Bernard starts junior school in September (I know, how did that happen, etc). The school he will go to is separate from but on the same site as his infant school. It’s five minutes’ walk away, right at the bottom of our road. It’s the best school in a town full of excellent schools, and I’ve just read the OFSTED report where the inspectors clearly struggled to think of any “improvements” they could suggest. It’s also a Church school.
A couple of years ago, a friend described us as the most atheist people he knew (while laughing at us sitting politely through a thoroughly joyful church wedding). As parents, in the area of spiritual and religious learning, we have always leaned towards rational, honest discussion. We told him from the start that Father Christmas was made up. When we stay at Granny’s house, she does a christmas stocking; he knows it’s her but you can tell by the way he wakes up an extra hour earlier that it’s still very exciting. If we’re at home for christmas, we call it Yule. We chose that name for it to make it non-religious: in this family, that festival is all about family. We’re hoping that the same approach to the Tooth Fairy will save us some cash.
Although the infant school is not a church school, there are prayers and religious assemblies, with I think just slightly more than lip service given to other faiths. When these give rise to questions, we try to answer them in a straightforward way, and help him to think rationally. We encourage him to respect other people and other cultures, but we don’t downgrade our own culture in deference to religion. I am perfectly happy for him to be taught about other belief systems, but not for him to be taught christianity, or any other religion, as fact.
Today I was given a whole heap of forms to complete before he starts the new school, and one of them is about visiting church. I have the following options:
- I am happy for my child to visit church as part of the RE curriculum
- I am happy for my child to attend church to celebrate special events
- I wish to exercise my right to withdraw my child from RE and/or collective worship.
If I don’t check both the first two boxes, I have to give reasons. I asked his new teacher if many children skipped church, because back in my day only the weird JW kids did that, and she said yes it’s not uncommon. I am very conflicted about this, because I don’t want him to be the weird kid (any more than is inevitable) but I also don’t see why he should be required to take part in something that is not relevant to our family, any more than a Muslim child would be obliged to do it. Then as Lisa says, sitting quietly during a church service is a useful lifeskill; but I’m not sure I agree with that. I don’t find myself having to do it even as much as once a year.
I explained to Bernard what going to church entailed: prayers, hymns and stories. He pointed out to me that he’s not a christian and doesn’t say prayers, but he likes hymns and stories. I said he could go along and not say prayers, if he wants to. We have not yet made up our minds.