No one would deny the two recent violent attacks in Orlando and Yorkshire have been deeply shocking and destabilising. However, what I have been surprised by is the seeming bandwagon RE teachers seem to jump on whenever tragedies like these occur.
In RE’s desperate attempt to justify its place in the school curriculum we seem unable to stop ourselves from colonising and fetishising violent tragedy. Why does ‘RE’ feel the need to respond to these events immediately? This should be something led by the school leadership and pastoral teams or, where it exists, chaplaincy. Form time, PSHE and Assembly all seem appropriate places where these events could be discussed and considered. I accept that in many cases RE teachers are well skilled (sic) to deal with difficult topics like this and I’ll answer questions on it & talk about it if asked but its not RE. We certainly shouldn’t feel the need to jettison existing schemes of work and replace them with #reactiveRE or ‘let’s do what’s in the news’ RE.
Knee-jerk responses are also unhelpful. The claim from the gunman in Orlando that he was a member of ISIS has been disputed by President Obama, who says the investigation is still at an early stage. However, many teachers will have gone in and linked this terrorist attack to Islamist extremism. The motives of the killer of Jo Cox are unclear but by the evening of her death RE teachers on certain forums were already planning ‘lessons’ on it. As a profession we need to be clear what the purpose of RE is and ensure that the resources we use and lessons we teach are clearly developing students’ knowledge and understanding of religion and belief. As Goethe wrote “He who cannot draw on 3,000 years is living from hand to mouth.”
My other concerns include that by making dramatic resources or lessons on these issues in the immediate aftermath, means students begin to associate violence in the world with religion. How are students in a position to make an informed response to these events when the full facts aren’t known. I also wonder about the role of RE in challenging oppressive structures day in day out. We need academic and critical RE ALL the time – not in platitudes and next day, one-off, powerpoint presentations.
Finally who decides which lives matter? Which events? What counts? This clip was shared by friends on Facebook a few days before the Orlando attacks. It broke my heart. But at no time did it ever cross my mind (just as it hasn’t with other recent tragedies) that I must urgently discuss it in RE.
It’s been a tough week. Thanks to Karin Oster for tweeting the following which seemed to sum up my thoughts on all this.
I’d welcome your thoughts…