SAMPLE REACTION/CRITIQUE PAPER OF THE ARTICLE, ‘CAN RELIGIOUS EDUCATION BE THEOLOGICALLY NEUTRAL?’
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A REACTION/CRITIQUE PAPER OF THE ARTICLE, ‘CAN RELIGIOUS EDUCATION BE THEOLOGICALLY NEUTRAL?’
Can religious education in schools be theologically neutral?, the neutrality of religious education can trigger certain critical issues from within the society affected directly by its realities and stance. I agree to what the article points out that, many would dismiss the question as either otiose or irrelevant: otiose to those who consider it obvious that to commit oneself to any kind of curriculum is to take a stand, that is, to espouse a set of values; irrelevant to those who would retort: ‘Who wants religious education to be neutral anyway? – the school should take a stand on ultimate values’. According to the article, that the response are superficial, as a curriculum may elect to be neutral on some issues, while being committed on others. The classic case of non-neutral religious education continues to be taken for granted in most non-Western countries. Its intention has been to confirm or produce in the learner allegiance to a particular faith and its method has tended to be dogmatic instruction. There were criticisms that the process is divisive and indoctrinative, yet more than one Western country is putting renewed energy into promoting neo-confessionalist policies, because they perceive the alternative to have failed.
I think the author is right upon rejecting this presumptive reductionism that, both the analytical and phenomenological approaches may have been comparative rather than confessional, but for that very reason both have been criticized as encouraging students to view religious traditions from a dispassionate distance which discourages personal commitment. A popular over-simplification of the debate is to interpret it as a struggle between a progressive Liberal approach and an Evangelical rear-guard action, I believe it is appropriate that, there has to have a certain policy for religious education in state schools based from evangelical assumptions. The proposed strategies may have or have not resolve the apparent dilemma in claiming that the discipline of theology paves the way for that impartial scrutiny of religious ideas which is the province of a properly educational activity. It is enough, the other approach ostensibly skirts the rivalries of institutionalized religious traditions by studying, without prejudice, the many forms that personal spirituality may take in the lives of students and modern adults.
Well, it is important to revisit the logic of curriculum as it is understood in contemporary educational theory (see, Hill 1991, esp. chapters 1 and 6) and certain issues can provide impact to society and contributes fully to the goals of Christian Education. The strengthening genre of curriculum logic are essential being a value-laden process that, to speak of a curriculum is to speak of an agenda for intervention in the lives of students. There is nothing neutral about herding active children into classrooms and requiring them to submit to a formally prescribed and assessed curriculum. Value judgments have been involved in deciding how to intervene, what to include, and even what to exclude (Eisner 1979, 83). I believe that, if having values is being biased, then bias is inevitable. Some seek to escape from this conclusion by claiming that, provided the curriculum is derived from the major forms of public rationality, it is as neutral as one would wish. I think that anything can be less objectionable and is conducive to personal freedom than initiating students into the highest present achievements of their critical reason. Aside, there must be responsible for the values promoted in a curriculum in the quest for searching true knowledge, but it is also endorsed by many educational theorists, some of whom see the disciplines not only as structured records of discovery but also as efficient heuristic devices for passing on the knowledge gained (cf., Phoenix 1969) and the planners of religious education should presumably do its ways with reference to social utility that hints which has created schools to fulfill some of its purposes.
Furthermore, it is true that the society has already presupposed a right to intervene in children's lives, and this is usually justified on the grounds of both social maintenance and individual development. Distinguishable from the collective voice of society consisting of parents, and of the leaders of the minority groups with which they most closely identify. Theories of democracy are having to accommodate the fact that modern societies in the global village are and will remain, pluralistic with respect to ultimate beliefs and values and such theories must provide for adequate living space for law abiding minority groups. Accordingly, some social determinists would like to claim that individuals are what we, the social engineers, make of them but only a stubborn residue of self-determining capacity and will in each individual confirms the intuition of existentialists and ethicists that private choice still counts for something. I neither agree nor disagree that the ultimate point in studying religion is surely to maximize the individual's freedom and capacity to live and to accept responsibility in the transcendent as well as the empirical worlds. However the author pointed out that, ‘one does not necessarily have to endorse the experiential approaches they advocated to be a defender of the student's status as the primary stakeholder in the enterprise, whose wishes and contemporary experience should be factored into the determination of curriculum aims and content’.
Yes, truly acceptable on a pragmatic level, of which that a failure to do so will reinforce the already dismal evidence that student interest in religious education is very low (cited in, Kitwood 1980; Francis 1996). I guess it is just enough for the religious education to become one of the compulsory curriculum component in schools as the philosophical point takes precedence over the pragmatic. As argued by (Hill 1993) that education's first purpose is to maximize the individuals' capacity to understand their world and to act self-sufficiently and responsibly within that world. In the early years of schooling, parents and guardians stand in for the child in endeavoring to ensure that the school provides these services. But direct enfranchisement of the student in curriculum decision-making should be phased in as quickly as the child's development allows. I believe it is legitimate to have social, cultural, religious and economic goals provided that they are presented to students as opportunities for developing morally responsible selfhood. Thus, it is also appropriate to submit to the guidance of scholars and curriculum developers in deciding how best to structure the desired learning experiences, but not at the expense of conceding to such parties as these the sole right to define the goals of the process.
