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Church, not school, is where kids should study religious education

Sunday April 3 2016

Pews are emptying around the world but faith is getting hot and dangerous again, threatening our lives. If ever there was a time to champion secular values, it is now. This is why: as we debate how to improve the education curriculum, we should start by throwing out religious education and stop religious institutions from using the schools they run to indoctrinate students. PHOTO | FILE

Pews are emptying around the world but faith is getting hot and dangerous again, threatening our lives. If ever there was a time to champion secular values, it is now. This is why: as we debate how to improve the education curriculum, we should start by throwing out religious education and stop religious institutions from using the schools they run to indoctrinate students. PHOTO | FILE 

WAGA ODONGO
By WAGA ODONGO
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In primary school, we had an odd morning ritual every Wednesday. We would be sent to different classrooms depending on our parents’ faiths. The Catholics were shepherded one way while the Protestants remained in the class since they were the majority. Muslims submitted to instruction in some corner of the school. One boy, a Jehovah’s Witness, roamed the corridors in search of salvation. This was pastoral class time and we were closeted with those who shared our beliefs.

Later on, we met for a double maths lesson, comfortable that we, the righteous, would soon be enjoying the comforts of heaven while our pagan compatriots would be enduring immeasurable torment.

The situation was repeated every Christian Religious Education (CRE) class, although the effect wasn’t as marked. The few Muslims in class would slink out, leaving the Christians as a united mass, as though the Reformation never happened.

Every week we were reminded that we were different. Our gods didn’t get along. Our revelations were separate and some were superior.

During morning assembly, all our hymns were Christian, the weekly sermons were Anglican, and the  prayers firebrand evangelical. Through it all, the administrators reminded us of the importance of respecting other people’s religion as they invited an endless march-past of Anglican priests to lecture us.

Our school was open to everyone, but the badge had both a cross and bishop’s crook.

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Even an atheist like me has no problem appreciating religious myths. You need to know religion to understand history, art and literature.   How else would you know why someone is referred to as a “Judas” or described as having the patience of Job?

INCREASED MORALITY

It is important to learn about different religions and I think a course in the history of different religions is important in a polarised world.

What a time to be alive, though! Pews are emptying around the world but faith is getting hot and dangerous again, threatening our lives.

If ever there was a time to champion secular values, it is now. This is why: as we debate how to improve the education curriculum, we should start by throwing out religious education and stop religious institutions from using the schools they run to indoctrinate students.

RE is compulsory in primary school but limited to the three main faiths. What about, Judaism, Jainism, Jedi, Scientology, Pastafarianism, Rastafarianism and the Church of Last Thursday? Clearly, any attempt by Kenya National Education Council to cater for all the different beliefs would stretch it beyond comprehension. If we can’t accommodate them all, we should drop them all.

God truly moves in mysterious ways when it comes to teaching religious education in classrooms. The Christian Religious Education syllabus is usually an extended compromise. The points of contention between the various sects cannot be touched upon. The discrepancy in the holy books is off limits. The different interpretations are not welcome to the discussion and the fact that different sects of the faith use different holy books is not addressed.

Christianity’s many fractious sects cannot agree on the nature of God, the existence of heaven and hell, the Trinity or whether we are immortal or not. Beliefs like the Assumption are off limits.  All efforts to teach the actual tenets of the faith using one book are bound to fail. The real miracle in teaching CRE is how they are able to stretch the few things all Christians agree on (be good and donate to the poor) through 12 years’ worth of schooling.

Rather than have a hasty, watered-down version of your beliefs taught in classrooms, why not instruct children about our gods in churches?

Some think that RE increases morality in students. Morality and religion have nothing to do with each other. The most religious places on earth are usually the ones with the most crimes. In the past two decades, Baghdad (Iraq), Bangui (Central African Republic) and Belgrade (Serbia) have shown that a high number of believers is toxic to the body politic.

Note also that Western Europe kicked out religious studies from their schools but crime continued plummeting. Morality predates our religions and is observable even in other animals.

Many schools established by various faiths require some sort of observance of the mother religion as part of the curriculum. You find that mass, assembly and prayer books are compulsory for all. It isn’t fair that children from different religions are effectively discriminated against in such schools. 

