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…



11 thoughts on “#ReActiveRE

  1. I have to agree. We are getting to the point where students are expecting the standard “let’s talk about this horrific event” lesson and are quite put out when it’s business as usual, we still have exams and assessments to work towards. When explaining that I haven’t had the time to plan a full lesson doing the event justice I am met with “can’t we just read the BBC website articles about it?”. Funnily enough my invitations to come back at lunch to discuss and read the articles aren’t as popular as you would think when compared to the amount of students who really want to get to the bottom of the event if it means no written work. We must discuss these things in school but assemblies, registration, PSHE are the place.

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  2. I agree with almost everything you have said here. In my dept we take great care to form academic and structured schemes of work and I would never recommend abandoning these to make whatever sorts of lessons you’re imagining teachers are making. I’m not up until 2am making a PowerPoint all about how awful life and religion and tragedy is and demanding students sit and listen to my platitudes about how religious tolerance is the only way forward.
    But, actually, therein lies the reason for our disagreement on this, perhaps. The picture you’re painting of what ‘reactive RE’ looks like simply doesn’t represent me.

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  3. I was one who jumped on the ‘bandwagon ‘ with Orlando. Using Lats idea ..
    However I would say I had one of the best lessons ever with a particular year 9 class.
    We did not apportion blame on any particular group. We used bible quotes / surah quotes to discuss how religious teaching could be applied to awful situations.
    We went beyond the headlines. ( I’ve just finished religion and the media with the same class)
    In my context we lead the way on looking at SMSC issues
    I’d say we are responsive not reactive.


  4. I ‘only’ teach in a Primary school but I’d rather crack on with teaching the class RE. I think these sorts of issues are for reflection in Assembly time

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  5. I think my reaction to this is somewhat different as I teach SoR (Study of Religion) in Australia and not RE in England. I’ve been here for 10 years, though I did train and start my teaching career in York. I’ve missed a lot in the RE world in a decade of being away from home, particularly the politics. From what I’ve read, I understand that RE in the UK is struggling with its place in the world and so ‘reactive lessons’, as you say, are a way some people justify their value in the curriculum. This is dangerous. The content of the RE (SoR) curriculum should be valuable in its own right and not detracted from by circumstance.
    However, it raises the question, if not us, then who?
    We have homerooms (10 minutes) and assemblies here but no equivalent of PSHE so I often find SoR does take on the role of evaluating and responding to current events. I see my guys for 4 hours a week and they’re all very switched on; inquisitive, opinionated and passionate young people. They ask questions. I need to be prepared for that. One of the ways I prepare myself is to be well-versed in what is happening in the wider world so I can draw parallels to events they might not have heard of. I don’t plan ‘knee-jerk’ lessons but I will, like most teachers I hope, make my units as contemporary and relevant as they can be. In a unit on Religion and State Relationships this year we talked a lot about France (and also, Beirut) – last year, not so much. Next year, will we mention Orlando and Yorkshire? Maybe, if I see the value in it – both educationally and developmentally.
    We definitely need to be aware of ‘shoe-horning’ items into our teaching just for the sake of the item itself, but that’s lesson planning 101 surely?
    I’d also like to quickly mention something that irritates me a little (and maybe it shouldn’t) I often hear people saying things along the lines of, ‘how do you choose which thing to talk about?’ or ‘why talk about Paris and not Beirut?’ or ‘you know X amount of people were killed in X but no-one is talking about that.’ While this is true, and sad, I believe there is a simple answer – we talk about the things that are more relevant to us because we feel it more keenly. If an atrocity happens in a place that is culturally familiar to us then we will have a greater response to it than if it happened in a place of which we have no experience. This, in my opinion, is not being insensitive to human suffering but actually being very sensitive to the hurt within our own lives that we might feel through response to something that ‘could’ve been me.’
    The SoR (and RE) classroom is the place where all of these discussion take place – in a safe environment – geared towards educational outcomes. It is a rigorously academic subject that has immeasurable developmental benefits.


  6. Twitter is great for many things, but allowing for in-depth explanations? Not so much. There are several aspects of t#REactiveRE that concerns me. I agree that often we relate more to a bombing in Paris than Beirut because it’s closer to home, many of my students have been there and so feel more connected to it. But I don’t think that’s always the case. Media does a lot of the selection for us and I think we should be critical of that and not be swept along with the increased sensationalism of media. But I’m also worried about why we feel the need to do #REactiveRE. The use of case studies is a helpful tool: learning from Malala about courage and resilience or learning from Anthony Walker’s mother about the challenges of forgiveness have their place. Because we now have instant access to news, we tend to react immediately, without reflection of what the students are learning from the event and without facts being established. I worry that we are rushing in to show that our subject is relevant in order to understand the world today, to justify RE’s existence on the curriculum. While this might be true, are we then using the suffering of others as a means to an end? It’s an uncomfortable thought but one I think we need to address.


  7. This is a tremendously wise blog. We are facing difficult times when there are many challenging events around us. I feel that because of social media, RE teachers are jumping into exploring current events too fast, before we see the whole picture. For example, the Asad Shah shopkeeper murder at first appeared like a right wing racist killing, until the issues around him being an Ahmadiyya Muslim, posting positive interfaith messages, were highlighted. RE teachers always complain about lack of time to explore a range of religions and beliefs but seem to have loads of time to do current affairs.

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