Saturday, 27 September 2014

Teaching Religion to Our Children

I know. Again it's been ages since I've blogged on here. In fact, I think that I've racked up a couple of years. Apologies for that...but at least I've got a bit of inspiration going at the moment, so I thought that I would get it down. I was thinking of submitting it for an article, but because it's one of my rambles, I wasn't so sure that it was really up to that standard.

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This week, my six year old daughter didn't go to her RE lesson. While the rest of the school, from Reception through Year 2, went off site for the morning to the Harvest Celebration at the local evangelical church, my daughter went to read to the little ones in the nursery. In my eyes, this was a really good arrangement. While the other children had to sit still and listen to a one-sided version of religion (when they attend a non-denominational school), my daughter was doing something she loves...reading...as well as learning how to help out and how to volunteer her spare time.

As a Pagan parent, I am regularly asked by other parents why my daughter doesn't go to RE. She does go to RE, just not all of the time. She only attends the session if it a religion being taught the general educational points about it...the morals, ethics, history, etc. If it is a session that will be revolving around the worship of a specific religion, that is when my daughter is removed. When they have people in to do a workshop on Diwali or the Chinese New Year, my daughter is right in front for those lessons. When they have the assembly for the week being led by the local preacher, it's time for her to hang out in the nursery again. One of the things that I have discovered is that a lot of parents, Pagan and not, do not realise that it is only a requirement for schools to have some sort of RE provision in their curriculum. It is not a requirement for your child to attend that provision. If I was completely shut off from the view of my child learning about any religions other than our own, I could take the option to pull her out of RE completely. But I'm not like that, because I personally feel that it's an important aspect for my daughter to learn how other people celebrate their faith and spirituality. It is ok for us to have our faith, and it is ok for other people to have theirs.

Going off of that point, I am regularly confused by a few other Pagan parents who refuse to discuss religion with their children at home for fear of indoctrination. I do admit that it can be a very fine line and a sensitive topic because so many of us are converts from other mainstream religions that rely on indoctrination. We want our children to be able to think for themselves, decide for themselves. But if we don't lead by example, what are they going to have to base an informed decision on? Are they going to learn about Paganism alongside Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism at school? I doubt it. My daughter is in her final year at an infant school, so we are now researching junior and primary schools for her to move up to. One of the questions that we've been asking the headteachers is what is included in their RE curriculum. In Lincolnshire, it is in the SACRE (what the schools of the county have to base their RE off of) that Paganism is an option to teach. That is only one of many options given to them out of several other minority religions that they don't have to teach but can offer. After mentioning it to one Headmistress, she went rushing for her thick file for all three key stages. Nothing. No mention of Paganism. Luckily, in our discussion with her, they make the best attempts possible to skirt RE as much as possible. They focus more on teaching morals and ethics, the history and brief points of religions but have no worship element because they have so much to teach of academic subjects that they don't really have the time for it. She was actually in agreement with me that religion is better taught within the family and community.

So, again, the question I would like the answer for is why are Pagan parents afraid to teach their children about their path? It doesn't require daily or weekly pushing and indoctrination. For my daughter, we teach by example and answering her questions as to why we do what we do, but keep it in terms that are age appropriate. She went to her first ritual at four days old...a Wassail ceremony followed by an afternoon in a pub with local Morris musicians playing. We sat right next to them, with her asleep in a ring sling. Even now at six, she will stop what she's doing to listen to folk music. She's been to workshops on tarot, drumming, needle felting...you name it. It's up to her whether she wants to be involved or not. During the tarot workshop, she sat with her headphones, MP3 player, and Leapster. She brought her own little drum to the drumming workshop, and had a few guided pokes with the needle in the felting workshop. She loves going to rituals. For the last one, she ran around the farm that we were at with the other children chasing the gaggle of ducks and feeding the sheep during the ritual. She occasionally opts to join in with the adults in the circle, following along, and she's 'helped' an adult perform the Eastern quarter. Let me clarify that one...we've had the discussion with her when she has asked if she can do it by herself, and she has been told that she cannot hold a quarter on her own until she has come of age.

Coming of Age. That's where we have drawn our line of “rules” on how and what we teach her of our path. She has asked if she can wear a pentagram since she was four. We've taught her what we see as the meaning of it, but she is not allowed to wear one until she comes of age, at about 12 or 13. The reason being is that with the way that our society currently is, wearing a pentagram can induce a strong reaction, and I'm sure that many of you have had to defend your path against people who think that it's an invitation to proselytize at you or accuse you of devil or demon worship. At this age, she's too young to defend her beliefs from that. At 12 or 13, she's more likely to be knowledgeable of why she believes what she does and will be in the beginning of the teenage attitude that can argue the fuzz off a peach. If she wants to wear something at this age, she has a little triquetra necklace that nobody questions. At 12 or 13, we will sit down as a family and discuss what path she wants to take and why she has chosen it. If she wants to be a Pagan, we will sit down together and write a special ritual to share the big step with our friends that will be there to support her on that path. If it's another religion that she chooses, that's fine...we'll support her in any way that we can.

For us, it's all about the informed choice. If we were to choose to hide what we believe from our children, where are they going to learn from? Do you really want them to learn about faith and spirituality from the man that stands in the middle of the town centre screaming and proselytizing at the top of his lungs that puts down every walk of life because humans are inherently evil, or from the gang that hangs out in the alley and wants everyone to join in with attacking and fighting those that don't think the way that they do? Because without the base guidance from the family, children will take their questions elsewhere.

Now at the age of six, my daughter is asking lots of questions and is learning how to go look information up in books (note that I didn't say the internet. We're teaching the importance that books hold first, and she doesn't have to sift through the information). The big thing at the moment for her is learning about the seasons and celebrations, and why we celebrate them. Samhain will be at the end of next month. In our house, we take that time to remember those that have passed on over the year, and remember our ancestors. Her favourite part of it is making everybody in the house dress up in a costume while she answers the door to other children and gives them sweets. We've also found great entertainment when people think that the black cat in the window is a decoration...until she moves. The girly has discovered just how awesome the winter and spring holidays are. In December, we celebrate Yule with our Pagan friends, and that's when we exchange gifts as a family. There's also lots of food shared (granted, that's pretty much every ritual celebration that we have, and her favourite part). On Christmas morning, she receives gifts from Santa Claus, who, for us, represents the spirit of generosity, caring, celebration, and love of everybody. We then spend the day watching holiday films in our pyjamas and have a lovely meal. Pretty much like a lot of other families in the country. In the spring, we celebrate Ostara (spring equinox), and alongside ritual we celebrate the arrival of new life to the world and the beginning of things growing. That's when she gets the start of those commercialized chocolate eggs. She loves the idea that she gets to eat them about three weeks before her friends get to even look at theirs. She received about six or seven of them this year, and insisted on sharing with everybody...I think that the last one was finished in August.

There are many age appropriate approaches to guiding children in religion without indoctrination. Coming from the States and having “separation of church and State” I had no RE in school. I would appreciate it more if it wasn't in school here, but because it's part of the national curriculum we suck it up and just make sure that she's only there for the educational elements of it. At home, we're going to continue to lead by example, in a way that is organic. If she wants to join in, she can. If she wants to go chase the ducks...fair play to her. Other parents at her school think that she must surely be ostracised by her peers because she doesn't join in for everything. The awesome thing about young children is that they don't care. They have never known anything else but that the girly goes elsewhere when they have to go to assembly, and she either reads or catches up with work from earlier in the day.




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