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June 06, 2016

Do We Really Need to Teach Religion in Early Education?

Kids can cope with differences very well, until adults ruin it all by teaching them religion in school.

by Yudith Tirza

Back in my teaching days, I remember kids were always cheerful and eager to absorb every single thing I taught them. How they climbed into my lap to listen to my stories, how they enjoyed The Beatles songs I played in class every morning, and how they remembered my words months after I uttered them.
From the first day I stood in front of some 20 little faces, I knew these creatures would swallow every single word from me once I won their heart. And I did win their hearts, so the ball was on me.
I taught at a religion-based kindergarten back then, which makes religion a must subject for every kid, regardless of their parents’ beliefs. But my reluctance to teach the subject to my class during my 13 years of teaching had caused me troubles, because the school leadership wanted the kids to accept the concept of God without even asking.
To the school, doubting God is a big sin – to me, kids should always be curious about things. It was perfectly fine for me if they had some sort of curiosity about God or even doubted Him. And, personally, I preferred to teach them kindness than religion.
Furthermore, I think that it’s better to give the bigger responsibility of teaching religion to parents, than burdening a school to teach religion to its students.
School should be a fun place to learn, especially for kids age one to five who should spend most of their time playing as part of their learning process.
Kids are special. Unlike adults, they don’t really care about differences. They don’t care whether or not some toys are expensive, as long as they can play with it. They don’t care about other people’s beliefs; they don’t care about skin color.

They don’t mind differences, until adults like us teach them to be aware of the differences, segregating them into categories, and even teaching them to dislike each other.
And the most effective way of telling kids that they are different from others is by teaching them religion.
From using phrases like “More than the conqueror”, or “Heaven’s citizen soon to be”, or “We’re the light”, or “God’s favorite kid”, we unconsciously train our kids to place themselves into a particular box.
We change their opinion about their friends who don’t share the same belief. At the same time, telling them that “God will be angry if you do/don’t do (certain things)” only teaches them to fear God, rather than to understand His love.
Somehow, I prefer not to participate in this. When we had religion session, I used to sit with the kids to discuss about how different we were, yet how important it was to embrace those differences in the name of love. My students, of course, came from families of different religions. On every religion session, we talked about it.
I remember one of them told me “My nanny prays differently. She sat on a piece of cloth, she wears a special uniform to pray and I go to church, but I still love my nanny even though she is different.”
I was proud of her – until one day she came to me and said, “Ms xxx told me that I had to pray for my nanny so she would accept Jesus.”
This little girl didn’t even know what “accepting Jesus” meant, yet adults like her teacher shoved this kind of dogmas down her throat. The other day, my neighbor’s kid threw away the cookie I gave him, just because his parents and his teacher at school told him not to eat anything given by infidels.
Yes, we may be proud of our own religion and it gives us some satisfaction when we succeed in converting others to believe in what we believe. But this kind of competitiveness  has led us far from the core of the religious teaching itself, which is to love.
That’s why I wish school, as an academic institution, would not take part in building hatred among children, but to contribute in making them aware that our differences are indeed a gift to humanity. I prefer schools to teach students how to love and how to respect each other.
But who am I to ask that religion be banned from every school in Indonesia? So I did what I could. I did all I could to make sure that 10 years from now, none of my former students will ever put a gun to someone’s head in the name of religion. I’m pretty sure none of them will.
Yudith Tirza currently works as a copywriter at a multinational advertising company in Jakarta, after having been a kindergarten teacher for 13 years. She dealt mostly with special need kids. She enjoys observing people while having  cup good coffee and she tweets her observation as @btari_durga on Twitter or writes it down on https://t.co/xibsENNkR9