It is okay to challenge the beliefs of others, but you should also allow your own beliefs to be challenged. Religions shouldn’t use their learning institutions as recruiting centres where indoctrination is made compulsory.

CHOCKED IN RELIGION

The habit of evangelising also extends to religiously affiliated universities. To continue the pretence that one particular religion has more insights to offer than others at university level is particularly unwise and should be grounds to have your charter cancelled. To enforce the adherence of religious practices on unwilling students as a requirement for a course is absurd. However, such behaviour is still all too common in Kenyan universities.  

What is it about these millennia-old faiths with billion-strong fellowships that is so insecure that they must force others to partake in their customs? Why must faith, with all its contradictions, be inflicted on those with  such young minds in a place of learning?

Why must the conscription to the armies of salvation happen to the young and the helpless, often in echo chambers where everyone believes their brand of faith? What hope do we have  of achieving national cohesion  when our schools discriminate on religion grounds and the exam body  recognises only three faiths? It is time to rid ourselves of religion in classrooms.

Also, ditching RE will enable the youth to effectively be taught about sex in schools. The reason  sex education has never be taught properly in schools is because too many of them are run by the church. Every time someone suggests giving the youth condoms — half of them have had  sex by the time they are 18— the clergy threaten to call down fire and brimstone.

Religious education is an ineffectual, divisive, outdated and time-wasting pursuit. The time allotted to it would be better used teaching maths or English. Our children are bad at these, as Uwezo keeps reminding us. These subjects  are more useful here on earth. School is meant to prepare our children for this life, not the next one.

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WHAT EQUALITY? 

Yes, pay women tennis players less than the men

Novak Djokovic recently said that women tennis players should be paid less than men. It caused a stir, with many condemning his comments. The tennis number one has since apologised.

He is right, though. Men’s tennis is harder, faster and has a larger pool of talent playing it. It is a lot harder statistically to break through than women’s. The men’s final draws more than twice the viewers than women’s, so why should the pay be the equal?

Men suffer more to get to the final and face tougher physical conditions. They draw larger crowds; how, then, is it fair to pay them the same as women?

In modelling, the top female talent is paid several multiples what male talent is paid. One newspaper calculated the disparity in pay as 42:1. It makes sense as there is a larger market for women’s clothes than men’s. It is harder to be a female model than a male one, so naturally, the waifs on the runway get paid more.

In 2015,  the highest paid fighter in the Ultimate Fighting Championship was a woman, Ronda Rousey. She had the most attractive fighting style and attracted the most viewers and so cashed the biggest cheques.

The American women’s football team recently complained about being paid less than the men. Well, very few people watch the Women’s World Cup. The finals are a time-share between Germany and the United States. It isn’t as competitive as the men’s game.

 Men’s physical performance surpasses that of women, and that is not a slight on the women’s game.

When the women’s game brings in as much money as the men’s, it will be time for a review.

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TERM LIMITS NEEDED

The metamorphosis of Babu Owino

In 2010, Paul Ongili, aka Babu Owino, challenged the rule that only a regular student could be a Sonu chairman. Module II students, who paid more to be members of Sonu, outnumbered regular students, and so subsidised the education of regular students, were only allowed to elect a representative to Sonu. Babu held marches and protests to have the discriminatory Sonu constitution changed.

After a lengthy period during which the UoN went on strike for the first time under VC George Magoha and Sonu was disbanded, the university management relented, and the constitution was changed. With parallel students overwhelmingly on his side, Babu easily won.  I joked at the time that Sonu would never have another regular student chairman.

Turns out Sonu would never have a different chairman — or so it seems. I can’t remember who it was that split Babu’s rule. The rule that barred first year students from being chairman was also scrapped, meaning that when Babu finished campus, he could go and study another course and pick up from where he had left off. TBabu has been elected for  a fourth term.

Many might wonder why the Sonu position is so hotly contested. The chairman is in charge of a kitty worth more than Sh50 million and to decides who gets which shops and where.

The tragic tale is often told of how those who fight for rights manage to become tyrants. Babu seems to be following in the same footsteps. 

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