think they are quite out of date. It is true that there was a time (in my youth) when we already knew Catholic Religion and went to class with a rebellious spirit and a desire to annoy the teacher. From my limited experience, it seems to me that today's kids have the disadvantage of their total ignorance of Religion, but the advantage of their total lack of prejudices: they are eager to know, while we, who already knew, only wanted to bust the class. However, in order not to idealize the character, the desire is not usually accompanied by a great spirit of sacrifice, but by one closer to the curiosity of the Athenians of the Areopagus...

Up to this point I hope to have provided some argument to maintain, however little, what has been preserved of the teaching of Religion in public schools. It would be necessary to add the consideration that it is a human right, a right of parents, recognized in the Constitution, etc. The reality is that parents usually have other concerns, that most of them are not willing to demand anything, neither from their children nor from educators, and that in Spain it has been the Episcopal Conference that has defended this right, and that seems to be getting tired of the fight. For this very reason, perhaps it would be convenient that those of us who know how to be aware that children and young people have the right to hear about God, and that many of them ask for it, take up the baton.

Talking about Jesus Christ

You will not hear me say that Religion is useful to understand the modern world. No, what young people need is to be told about God, about Christ, not about the influence that Christianity has had on history. First of all, because teachers of History or Art are already there to tell them that, and above all, because the influence of Christianity is increasingly scarce and therefore we would be lying to them. In fact, it would be better to say that the Religion teacher can explain to them why the world is incomprehensible and inhuman, and suggest that another world is possible.

And finally, a reflection for those who criticize Religion as if it were something improper in the public education of a "secular country". Even for those who directly disbelieve - and this is true for Catholics with respect to other religions in the face of which we appear as "infidels" - a healthy sense of social integration makes us understand that it is better for those who teach Religion - whatever it may be - to do so at home or in their temple, but also in the public sphere: because we must know the arguments and even the intentions of all. It is better, in short, to speak in public, if we want to avoid corruption, sectarianism and fanaticism, which need secrecy.

No self-segregation

If we force and compel everyone to say openly what their religion preaches, we will avoid surprises, unnecessary prejudices, or efforts to unmask the irrational. On the other hand, cornering the teaching of Religion to the sacristies (or mosques), is the first step towards segregation and religious persecution. One need only look to the past to see how mutual ignorance is the germ of conspiracy theories and pogroms.

In short, to expel Religion from the public school environment is pure sectarianism and an aggression against a right very close to that of freedom of worship, which cannot be exercised from ignorance. Let us Catholics not fall into the naivety of believing that this is the best solution so as not to appear intransigent.

The authorSantiago Mata

Secondary Religion teacher and writer.

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