Home ANS Feature An Open Door of Opportunity

An Open Door of Opportunity

by Charles Gardner

UK Christians must take back territory lost to Disney 

By Charles Gardner, Special to ASSIST News Service (Writer’s Opinion)

Pilgrim fathers Gardner 2 smallerDONCASTER, UK (ANS – September 23, 2017) – A deeply disturbing report has highlighted what many have come to know, expect and even accept – that many of our children are missing out on religious education (R.E.) here in the UK.

Flagging up the “state of the nation” report published by the Religious Education Council and the National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE), the Daily Mail headline “Death knell for RE in schools” was, I think, a tad over the top.1

However, the neglect of this aspect of education is very serious and, as with so many sections of our broken society, the church is in part responsible.

The very motive for introducing education for all in the 18th and 19th centuries was so that children could come to know the love of God. It was, in the first place, so that they could be taught the Bible, which contains a treasure trove of teaching on all matters of life and which equips new generations with unsurpassed knowledge on how to live – not just with your mind and body, but with your heart and soul.

The Bible teaches repeatedly that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9.10) and someone has said that godless education simply produces educated sinners.

Deborah Weston, NATRE’s research officer, said: “By developing knowledge and understanding about different religions and world views in the security of a classroom, young people have the opportunity to engage with complex, diverse and constantly evolving subject matter.”2

Indeed, what’s wrong with that – even for our humanist friends?

Julia Diamond-Conway of RE Today, an exhibitor at the Christian Resources Exhibition, said there was no excuse for breaking the law by not offering RE in schools. She told CRE News: “In collaboration with NATRE, we produce many high-quality resources to inspire and inform children – for their lives both now and in the future. There is just no excuse for not following the law and teaching a subject so relevant in today’s society. Many people think RE is about issues from centuries ago and no longer relevant. But our material talks of modern times and uses modern techniques to involve children fully in the learning process.”3

A Department for Education spokesman said: “Religious education remains compulsory for all state-funded schools, including academies and free schools, at all key stages and we expect all schools to fulfill their statutory duties.”4

Perhaps this latter phrase – “statutory duties” – is part of the problem. We have lost the heart and soul of what education is really about. We treat people as computers. Back in the 19th century, Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, speaking on the subject of education in various countries, said: “The truth was that wherever everything was left to the government the subject became a machine.”5

Pilgrim fathers Gardner 3smallerAccording to the report, 28% of secondary schools told the Department for Education that they gave no dedicated curriculum time to RE. It is estimated that this equates to 800,000 pupils being deprived of their legal right to learn about major religions and beliefs, leaving them without the religious literacy they need for life in modern multi-faith Britain.

It further called for “a clear public statement that it is not acceptable in any circumstances for a school to be failing to provide RE at any key stage as part of its broad and balanced curriculum.”

It would be quite wrong to conclude that today’s youngsters are not interested in the spiritual side of life. It’s just that many have been denied the chance of exploring these things. And this is where much of the Christian church is failing them. The average person in the pew is tragically ignorant of the huge opportunities we still have for sharing the gospel in schools. They simply accept the perceived, but misinformed, notion that God has been thrown out of the school window (perhaps, in part, due to the teaching of evolution as opposed to creationism) – and all we can do is lick our wounds and sulk over a very sorry state of affairs.

Yet in stark contrast to America, where it may surprise many to learn that Christian teaching is banned from schools, we have a wide open door. And as with the vision St. Paul had of the man from Macedonia (Acts 16.9), many are saying to us: “Come over here and help us!”

Conscientious head teachers are only too willing to welcome those who have a heart to teach (though not preach to) children about the love of Jesus. In some cases even qualified RE teachers (who are not necessarily Christians, after all) feel out of their depth when asked to lead assemblies.

But Christian youth workers can (and do) step up to the plate with an authoritative, passionate and winsome approach to the subject. And if they win the trust of staff, there are many opportunities to support pupils through the school curriculum.

For example, Bible Society’s Open the Book project is becoming increasingly popular in primary schools as teams from local churches around the country lead assemblies through a dramatic reading of Bible stories.

I declare an interest in this subject as my wife is involved in visiting primary schools across the large metropolitan borough of Doncaster in South Yorkshire (while a colleague provides input at secondary schools).

Along with other Christians, I have on many occasions accompanied her on various projects and witnessed the sheer delight of children – wide-eyed and open-mouthed – as they respond in rapt attention and wonder to the amazing stories of the Bible.

We share these stories because they are true – not fairy-tales – and yet there is something truly magical about them too! We need to take back territory lost to Disney and the like, and restore our confidence in the ‘greatest story ever told’. It should not surprise us that the gospel story appeals to children. After all, Jesus said we could not enter the kingdom of God unless we approached it as little children do. (Matthew 18.3)

Our education has become too cerebral. Have we forgotten the importance of the soul? Jesus said: “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul?” (Mark 8.36) What price do we put on the soul of a child? It is priceless. Do we think that by filling them with facts they will live useful lives? Jesus said he had come to give us “life in all its fullness” (John 10.10). Isn’t that what we would like to see in our children – that they would learn to live life to the full; knowing God, being comfortable with themselves, feeling secure in the love of Jesus and fulfilling a very clear purpose as they answer a particular calling on their lives?

Jesus put so much emphasis on children, and I’m told that Jewish tradition still bears that out in that those wishing to teach children, as opposed to adults, are required to spend far more time training for the role.

Jesus warned that in the case of those who cause any of these little ones who believe in him to stumble, it would be better for him to have a large millstone tied around his neck and drowned in the depths of the sea. (Matthew 18.6) Denying the opportunity for children to hear about Jesus surely comes close to this – for you would be encouraging them to turn away from God and never know the joy of salvation and of sins forgiven.

Without a compass, how do we find the way? Forget the Satnav and the iPhone. Without the measuring rod of the Bible, how will children know right from wrong; how will they discern lies from truth?

In searching for a memorial plaque to a Jewish relative on the Thames Embankment, I was taken aback somewhat by a magnificent statue to Robert Raikes (1736-1811), founder of the Sunday School movement – a reminder that in days of yore, educating children with the Bible was seen as a calling worthy of great honor.

May it become so again!

Notes:

1Daily Mail, September 18 2017

2Ibid

3CRE News, September 21 2017

4Daily Mail, September 18 2017

5Wikipedia 

Photo captions: 1) Charles Gardner helping British schoolchildren experience a fun day discovering the story of the Pilgrim Fathers, who originated from the Doncaster area, close to Yorkshire’s border with Nottinghamshire, and whose faith and courage led to the founding of the United States of America some 400 years ago. 2) More fun for the schoolchildren. 3) Charles Gardner with his wife, Linda. 

Charles and Linda GardnerAbout the writer: Charles Gardner is a veteran Cape Town-born British journalist working on plans to launch a new UK national newspaper reporting and interpreting the news from a biblical perspective. With his South African forebears having had close links with the legendary devotional writer Andrew Murray, Charles is similarly determined to make an impact for Christ with his pen and has worked in the newspaper industry for more than 40 years. Part-Jewish, he is married to Linda, who takes the Christian message around many schools in the Yorkshire town of Doncaster. Charles is also author of Israel the Chosen (Amazon) and Peace in Jerusalem, available from olivepresspublisher.com. He has four children and nine grandchildren, and can be reached by phone on +44 (0) 1302 832987, or by e-mail at chazgardner@btinternet.com.

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