The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu officially launched the new RE:quest online resources which explore the Christian Faith, produced by Youth for Christ.
Request.org.uk is free and has been designed to support outstanding teaching of RE and independent, enquiry-led learning by students exploring the big questions.
The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, said: “In looking outwards and asking questions of God and the Universe, we find that we actually discover more about ourselves and our own place in the world around us”.
RE:quest was first pioneered in 2000 and has recently been redesigned to cater for a generation of students who spend an increasing amount of time in a virtual world. It includes over 250 short films, a bank of interactive tours of churches and engaging online games and quizzes to help students explore what it means to be a Christian in Britain today and begin to ask big questions about life, identity and purpose for themselves.
The Archbishop of York’s address given at Westminster Chapel on 1 October 2014 follows in full:-
“It is a delight for me to be with you today, to celebrate this marvellous new resource. I am looking forward to seeing the demonstration of how it works later, and I am very encouraged by your understanding of the need to develop and improve children’s experience of religious education. The film showing the way children and young people explore the Big Ideas of our generation is inspiring evidence of the creative and adventurous minds of the pupils in our schools.
Theirs are minds and imaginations which need to be nurtured and stimulated. It is therefore disturbing to hear the criticisms that have been made in the last couple of years about the standard and content of much RE teaching. There is a hunger amongst young people for exploration of ideas beyond the mundane and practical; a hunger which needs a response from all our teaching, especially from the teaching of RE which by its nature addresses questions which transcend the every-day commonplace activities of the mind.
The education of our children has a history of religious partnership. The provision of general education in this country is the legacy of the National Society whose pioneering vision in 1811 was ‘that the National Religion should be made the foundation of National Education’.
At a time when only the rich and privileged received schooling, the mission of the Society was to found a Church school in every parish in England and Wales and with prodigious energy it began a national system of education establishing nearly 17,000 ‘National Schools’ supplemented by the State from 1870 onwards.
The Society funded building, enlarging and equipping classrooms through grants to prospective founders. Five thousand Church of England and Church in Wales schools, educating almost a million children and young people are the heirs of that proud tradition.
For me, school learning is only the first step in a lifetime of learning.
This is a concept which enables not only the potential for constant growth and development, it also means that we have the opportunity to bring back out of social and economic exclusion those who have become detached and, equally importantly, it means that schools can also be the means for reducing future social and economic exclusion.
As G K Chesterton said, “Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another”. We need to see education as a family treasure that we enjoy and pass on to enrich whole communities as well as individual lives. In Africa we say, “It takes a whole village to raise and educate a child”.
Education, therefore, is education of the whole person, not just about learning the techniques of study and discipline, though that is invaluable. It’s about engagement with both the wisdom and experience of those from whom we learn – whether in the classroom, the internet, or in books. But also the engagement with the world through the application and understanding of what we learn and do.
In helping our pupils to approach these big questions, we are preparing them to become fully rounded and grounded young people who are not afraid to learn and to expand their horizons.
President Nelson Mandela in one of his addresses as President of the Republic of South Africa, famously quoted Marianne Wilkinson’s book ‘A return to Love’:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?” Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
I believe human beings are God carriers, God’s representatives. And in our teaching we enable our children to explore how and what this looks like, as they learn that they can let their lights shine. What an exciting prospect.
So it is vital that we encourage the teaching of RE in a way which allows our children’s minds to explore, expand and encompass the vast possibilities of life.
Lancashire and Blackpool Education Authority describes the principle aim of RE as being, “To support pupils' personal search for meaning by engaging enquiry into the question 'What is it to be human?' – and exploring answers offered.”
What it is to be human! Don’t we all want to understand that!
If our children are enabled to explore this profound question, what a wonderful gift this will be – not only for their personal growth and development, but also for the health of our communities.
What is it to be human?
Being human is about recognising that other people are our brothers and sisters. We are all God’s children created equally, and equally loved. Therefore we must love and respect one another.
There is a story of a Rabbi who asked his disciples how they knew that night had ended and morning had broken.
“Could it be,” asked one, “when you can see an animal in the distance and tell whether it’s a sheep or a goat?”
“No”, replied the Rabbi. “Could it be,” asked a second, “when you can look at a tree in the distance and tell whether it is a fig or an olive tree?”
“No”, the Rabbi replied. “Well then, what is it?” the disciples pressed.
“It is when you can look on the face of any woman or man and see that she or he is your sister or brother. If you can’t do this, no matter what time it is, it’s still night.”
