Sunday, 10 October 2010

Would you allow your child to visit a mosque?

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No, this is not a trick question.  I work in a small village primary school and this week I was due to take the year 6 class to visit a mosque in nearby Liverpool.  The school has a very small number of children from an 'ethnic' background, probably no more than 5 children in all, and to my knowledge none are Muslim. We are not a church school either, and most of the children at the school have little knowledge of any religions.  One of the school's objectives has been to open the children up to 'global culture' and we have spent time planning events and visits that fit in with that objective.

The visit was part of an educational visit, and part of the national curriculum for RE, to visit places of worship.  In the past the class has visited a synagogue, and last year we visited a local Anglican church and a Buddhist centre.  On those occasions the whole class took part and they all enjoyed the experience of visiting the different places.   

When I sent out the letters to parents about the mosque visit they were slow in being returned, and a couple of children said they were 'not allowed to go'.  I asked those children if I could speak to their parents at home time to find out if this was the case. 

What happened next was not totally unexpected but disappointing nevertheless.  One of the dads said "I didn't serve 5 years in the armed forces for you to send my child to a mosque."  Another said "there is no educational benefit in visiting a mosque, you could learn the same thing from showing them a video".  When I pointed out the his son had visited places of worship for three other religions, his response was "that's different, they're not terrorists."  The next day another child came in and said he couldn't go to the mosque because his dad said "we're at war with the Muslims."

In the end we had to cancel the visit as only 8 out of the class of 30 children had brought in their permission slips.  I find this extraordinary, or am I being totally naive here?  How can children make up their own minds about if they are not allowed to find things out for themselves?

From my point of view teaching Religious Education is not about preaching to children. Whether we like it or not religion is a major influence in many, many lives and RE is about showing children the differences in the world, learning about other cultures, religions and backgrounds.  It's about helping children to make up their own minds about the world, and learning to accept people as they are for who they are and not prejudging others. 

Children are generally very accepting of others, and so I'm hugely disappointed that this visit was unable to go ahead.  Is it just me, or is this response unreasonable?

I would be happy for my children to visit a mosque as part of an educational visit.  Would you allow yours to go?