Several years ago, one of my daughters came home from primary school in floods of tears.
"Mummy" she sobbed. "Tom said I was horrible for not believing in God. He said I must be a Jew!"
Just little kids being ignorant of other people's beliefs (I don't think he meant to be anti-Semitic) and getting mixed up, you might say. Or is it? Not in my experience. Despite last year's British Social Attitudes Survey finding that fewer than three out of ten young people aged 15-24 reported being belonging to a religion, ignorance and exclusion of non-religious world views like humanism is commonplace.
"Where do you get your morals from?"
"Isn't your world really sterile?"
"What's the point of it all if you don't think there is anything afterwards?"
"Only people of faith can have good hearts." And so on.
As a humanist, a 'none', a non-believer, these are just a handful of genuine questions and comments I have recently experienced from religious adults, not just children like Tom, whom we can excuse for not knowing better.
I would like my children to have an understanding of different religious worldviews, and in turn, I want other kids of all faiths to understand theirs, and how it shapes the choices and decisions they make in life.
New proposed changes to the religious education curriculum would make understanding tougher, on both sides.
How can we promote tolerance for other belief systems if they are only taught one or possibly just two religions, neither of which includes the beliefs of the majority of kids in our schools?
More importantly, my children need and deserve to be taught how to think about the 'big questions', to make them better and more tolerant citizens of our world. Sexuality, abortion, women's issues, assisted dying, animal rights, the environment and ethics (all the meaty, interesting, important stuff that my eldest loved studying at GSCE and A Level for RS) that is now at risk of being sidelined under the new curriculum changes.
There are lots of people who agree that humanism should be included in religious studies education, including the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, and many other religious leaders. In an open letter to the schools minister Nick Gibb, they state:
"Such a change would not compel anyone to systematically study non religious worldviews or make it possible to do so for the whole of a qualification, but it would allow young people to study a more representative sample of major worldviews that are common in Britain today"
So please, Mr. Gibb. In the words of Rowan Williams and 27 other clerics, a view supported by parents, teachers, humanists and other religious people across the UK, understand that the study of humanism at GCSE and A level:
" ...would be fair, popular, and add rigour to the subject; we see no reasonable or persuasive argument to oppose it."
Let's give our all our kids, of all faiths or none, the religious education they need and deserve. Let's guide and shape our children to be more tolerant and inclusive citizens of our society. Through understanding and respect for all.