The school of all the gods

The March 1 issue of L’actualité, a news magazine published in Montréal, includes this article (in French). It describes an experiment in Québec schools: this fall, the public school system in the province will become officially secular and will no longer offer religious instruction. Instead a new program of “religious ethics and culture” aims to expose children to the diversity of religion without trying to teach the precepts or challenge the tenets of any faith.

I gather from the article that since 2000, Québec has offered students a choice between enseignement confessionnel [religious instruction] and des cours de morale [classes on ethics]. Reporter Valérie Borde believes the new courses will overturn everything that’s been taught about religion in Québec for 400 years.

(Comments and explanations that follow are my paraphrases and could well include my misunderstandings; one reason I read L’actualité is to work on my French.)

Since September 2006, eight schools have tested the new curriculum, which had been kept very quiet.

People only knew the broad outline of the program. The minister [of education] refused to explain in detail how the religions to be studied were chosen, or to divulge the list of schools that would try it out. But as it turned out my son goes to one of them, so Mom the journalist was able to find out more…

Third and fourth graders, as part of their assignments, brought to school various items associated with religion in their home environments — baptismal gowns, statues of Buddha, Islamic rosaries.

One 11-year-old girl had not dreamed of how little some of her classmates knew about religion. “They’d never heard of Ramadan,” she said. Another girl in the same class had not known that Islam, Judaism, and Christianity had so much in common. “And I was amazed that so many people in the world believe in reincarnation.”