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(3/3)Oh my god, I already lost way too many words over this, better stop now.
What to take away from this? (TL;DR) Probably people don’t worry so much about religion classes because these classes are not focused on teaching kids really serious religious content anyway; and more interestingly because religion as a whole is perceived differently in Europe.
I’ll keep reading your blog with interest, and wish you all the best for your stay in Germany, a continuing curious approach to cultural differences and all the strength necessary for that. :)
Happy Thanksgiving, and good luck with the pie!
PS: Of course what I said above shouldn't be understood as that it's all sun and rainbows, there are problems in Europe too with this approach to religion classes. Some friends of mine, who happen to be atheist, insisted that their kids be taken out of religion classes. The teachers told them that in theory they could do that, but they advised against it because they were afraid the kids would become outsiders, being the first and only kids this had ever happened to (in elementary school). Those parents ended up leaving their kids in religion classes, and only when the kids started Gymnasium (where it is much more common to not go to religion class), they didn't go there anymore and instead had a class off, which they used to get some homework done. Actually that's how I did it myself in the Unterstufe, mostly because our religion class teacher wasn't really great and it felt like a waste of time sitting there. Later when the teacher changed I joined again, because it was boring to sit outside and wait for the time to pass (because of course I was not allowed to leave the school during that one period), and I have nice memories of those classes - mostly we used them to talk about class dynamics, if there were any problems or fights in class, if some kids were left out of groups and why that was happening, etc. PPS: The other big problem you mentioned in your blog post would be the kids with different confessions requiring special classes. Until quite recently, since Germany is a very homogenous country, there weren’t that many, and most of them probably still joined regular religion classes because of a quite similar faith (orthodox Christians, Protestants) - or because the parents didn’t care so much about it; the one that did, ended up putting their kids in special private schools anyway. But with the number of kids with Islam faith growing, there now is growing demand for more specialized religion classes; in bigger cities your kids could probably choose between Christian, Muslim, and maybe Jewish classes, with special teachers visiting all schools in the district. That’s another argument of the proponents to replace the religion class system with general ethics classes by the way.
November 24, 2012 at 1:11 p.m.
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(2/3)So it is this "not really religion class anyway" feeling that is the main reason for people to have such a relaxed approach towards that topic. Most people would have an image of the kids going there, doing some singing, doing some handicraft to bring home for the important family holidays, and hearing some stories, from which they might take some important life lessons with them. What these classes would not be perceived as, is something where you are made to believe something you don't want to (or don't want your kids to) believe. You would have to go deeper to explain why this class can be called religious education and be handled the way it is, and I think it has to do with the different notions of religion in the US and Europe in general. Many of the kids going to such classes may never have seen a church from the inside. Of course, they still would have an entry stating their religion in their birth certificate, and probably they would also be baptized, but because that's something you just do, and not because you’re connecting a specific religious value with it. In a sense, you could say that religion nowadays is much more a system of following tradition than it is a belief system.
Of course, people differ on this subject, and there might be many (especially older) people who feel very differently about this than my 28-year-old self. But I think it is this underlying understanding of religion not being that important anymore anyway that lets people be so relaxed about it. That allows for a mutual feeling that no matter if you are a believer or an atheist or an agnostic or whatever, it’s not really worth getting upset or hurt or preachy about it. I feel I can relate to you and your worries about what your daughter might be doing in that class though, and your views about how that system is handled in total. Compared to Europe, I have the feeling that the US is still a much more religious country. So in your context, it would make sense to see religious education as a matter that has to be handled with much tact, thought, and definitely more seriousness. The above would explain where the inability of the other parents/teachers at your school to understand those concerns comes from. In the end it's just a cultural difference.
(1/3) Hey Ashworth,I stumbled upon your blog through the Expats Blog Writing Contest, and just having spent a year abroad myself, have been following it with interest. Since I’m from Austria, and Austria and Germany are places quite alike (don’t let Germans or Austrians tell you otherwise), it was fun getting this view from the “other side” on school life here. Your last entry about religion classes made me want to try and explain what I feel are the reasons for things being like they are. Since I’m from Austria, I’ll be writing from a more general, European point of view, but I think the situation in Heidelberg will be quite the same as my experiences.
That out of the way, what got my interest were your thoughts on the how and why of religious education in Heidelberg. Did you have the feeling people weren’t really getting why you gave so much thought to the question of if your kid should join religion class? I think that’s because most Germans wouldn’t really give that much thought to it either. Even agnostic or atheist parents might let their kids join, and would think nothing of it; some kids might even not be registered as Christian and would still join. And the thought of their kids getting indoctrinated with some unwanted belief system wouldn’t occur to these parents, because that’s not what they would associate with the curriculum in religion classes.
But, if it’s not really religion that’s being taught, and if anyone can join, then why do public schools even have religion classes? Well, I think this can best be understood historically. Religion class might have played a more important role some 50 years ago, same as religion in people's lives in general. Since the decline of the importance of religion though, the religious and belief system-centered content in class is getting replaced more and more by other topics. I think that many people have the feeling that in these classes, kids are just supposed to learn about some of the traditional (Christian) stories we used to hear when we were young ourselves, and therefore want our kids to hear too. Not so much as a religious education, but to keep the cultural heritage alive. Maybe history class in the US teaching American kids about the origins of Thanksgiving, or the Founding Fathers story would be comparable; also comparable for the feeling and expectations many people would have about this class. At the same time, religion class is nowadays also used to teach the kids fundamental ethics, and – how to put this in a general way – knowledge considered important for their mental and social well-being. This has progressed to a point where voices are getting louder that it would be better to abolish these "religion" classes (and the underlying system of church appointed teachers) all together and replace them with something called "ethics class", which would put the right label on it again, so to speak.
November 24, 2012 at 1:10 p.m.
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