Five useful things I could have learned at school during the 280 hours I spent reciting the Lord's Prayer

I spent a total of a 52 days in religious instruction classes. In that time I could have learned to code, to manage my finances, speak Mandarin and to have a healthy sex life  

Kirsty Major
Monday 07 December 2015 13:07
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Under existing law, schools must ensure that  pupils "on each school day take part in an act of collective worship"
Under existing law, schools must ensure that pupils "on each school day take part in an act of collective worship"

From the age of 11 until 18, I attended an all-girls' Roman Catholic high school. Every day we spent ten minutes reciting the Lord’s Prayer and listening to a short religious message delivered by our teacher. Each week, I had two hours of religious education classes and a one-hour assembly, with a classic line-up of prayers, sermons and hymns.

Over seven years that adds up to 280 hours praying, 672 hours of religious education and 336 hours of singing The Lord is Thy Shepherd. In total, not including the odd Hail Mary here and there, that’s 1,258 hours of religious instruction.

I've come out the other side of this an under-skilled millennial, unprepared for the workplaces of 2015 and a staunch atheist – I am fully behind The Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life, whose report calls for British public life to be de-Christianised. The report recommends that schools phase out selection of children on the basis of their beliefs, create more critical religious education classes and replace compulsory daily acts of worship in school assemblies with ‘time for reflection’.

I’d like to imagine a world where I didn’t spend 1,258 hours – or 52 days - of school time asking God to deliver me from evil. Here is a list of five things that I might have thought about in my ‘time for reflection’, or learned in the two hours a week that would otherwise have been spent trying to make a teenager who had just come from a physics class believe in Transubstantiation.

Those two hours a week could have been spent teaching me Mandarin, the most widely spoken language in the world. It is estimated that 2,200 classroom hours are needed to master the language and with 1,258 hours freed up from religious instruction, I would by now be able to make small talk with 14.4% of the world’s population.

Some of that time might have been used to help me learn how to code or to fix broken electronics. As far as I know, my computer runs on black magic. As long as I keep on believing in it, it will carry on working.

There might also have been some time for teaching me and my classmates how to manage personal finance. Since 2006, there has been an increase in the numbers of young people in debt. According to the Citizens Advice Bureau, council tax arrears, unpaid telephone bills and unsecured personal loans make up the majority of this debt.

Or maybe in some of the ‘time for reflection’, my teachers could have talked to a classroom of 30 young women about how to have healthy relationships. Instead of being taught that our vaginas were evil and having sex would bring about the destruction of humanity, we could have learnt that our sexual feelings were normal, that we could explore them inside of healthy relationships and most importantly, we could express and ask for consent.

Finally, those ten minutes a day could have been spent thinking a little bit more about how we interact with others. We could have been empowered to reflect on racism, homophobia, sexism, ageism, transphobia, ableism and all the other forms of discrimination outside of their association to religious dogma.

In fact, providing teenagers with the skills to be nicer members of society really isn’t that far away from the Lord’s greatest commandment of all: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’.

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