Yes, there could be tendency for expectations to polarize in many areas, but particularly in religious education as between the scholars and education professionals and the members of the general public and special interest groups, on the other. Also, theological scholars and educational theorists were not even given the chance to provide input, because community interest groups had already judged that any approach to religious education would necessarily be confessional and therefore sectarian. So the public education system in that nation continues to offer a supposedly neutral curriculum which ignores the importance of the religious dimension in American culture and is anything but neutral (cited in, Neuhaus 1987). As Cooling (1994), argues for the continuing value of studying religious traditions in a systematic way despite Hull's (1992) tendency to polarize the options, these are not the only possible academic as distinct from sectarian positions. There involves, post-modernism, being an intellectual culture of rejection of authoritative accounts of reality. As individuals are to believe that the vice of modernism was its attachment to grand narratives, which produced the secular apocalypse of Marxism as people must accept with good grace that no final account of reality is available to them and must embrace a live-and-let-live policy which outlaws the representation of any particular account of reality as true or binding.
Moreover, Adrian Thatcher said, ‘to be casting doubt on the common belief that the religious quest as such is universal, or that questions of ultimate meaning and purpose are necessarily intrinsic to the human condition as he says this in the context of deploring what he sees to be use of this claim by the state to construct a state ideology which will domesticate the population to accept multiculturalism’. (Thatcher 1996, 124) So, his adoption of an ironic stand bows too low to the post-modern constructivist, trying to make sure that nobody deconstructs him while he is busy deconstructing everyone else. It is possible that those who have drawn back from the infinite regress of the deconstructive method usually take their stand on certain values, such as the just and participatory society, which may be interpreted as an attempt to construct a better modernism. According to the article, ‘the notion of spirituality is also being invoked in another kind of discourse, that associated with the amorphous literature of "new age" thinking’, as it harmonizes with the post-modern critique to some extent, but is less respectful of analytic reason. Salvation is to be found in the liberation of personal consciousness, freed to tune in to its own vibration in the eternal cosmos. Spirituality is the word for personal soul search, untrammeled by any other narrative except that which the individual is weaving for him or herself.
There must be subordinated to intuition and to a supreme optimism about one's capacity to transcend the limits of selfhood and to draw on the powers available to the self when it is in harmony with the cosmos. This personal project was previously discouraged by the objective rationalism of the Enlightenment (see, Millikan and Drury, 1991). As Hull (1996, p. 180) says "the gifts are not those of the religion but those offered by the study of religion". In saying this, he cannot sustain the claim on the next page that this is just a method, for it is also a policy consistent with a particular theological standpoint. It is far from being theologically neutral. There needs to have affluence and greater educational opportunity have combined with the graphics revolution and the breakdown of traditional authorities to produce a generation that is at once hedonistic and disillusioned yet mind-raped by the commercial media. Sadly, there are some agencies which exploit the factor to indoctrinate and condition as I agree that religious education must find a strong way and neutrality is not an option as there is a touch of humility that contributed to the post-modern conviction that knowledge is relative to the reality-construct of the knower. There are not scholastically neutral applications of universal rationality in their respective domains, but models built upon some basic presuppositions concerning human nature and the external world. Not to present them as such to our students is to deprive them of the opportunity of examining their presuppositions and taking seriously less fashionable alternatives.
The question from the article is: ‘Can someone so obviously committed to dogmas that not everyone agrees with have anything constructive to say about the presentation of religious education in the public domain?’. It is appropriate to point out that post-modernism in applying a corrective to presumptuous dogmatism, it embraces the relativist postulate, is just as ideological as the stances it denigrates. One way forward in religious studies is to forswear the study of truth claims by saying that the grand narratives of each tradition perform a mythical rather than an epistemological function, therefore the focus should be on personally constructed meanings. I also believe that the honest way forward is to alert older students to the consequences of ultimate bet and help them to apply it to the religious domain. Made aware that there is no neutral corner, they will be in a better position to appreciate the seriousness of the claims made by religious thinkers and traditions and to interrogate their own cultural conditioning. The curriculum should do justice to the religious tradition most influential in the previous cultural development of the particular society. This is the least that should be expected, given the effect of such variables on contemporary policy and practice. Thus, due recognition should be given to the religious tradition most influential in the particular student's background, at least to the point of affirming its identity so that it is not made to feel a second-class citizen if it comes from a religious minority and these recommendations present potential logistic problems, given the increasing variety of religious backgrounds likely to be represented in school populations.
In conclusion, religious commitment cannot be merely inherited; it must be personally embraced on what the individual perceives to be good grounds. It is the author’s contention that a biblical/evangelical theology is the one most hospitable to the balance I am trying to portray, while it also best meets the requirement for a pluralistic democracy to flourish. In addition, practice in living in a democratic community requires the will and the skill to negotiate on the values which will define the middle ground of agreed purposes. No pluralistic community will survive without these prerequisites. Religious education will not serve a social and educational purpose by just papering over the cracks of religious division, but by taking the differences seriously enough to discuss them in a fraternal environment.
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