Let’s offer Religious Studies!
Seriously, those were the thoughts running through my head and the conversation I was having with myself when I decided this was a good idea. Sure, no one has done it at our school. It’s not offered at any other year level, but I can do this … right?!
The Religious Studies Standards look awesome! They honestly do and they made me so excited. But, as always, it’s not as easy as it seems. As I have noted in previous posts, I am a Social Scientist at heart and it is my belief that learners should be given knowledge so that they can be understanding and knowing citizens in our communities and the wider world.
I hear so many of my learners saying stupid things such as “look at that turban head” – my first thought when I hear things like this is always, do you have any idea what that means? But it’s more than just that ignorance, it is also the questions “why do you go to church?”, “why do you wear a head scarf?” – and so I decided to create a Religious Studies course for Level 1 learners for this year.
I had a very specific idea of what I wanted to do in this course. I didn’t want this to be like RE used to be in my primary school or to focus on a specific religion, I wanted learners to gain a broader understanding of religion and what it means to different people. Again, here my Social Scientist heart came to the forefront.
At the beginning I was knocked back a little. I put a post on Facebook in the Senior Social Studies Teachers NZ page asking if there were any Religious Studies teachers who could give some advise and clarification on the Standards I had chosen to focus on. The comments advised that it was going to be difficult for me to do these Standards in a secular school. This set me back a step. I didn’t understand. Nothing in the Standards or the clarifications mentioned anything about this or why learners would find it difficult to complete these assessments if they had no personal religious backgrounds. However, I had never taught these standards before and these teachers had, this meant that I needed more help or more clarification.
It wasn’t until I went on Twitter and connected with Jeremy Cumming that I finally got some clarification and realised that actually, this is possible and it may be difficult but the learners do not need to be from a religious background to attempt these standards. With no religious background learners may find some of the standards more difficult than the others because of the level of content that is required, but this just meant I needed to be more selective about which assessments to choose for the purposes and the ideas I had for this course. Finally, I could see some direction for this course and after discussion with Jeremy had decided on the three religious contexts I wanted to focus on:
- Catholicism, Hinduism and Buddhism.
This means that learners would gain an understanding of monotheism, polytheism and spirituality without a specific deity. Each of these religions are very different and may have common themes running throughout them but their beliefs and their rituals are varied, hopefully allowing learners to gain a deeper understanding of religions.
Now I just need to learn about them myself, make connections with the different institutions and find people who were willing to come and work with our learners.