Welcome to the coloured glass classroom! We hope to provide you with lots of creative ideas and resource links to help you engage the young people in your religious and Christian education classes. This blog is sponsored by the Anglican Schools Commission of the Anglican Church Southern Queensland.

31 January 2014

Prayerfulness or mindfulness in the classroom?

Mindfulness and meditation in the classroom seem to be growing in popularity. There may be good reason for this.

The last Mission Australia Youth Survey revealed that "coping with stress and school or study problems was a major concern for respondents. 38.3% of respondents indicated they were extremely concerned or very concerned about coping with stress and 37.4% responded that school or study problems were a major concern."

There is growing evidence of the beneficial impact practices like meditation and mindfulness can have on student well-being. Books such as the Happiness Advantage say that as little five minutes of meditation a day can increase a persons feeling of happiness. There is also a growth in the number of people wishing to promote these practices in schools and teachers wanting to use them to help students.

But what does all this mean for Christian schools?

It seems that much of what is happening in schools draws on the religious practices of Hinduism and Buddhism. This article in The Atlantic describing some of what is happening in America only briefly mentions the religious undertones. On one level I think there are things we can learn from the practices of other religions. On another I wonder why we wouldn't draw on our own Christian tradition first.

The question in my mind is: Can mindfulness or meditation be done apart from any underlying philosophy or belief? The answer superficially is yes. A practice like stillness that can be found in many religions  may be beneficial in itself even if no religious ideas are attached to it. Schools that have a high proportion of secular students may feel that it is easier to use these practices in this secular way and not mention the beliefs behind them. But is this the best we can do for students in a Christian school? Why are we not plumbing the depths of the Christian tradition for the ancient practices of prayer, meditation, solitude and silence?

This week I read old research done by Leslie Francis that found that there is "a significant positive relationship between frequency of personal prayer and perceived purpose in life among both the church goers and the non church goers” and that “this finding suggests that personal prayer is correlated with positive psychological benefits for young people growing up outside the churches as well as within the churches” (“Prayer, personality and purpose in life among church going and non church going adolescents” - Leslie Francis in Religion, education and adolescence Ed. Francis, Robbins and Astley)

If this is the case maybe we should be teaching prayerfulness and not mindfulness in our schools.

23 January 2014

Should all schools teach religious education?

One of the Federal Government's education reviewers believes religious education should be taught in all schools. What do you think about this? What might the benefits be in having a national curriculum in this area? 

To be honest I don't think it would ever happen in Australia. There is a group in the population who would scream quite loudly against it and another group that really just couldn't care.  On top of that we are probably still more mono-cultural than other places around the world that see it as something that would add to cultural understanding and harmony. What do you think?

14 January 2014

God? What does that even mean?

Can we assume students have any idea of the concept of God?

In 2004 Brian V. Hill published Exploring Religion in Schools: A National Priority. One of the things I loved about this book was that it included "An Opinion Finder about Religious Beliefs and Values". The purpose of this three page survey, as the name states, is to discover student beliefs and opinions about religion. If you can get your hands on the book it is well worth looking at the opinion finder, as it is an excellent way of discovering where students are at and how they feel about religion. This can be a helpful way of starting a unit or the year.

This opinion finder activity in itself should shape the way we do religious education. I know the first time I did it I was actually shocked in both good and bad ways.

Teachers generally try not to make assumptions about what they think students already know. I think this is particularly the case in regards to religious education. Over the last few years, however, I have repeatedly heard people suggest that not enough work is done in exploring even the very basic concepts in religious education. The assumptions that are made about student knowledge can turn out to be very wrong.

For example students might be asked on an opinion finder or in class: Do you believe in God? This seems like a very straight forward question, but do students know what we are talking about when we say "God"? The teacher may have their own ideas about what they mean, but does the student share them? Are the two on the same page or talking about something completely different? Before the question can be asked, work must be done on exploring what exactly students are being asked to affirm or deny. Many young people today grow up in households where the very concept of God is not discussed or developed.

I wonder are there other concepts in religious education that teachers might take as assumed knowledge but students have very different or no ideas about.