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In the past half century, there has been a struggle with the role of religion in the Canadian public schools. This debate in the recent years has been a complex one due to the fact that Canada is a county that is characterized by many different religions. Starting from the criticizing and questioning of the lord’s player recitation in schools to the wearing of ceremonial daggers, the right of exercising a specific religion in the Canadian classrooms still remains to be a hot debate in Canada. For instance, a debate emerged in late 1950s whereby some people wanted to strengthen religious education in public s school classrooms while others wanted it to be removed from the curriculum. Those who supported the education believed that it will reinforce the existing traditional standards while those who opposed it said that the schools should be more secular due to the various changes in the Canadian society (CBC Archives). This essay seeks to discuss the why it is importance to teach religion in Canadian public schools for educational purposes.
History of Religious Education in Canada: Ontario Schools
In Ontario public schools, the study of religion has evolved over time to include the study of ideas, beliefs and practices of a variety of religious traditions. Currently, the population of Ontario is made up of significant numbers of people from diverse religious, racial and ethno cultural backgrounds. It is therefore important that the public schools in Ontario and Canada as a whole seek to foster respect and understanding for the different cultures and their various forms of religious expression. When founding peoples came from Europe to Canada, they came along with their long standing tradition of conducting education through Christian churches. In Europe Schools and Universities were normally set up and run by clergy. The objective of most of the founding religious groups in Canada was to instruct their students in the tenets of their particular denomination (Ministry of Education / Ministère De L'Éducation).
Relevance of teaching Religion in a Pluralistic Society
The Canadian society has always encompassed people of diverse beliefs and backgrounds. The Canadian mosaic now includes a significant and increasing number of immigrants from many countries of the world and virtually all geographical regions. By teaching religion, the society seeks to enhance the common good and also fosters mutual respect. Religious education also fosters mutual respect and encourages the appreciation of diversity; providing fairness and equality of opportunity in the representation of various groups and interests (Ministry of Education / Ministère De L'Éducation).
Education about religion can not only help in reducing barriers of ignorance between groups but also promote their mutual understanding and respect. By studying the different faiths and getting to know their practitioners, the students get an insight into people of different backgrounds. The comprehension of similarities and differences provides the students with the opportunity to develop attitudes and values that may contribute to social harmony, for instance respect for those of different backgrounds, appreciation of diversity and a sense of community (Ministry of Education / Ministère De L'Éducation).
Relevance to the individual Student
Education about religion can greatly contribute to a curriculum that aims to support the physical, social, moral and emotional growth and also the spiritual growth of the child as he develops basic values, attitudes, beliefs and an understanding of life. It can also enhance the student’s awareness of the variety of ways in which people acquire knowledge and formulate beliefs about the world. This is through reason, intuitive insight and also experience. History teaches us that religion is one of the hallmarks of human identity. When the student is educated about religion, he or she is helped to better comprehend himself and also others around him by providing him with an opportunity to consider human spirituality (Ministry of Education / Ministère De L’Éducation).
Education about religion is quite important because religion in itself is a means by which human beings seek to comprehend some of the fundamental questions about human existence, for instance questions about the importance of the individual, the meaning of being human, the meaning and purpose of life, the individual’s relationship to his surrounding and the world and also the role of spirituality in human life. By increasing the students’ appreciation and awareness about the central role that religion and spirituality plays in the lives of human beings, students can also be helped to acquire a deeper understanding and appreciation of their own spirituality and religious heritage through the study of other faiths (Ministry of Education / Ministère De L'Éducation).
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Relevance in the Curriculum
Students who get educated about the diverse forms of religious beliefs and expression will find quite beneficial in understanding other aspects of the curriculum. Religious belief and expression play an integral part in some aspects of society for example politics, art, language and literature, music, attitudes towards people and attitudes towards nature and the environment. A good number of social and political movements have links to religious institutions or have their origins in religious and moral teachings. Such phenomena include; colonialism sand imperialism, development of democratic values, social reform movements and also temperance movements.
Historical events have are also closely intertwined to religious believes; in the case of Canada, her history was shaped by a variety of religious traditions that included Native spiritual traditions, and churches such as the Roman Catholic, Anglican and the Protestants. The very development of the Canadian government has been greatly influenced by a variety of religious issues (Ministry of Education / Ministère De L'Éducation).
Relevance to Contemporary Issues
The understanding of the role that religion plays in the lives of human beings can help students to better comprehend contemporary social issues and global events in a clear perspective when they reach the level of maturity required to consider them. Religious beliefs have a huge influence on the debates about abortion, the rights of groups for example; women, children, homosexuals, refugees and minorities. Other global issues such as war and peace, distribution of wealth and power and human rights also have a religious dimension too (Ministry of Education / Ministère De L'Éducation).
Suggested Learning Outcomes
Teaching religion in schools should foster understanding about religion in Canada while at the same time prepare the students for active participation in the multicultural and multi-faith Canadian society. The outcome of this education should be seen in terms of the skills, knowledge and values developed by the student. After being educated about religion, the students will demonstrate awareness of a number of different religions; awareness of universal symbols and other common themes in the traditions of different religions. The students will familiarize themselves with some of the beliefs practices, arts and literature of various religious traditions; better understand the role that religion plays in the lives of individuals and society as a whole. The students will better understand the central role that religion plays in helping people the meaning and purpose of life (Ministry of Education / Ministère De L'Éducation).
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The course on religions of the world is a great idea. Care should however be taken to prevent governments for example the government of Quebec which use such a course to replace the one that was catechitical in nature. While parents may think that their children are comprehensively studying world religions, these children are only offered survey courses. Consequently the children do not get substantial religious information in any denomination in particular and are left believing that either all religions are the same or more disturbingly that all the others are false. This gives secularists a means of achieving their end of denigrating religion under the guise of religious instruction (Doughart, Jackson).
In my own humble opinion, with the exclusion of confessional schools, not even one public school should be expected to teach any particular denomination alone. The responsibility of doing so squarely rests with the parents with the help of the church. Provided that we are able to deal with the misconception that this causes any sort of religious formation, it is an advantage to our society.
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Considering the fact that more of the world's population has religious beliefs and practices, it is quite important that Canadian children get grounding in the basics of religion. This should be a subject that teaches all children the importance of religion in the world today, and how it affects society, especially in Canada which is characterized by multiculturalism and multi-faith. There should be no endeavor to persuade the children that one faith is 'better' than another, of course, as this may sow a seed of prejudice. Due to the fact that some subjects such as Philosophy is goes hand with religious faith and the philosophical affect how people live and interact in society it is advantageous for religion to be thought in Canadian schools.