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Bibles for schools
An angry parent has told us that the Gideons have visited her child's school, where they contributed to an act of collective worship and gave every child a Bible. Most people have heard of Gideon Bibles being left in hotel rooms, but they distribute them in many other places too. On their website they say,
We are aware that many people in Britain have never seen a Bible and may be uncertain what it is.
Our aim is to give them the opportunity to read it for themselves, perhaps for the first time, and to discover God in a personal way.
The Gideons place Bibles or New Testaments in many areas including:
Additionally we make personal presentations of God's Word.
Each year we present personal copies of the New Testament and Psalms to children in thousands of British secondary schools and to many university and college students.
We make personal presentations to medical personnel and uniformed services - Armed Forces, Police, Ambulance and Fire.
We place New Testaments at hospital bedsides.
Quite apart from the fact that it isn't appropriate to allow groups like this to proselytise in schools, the Bible isn't a guide for life, as we reported earlier. When teachers allow this to happen, maybe they haven't considered why they shouldn't? Suffolk's SACRE (Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education) has provided some guidelines for schools on visitors to RE lessons and assemblies. They say:
As a visitor you should expect to:
- Be fully briefed about the curriculum context of the visit in terms of schemes of work, ages and backgrounds of pupils and of anticipated learning outcomes
- Be made aware of the attitudes to be developed in RE namely, self awareness, respect for all, open mindedness, appreciation and wonder
- Have resources made available
- Have agreed fees and expenses
In return it is appreciated if you:
- Make it clear who you are, what you represent, and what your organisation’s aims are
- Are willing to share your experiences, beliefs and insights, without criticising those of others or imposing your views in any way
- Aim to use methods that encourage children to think and respond imaginatively. Active learning strategies are recommended where appropriate.
- Communicate at a level that is appropriate for the age group
- Are willing to adopt an open approach, avoiding any temptation to proselytise (our emphasis)
It is essential that you:
- Are willing to respect and value the faiths or beliefs of others when they are different from your own.
A key question for a visitor, when reflecting on the impact of his or her approach, is to ask ‘If a representative of a faith or secular organisation other than mine visited my child’s schools and behaved as I have done, would I, as a parent be happy with their contribution to my child’s education?’
Unfortunately, possibly due to changes in the county's funding for Suffolk's SACRE and other difficulties, some schools may not be aware of these guidelines - or maybe they just choose to ignore them.
Two schools in Staffordshire have blocked the Gideons from distributing Bibles among their students. Abbot Beyne School and Paget High School near Burton on Trent have reportedly instituted a ban on Bible distributions by the charity over fears that students of other faiths may be offended.
Maggie Tate, deputy head teacher of Abbot Beyne School, defended the move. She was quoted by Burton Mail as saying: “The reason we stopped the Gideons coming in is that we are a comprehensive multi-faith school. “We felt it was inappropriate to allow one faith group to distribute material in school.”
The Gideons isn't the only organisation that's keen to get into schools and preach. We've also heard about a visit to a local primary school by people from Open the Book:
OPEN THE BOOK offers a programme of themed and dramatised Bible stories at no charge to the schools. Each session is around 10 minutes long and fits comfortably into assembly times.
Busy and ill-informed teachers might think that it's a good idea to allow people like this into their assemblies, so that they can hand over responsibilty for providing a daily act of worship, as required by the law. We don't, and we know that some parents are angered by it. Too often, they only hear about this sort of school visit after the event. If you've been affected by this issue, please share your thoughts.