As we educate our children, we need to make sure that light is shed in their minds and lives
Being human is about discovering a sense of identity. In Africa we have a saying, ‘I am because we are’. I am a person through other people.
“No man is an island, entire unto himself”, as John Donne wrote. Being human is about discovering a sense of belonging. We are created to be in community, and as our children learn this through the RE curriculum, we see a growth of mutuality and service – not only in our schools but in our wider communities.
Discovering what it is to be human, means learning that we have responsibilities. I am my brother’s, my sister’s keeper. I have a responsibility for their well-being. And I have a responsibility to care for the world God created. If our children are able to learn this lesson, how much our families, our schools, our society will benefit from a growing sense of cohesion and care.
Being human means that we all have the potential to grow in strength and wisdom. To explore not only our surroundings and our history, but our own gifts, and how to use them. The RE curriculum helps our children explore the creative world, the world of the imagination – and as they look at the work of great artists, writers, musicians and people who have shaped our cultures and the culture of other countries, they will be inspired to explore their own creative talents and appreciate the gifts of others. God, as creator, involves us all, through helping us to use what we have been given, and by teaching us to see more deeply into the inventiveness of other human beings. As they learn, they are able to develop a broader appreciation of the world about them and the variety of experience and thought which has resulted in the varied and fascinating cultures across the world.
What it means to be human means always looking for our place and purpose in life, and recognising the place and purpose of others. RE helps our children’s imagination to expand and to see that there is always more to be explored and grasped. And with this comes not only a sense of wonder, but a sense of humility.
The Glory of God is a human being fully alive in Jesus Christ. I give thanks that good RE teaching helps our children to become fully alive.
Education Authorities have recognised all these elements in the curricula they have drawn up for RE, and I am sure that this wonderful new online resource will help make the subject real for a whole new generation of children.
This is a way of helping this generation explore the moral and ethical questions which we meet in life; how we can come to terms with many of the difficult questions about religion and belief which feature in the news so much. Without this understanding our gathered wisdom in all these aspects of our lives will be incomplete.
As Archbishop of York I am frequently invited to visit schools and colleges.
It is always a delight to visit them, and I have to say that one of my greatest pleasures is visiting primary schools. The children in those schools are so eager to learn; so open to new ideas; so ready to talk and listen and explore.
The pupils of one primary school, the School of the Resurrection in Manchester, regularly write me letters. Letters which are full of amazing understanding of God and the joy of being alive and able to discover more of his creation in all their classes. They send wonderful paintings and poems and stories.
The Archbishop of York primary school in Bishopthorpe village where I live is also a wonderful example of community living and service. They, like many others, are discovering their place in society - not only as members of their school but also in the wider community, and in the world.
They are not afraid of asking questions and they are not afraid of being asked them either. There is something wonderfully hopeful about the open and questioning mind of children .One sometimes wonders what happens to this as they grow older, when so often we come across the limitations of minds bounded by prejudice and fear of difference.
Schools with good RE teaching, provide a greater sense of relevance between pupils’ learning, and their life outside and beyond school.
Of course, we need to know what relevance means to our students in the 21st century. Even very young pupils are practised users of digital technology, and technology itself is not amazing to them.
They listen to and record music; view, create and publish Internet content; play video games; watch television; talk on mobile phones and instant message every day. They like choice. 1
They are group-oriented and social. Social networking is a vital part of their lives and community experience. For some, the only sense of belonging they have is through virtual communities.
It is good that this new learning programme recognises in our young people the change in the manner of communication and learning, and of their understanding of relationships. But in the content of what they learn, we still need to nurture their sense of real belonging to their school, their family, their neighbours.
RE, in its strong understanding that human beings are made for community, is a subject which builds up the emotional health and strength of our children, and equips them to meet the challenges of life with courage and wisdom.
At a time in the life of our country and indeed of the world, when division and prejudice threaten our common life, how important it is that our children learn this respect and understanding by exploring their understanding of the world together, and discovering the hopeful reality promoted by living and learning in community.
Thank you all for who you are and what you are doing. May the Lord richly bless you all, and prosper the work of your hands.”
(1)International Education Advisory Board White Paper, “Learning in the 21st Century”
Youth for Christ (YFC) is a national Christian charity that works with over 250,000 young people each month, communicating and demonstrating the Christian faith and values. Our 400+ staff members and countless local volunteers specialise in working with young people from all backgrounds; in schools, communities, churches and in prisons. For more information go to: www.yfc.co.uk
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