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Schoolchildren indoctrinated, says RE expert

BRITISH SCHOOLS are programming children with secularist values, even though 71 per cent of the adult population claims belief in God and identifies with Christianity, the Professor of Religious Education at Exeter University said this week.

Professor Terence Copley, in a new book, Indoctrination, Education and God: The struggle for the mind, warns that the education system is under the disproportionate influence of vociferous secularists, whose claim that RE is indoctrination is a smokescreen masking their promotion of a secularist world-view.

They are being assisted, Professor Copley argues, by “atheist liberals who make strident and articulate use of their media pulpit” to ridicule Christianity and minimise the British people’s Christian allegiance.

But he also charges some 1960s and 1970s RE gurus of having been complicit in the secularisation process by taking the divine out of religion. Their influence remains in a secularised, relativist RE, which teaches Christianity as just one of several religions and worldviews, ignoring its claims to truth and its cultural importance for British heritage. Both in the media and in schools, the book argues, Christianity is often treated with less respect than other world religions.

Professor Copley suggests that RE may now be the “King Canute of the curriculum, bidding back the tide of secularism”, while competing for classroom time with new subjects such as citizenship, which are taught from a secularist perspective. He calls for an investigation of how far an implicitly secular indoctrination is occurring in society, and, if so, whether education is helping or hindering the process.

Professor Copley is also the leader of the Biblos Project, a partnership between Exeter University School of Education and the Bible Society. Now in its ninth year, Biblos investigates the teaching of the Bible in schools.

The project’s third report, the subject of a London seminar yesterday, suggests that 93 per cent of schoolchildren read or hear passages from the Bible only in RE lessons. But the research suggested that most teachers of RE were secularising Bible narratives, turning them into moral tales, because they were unfamiliar with the Bible, feared accusations of indoctrination, or thought pupils would be bored if the narratives were told straight.

The report concludes: “Secularisation of biblical narratives, which excludes God as ‘the hero’, does not constitute a non-indoctrinatory approach to the Bible, but merely a new form of secular indoctrination.”

The Church of England’s RE spokesman, the Revd Dr John Gay, said that the research was a strong indictment of the way the Bible was presented in many RE lessons. “This is a wake-up call to the Churches and the RE world, and calls for an overhaul in how Christianity is taught.”

The Biblos report says its findings should focus attention on the long-term shortage of primary- and secondary-school RE specialists.

Indoctrination, Education and God: The struggle for the mind by Terence Copley is published by SPCK (£14.99; 0-281-05682 X).

Lessons learnt

BIBLOS project researchers asked more than 1000 pupils, in nine schools nationwide, to name and describe a Bible passage of their choice and suggest a meaning it might have for today:

David and “Guliufe”
Year 9 pupil (aged 13 ):
Moral: “No matter how small u are, belive in yourself”

Year 9 pupil (aged 13 ):
Moral: “Don’t hert people because they might actually be quite nice.”

Year 12 pupil (17 ):
Story: “David killed Goliath because he wasn’t chicken.”
Moral: “Be courageous and fight certain death bravely.”

Birth of Christ
Year 12 pupil (17 ):
Story: “Mary gave birth in a stable, 3 kings visited bearing gifts mirth, frankincense and gold.”
Moral: “That the birth of a newborn baby is the best gift of all.”

Betrayal of Christ
Year 9 pupil (13 )
Moral: “You can’t trust anyone these days.”

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