Spirituality and Education – the incoherence of RE and the incoherence of education (part 1)

Before I became a school teacher, I used to flick through the Education pages of newspapers and read teachers’ complaints and criticisms of the changes to the curriculum or lack of direction in education. As a university student, I was often on marches against cuts in education – it seemed like a no-brainer – where I met teachers, often very angry ones.

Now, after three or four years of teaching, I am also frustrated. For me it isn’t so much the cuts or the overpaid academy bosses but the lack of direction and aim. What is the purpose of education in the first place? What kind of student are we trying to create? You know, the questions that make teacher’s eyes roll because it reminds them of their naive undergraduate days, before they started work in our league-tabled-led, broke and aimless schools (obviously with little miracles here and there otherwise we wouldn’t do it).

A recent study on the relevance and future of Religious Education was done by the University of Exeter, with an interesting albeit unsurprising finding: “the content of the RE curriculum generally lacks coherence and continuity”.

The finding is unsurprising. How can we expect a National Curriculum which does not know its own purpose, to be able to teach philosophies which deal exclusively in purpose? It is however an interesting point because I think it gets to the core of the issue with our education.

I made a similar observation with my own students, and discussed with them my own findings: their education at school does not really have any real purpose. By that, I explained, I meant in terms of answering questions which are relevant to our lives, learning content which enlighten. Of course, there are a lot of lessons learned, about being on time, sitting still, obedience, patience and so on and so forth. After some discussion, I gave each student a piece of paper and asked them to write one question they would like an answer to, on any topic. The majority of students asked questions, which according to OFSTED (The Office for Standards of Education) class as ‘spiritual’: “Why do humans exist?”, “Why is life unfair?”, “Is there a God?”, “Why do people believe different things?”

I think these are all linked; the lack of coherence in our RE curriculum, the decline of our education system, the high numbers of teachers leaving the profession– in our daily job teachers know what they are doing, but as a whole we have no idea. In short, there is a lack of purpose and a lack of understanding of what purpose really means. OFSTED wants schools to promote spiritual development, but do not know what that means.

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