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Will all schools teach about all religions?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

With all due respect to Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh, there seems to be an agenda to convert our primary and secondary schools, designed for academic development of our children and citizens, into churches, mandirs or mosques. Can schools take the place of religious training institutions, and should school teachers take the place of religious experts? Has the minister considered the mammoth and confusing task, coupled with the impracticability involved in such an undertaking? Moreover, he seems to be assuming the “strange” role of high priest, imam, pundit or archbishop to mandate that his subordinates teach all religions to their children.

Where are we heading as a nation with this approach? Aren’t we enjoying religious harmony already in this country? Why plunge the nation into religious war? In his address to the Hindu Students’ Council of Trinidad and Tobago, the minister referred to “a revised curriculum in religious education that mirrors the virtues and values of all the religious groups in our country.” Whose brainchild is this? Is there a hidden religious agenda here? This is essentially syncretism (the combining of different religions, cultures and ways of thinking); so that this whole effort seems nothing more than the imposition of “another religion” on the nation, starting with our vulnerable and unsuspecting children.

The wonderful “pluralism” of T&T implied in the minister’s speech is likely to be seriously eroded as the classroom turns into a religious war zone through the implementation of the proposed curriculum. That which is beautiful now at the cultural, social and academic levels could quickly turn into outright religious war in the classroom. The minister should be aware that religious sensitivities become more acute when one is forced to teach or listen to that which one does not believe in or find insulting to one’s conviction. Worse, when a government of the day provides an official platform for comparisons and contrasts of the nation’s religions, what can be more divisive? Everybody knows how deep religious sentiments run among any people, whether multicultural, multireligious or not.

What is the ontological basis of the so-called “moral values held by our diverse faiths” referred to by Prof John Spence? How else can these moral values be sound except rooted in objective truth, that which is established by one Creator, God? Are they merely ideologies coming out of humanistic considerations or is there a standardised moral code from which they are drawn? Which set of moral values should teachers persuade our children to embrace? Which ones are right and which ones are wrong? Prof Spence (one of my former UWI lecturers) is certainly not an expert in religion; I am surprised he is advocating this, if only partly on the basis of the information from a UK “teacher on that subject.” I would have expected much more in-depth and insightful judgment on his part.

The goodly professor should note that a “multicultural society” (which by the way T&T is at present) is not the same as a religiously syncretic society, more like the agenda being pushed by the Minister of Education. This is where serious problems are likely to develop—where a kind of religious melting pot is imposed on the citizenry. Some serious questions have to be asked. How many religions would be covered in this “revised curriculum?” What about denominational branches? In Christianity there are the Roman Catholics, the Episcopalians (Anglicans), Moravians, Spiritual or Shouter Baptists, Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, Presbyterians and others. What about branches of Hinduism or Islam?
This comparative religion business is certainly not a matter for primary and secondary schools. This should be left to religious bodies. It will only create an extra burden on our students and unwarrantedly hamper their overall development.

By the way, did the minister ban extracurricular activities in schools to accommodate this “religious” agenda? The type of religious education proposed, fraught with such dangers, could never be more beneficial to our children’s education than extracurricular activities. The issue is not one of “ignorance” as Dr Spence implies, it is about people’s deep-seated religious convictions that cannot be dictated and mandated against. Then where is the integrity of our national anthem: “Here every creed and race find an equal place?” Here is where the Prime Minister needs to overrule. Who is qualified to teach what? Would a Christian teacher teach on Hinduism? What would be the content of that teaching? What would be the source of information—the Gita or the Bible? Would teachers be guilty of offending students and their parents? What about biasness, disrespect and perceived or deliberate insults that could be hurled at other people’s religions?

Would this comparative study address questions of presuppositionalism, prima facie and ultima facie warrants for particular beliefs, coherence of a belief, consistency and liveability of world- views, or their credibleness? What about the workability of a belief or its unrealistic nature? What about metaphysics and the question of ontology, causality, the philosophy of time, space or space time as conceptualised by different religions? Will teachers teach on the “nature of evidence” and the “critical experiment” of a religious view that either verifies or falsifies a hypothesis or theory? What a huge, confused and impractical curriculum this is likely to be, if it has to make sense or justify the paper and the time utilised for doing same. Finally, are we prepared for the social disorder that will result from the feelings of hurts and insults coming out of this seemingly meaningful innovation?

Apostle J Vernon Duncan is the senior pastor of Divine Encounter Fellowship Ministries International and national co-ordinator of the National Network of Intercessors

J Vernon Duncan
Via e-mail



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