All Education is Religious

All Education is Religious

In education, the words “secular, government, and public” are not synonymous with neutrality. A public school is every bit as enmeshed in a system of ardently held, worldview-shaping religio-philosophical underpinnings as any religious school out there. It is not neutral because it is not possible to be neutral.

The claim that every school is intrinsically religious is hard to grasp at face value. The naked eye sees religious schools as adhering to faith commitments and non-religious schools as educating within a neutral philosophical framework. Neutrality is an attractive option for many; after all, isn’t it better to teach the curriculum without letting the monkey-wrench of theology jam the gears? Can’t we get on with the business of learning about maths, science, and history, without shoehorning in religious claims? That’s not as easy as it seems.

While at the level or 2+3=5, or spelling the word ‘apple, it may be possible to operate with a species of impartiality. However, this sort of learning represents a narrow slice of the educational pie, the rest of the pie being filled with a chunky metaphysical stew. What is the purpose of learning? What does it mean to be human? How should we treat others? How should we interact with the earth on which we find ourselves? A “neutral” education would have to navigate around these matters and, in doing so, would cease to be much of an education at all.

You don’t need a chapel to be religious.

The concept of a neutral school – or a neutral anything, for that matter – is born out of a narrow understanding of religion. If, by religion, one is speaking of priests, chapels, and ceremonies, then of course, there are non-religious schools. Harro Van Brummelen argues for an expanded definition, stating that it is possible to “define religion in its broad sense as a system of ardently-held beliefs that undergird your worldview…” These beliefs are the eyes of the mind; you don’t look at them, you look through them at everything else.

As the saying goes, you can’t get anywhere unless you start somewhere. To think yourself in a straight line, you must start from a basic set of philosophical assumptions; these are not argued for, they are argued from.

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