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Friday, October 19, 2007

Teaching religions to kids = an abusive act?

Wednesday October 3, 2007 was the first day of this term at my workplace. At 15.00-17.00 I got a quite high level, High Intermediate 2 (there are four levels for High Intermediate). One common thing that happens in a quite high level on the first day of a term is the small number of students coming to class. Out of four students on the attendance list, there were only two students coming, both of them were male; one is a senior high school student, in the second grade, while the other one is a college student, in his fifth semester.
Since not many students came, and it was the first meeting, we had free topic to talk. I started asking where they studied. The senior high school student—let’s call him ‘Ale’—is studying at SMA Kolese Loyola, one very well-known private high school for the good quality in Semarang. He also told me that he graduated from Bernardus elementary school and Domenico Savio junior high school, both are Catholic schools and both are oftentimes favorite schools for Chinese descendants. Referring to his school and his (ex) schools, I easily made a conclusion that he is Catholic. He is Javanese though, not Chinese.
I got surprised when I asked him whether there were some Muslims studying at SMA Loyola because he told me that he was a Muslim. “Loyola is a Catholic school Ma’am but perhaps there are around 30 percents of the students who are not Catholic. They are Muslim, like me, or Buddhist, Christian, or Hindu.”
His ‘consistency’ in studying in Catholic schools (elementary – junior high – senior high schools) reminded me of one family in my neighborhood whose parents sent most of their children to Catholic schools. In fact that made the children convert to Catholic. (I wrote about this family in one of my posts. You can check it at http://afeministblog.blogspot.com/2007/05/absolute-truth.html) Therefore, I asked whether his parents already anticipated the possibility of his to convert to Catholic. He said, “My parents forced me to study at that Catholic elementary school for the good quality of education although I remember at the very beginning I protested. However, they strongly warned me not to convert. That’s why they also obliged me to learn to recite Alquran, to pray five times a day, and since I am a boy, they encouraged me to pray Maghrib and Isya in the mosque close to my house.”
“Will you tell me whether you have ever been marginalized at school since you belong to the minority group?” I asked Ale. I remember one visitor in my blog who wrote that it was indeed unfavorable condition to belong to the marginalized—whether due to religion adhered or ethnic group—in Indonesia. I have never experienced it since I belong to the majority.
Surprisingly, he said that he never got mocked or marginalized at school. He learned Catholic as one compulsory subject to take at school as knowledge, not different from other subjects, such as Math, Geography, Biology, Physics, etc. It means this ‘knowledge’ about another religion would not threaten his faith is Islam, the religion he has adhered since he was born, not because of choice, but because his parents asked him to follow them. One wise thing he learned from his Catholic teacher was, “There are many ways to get close to God. We are free to choose which way it is, no way is wrong.” That impressed me very much since I remember when I was at elementary school, my teacher said, “Islam is absolutely the only right way to get close to God, to enter heaven later. Other religions—or faiths—will make you go to hell.”
In fact, one (not really—for me) surprising thing was when he was even mocked in his reciting Alquran class. His teacher intimidated him—a little boy who just wanted to obey what his parents asked him to—to study at Catholic school. Sometimes, in the mosque that he visited everyday to pray Maghrib and Isya together with other Muslims, he was also cornered by other kids, “Hey, you are Catholic, aren’t you? So why do you pray here?” Oftentimes mocked by his reciting Alquran teacher and his friends at that class, Ale just kept quiet, didn’t respond. He was split into two, his parents who forced him to study at Catholic schools and his surrounding who did not want to understand his situation. And he was just a little and helpless kid at that time.
****
Coincidently not long time ago, I read one discussion in one mailing list I join about the possibility of adhering (or teaching) a religion for kids is an abusive act (referring to Dawkins’ accusation). The way parents or teachers teach little children about religion is not much different from the fact that the existence of God is analogous with “Big brother is watching you”. In order to make a kid obey the religion’s teachings, parents or teachers use doctrines, such as “Don’t steal. God is watching you.” “Don’t commit sin because God will always know that. Consequently, you will go to hell—a special place God has prepared for sinful people.” You can name many other DON’TS that are related to “Big brother is watching you.”
Meanwhile, in another mailing list I join, some time ago there was a discussion about adhering a religion and practicing its teachings blindly. Lots of people believe that religion is not dialectical. Therefore, they just swallow any doctrines stuffed into their brain, without questioning because their logic has been silenced during their childhood. They don’t dare to think that those doctrines they learn from ulemas (expert in Islam) are possibly the result of those ulemas’ own interpretation that they daringly say, “These are what God says…”
I will not draw any conclusion in this writing of mine. I invite anybody to share their opinion for this topic: teaching religion to kids is an abusive act that will kill their logic. This will create people who practice their religious rituals blindly if they don’t develop their horizon. (Is there anybody or anything to blame? I assume we had better stop looking for scapegoat, though.)
PT56 23.00 171007

6 comments:

johnorford said...

v nice story.

my sis stuied at a school that taught them the ins and outs of lots of religions -- think that's the best way.

i think catholic / muslim / jewish etc schools are potentially harmful to children and society, as it re-enforces a closed mindedness - which much of organised religion depends on to grow.

Aditya Z.A. said...

Do you not care for your child? If later your child asks you for the religion he/she will choose, what will you answer? "i don't know what is the right religion?"

A Feminist Blog said...

Dear John,
Absolutely you can see my point clearly, so I do agree with you that we cannot avoid the fact that those religious schools oftentimes re-enforce a closed-mindedness. :(
For Aditya,
I suppose you need to read my post more thoroughly so you will get my point. I am not against introducing religions to kids, but teaching it without wide tolerance to other religions of course must be avoided.

triesti said...

it's ben a while since my last visit. That story about Ale sounds familiar.. heard & seen it before. Sometimes I found ppl from my background has more difficulties accepting me than those in majority (for example Indonesian vs. Bule, believer vs. non believer).

A Feminist Blog said...

Dear Triesti,
When Ale got intimidated by his reciting Alquran teacher and his neighbors is familiar to me too. One new thing for me is when he told me about his experience at the Catholic schools he attended, he was not intimidated by his majority friends in that environment.
Being busy lately? :)

triesti said...

Dear Nana,
When I went to public school, there were more intimidations from moslem towards non-moslem students. Just as Ale, at Catholic school I had never seen it. Sure during ramadhan we joked around, if those who were fasting break their fast, she/he got treated for meal. But no body did anything. Most of the time during break between classes, when entering a class while drinking/eating where several students were fasting, they just apologized for doing it, and finished their drink/meal outside. During sport, the teacher also let the fasting students relaxed. Now, THAT's tolerancy.

yeah.. still busy actually & a bit sick, wish me luck

to adhitya, what is right for you doesnt necessarily mean right for your kids, you know.