“No School is Being Told to Teach About Paganism” in Cornwall

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  April 23, 2012 — 30 Comments

Last week I deconstructed the Daily Mail’s sensationalist assertions regarding the teaching of Paganism in British religious education courses, specifically in Cornwall. I pointed out that there is no hard-and-fast mandate requiring schools to insert Pagan religions into their curriculum, and that the RE advisory council is exactly that, advisory. This didn’t stop conservative Catholic columnist Christina Odone from flying off the rails, using the story as a jumping-off point to rail against any who dare place non-Christian faiths on equal ground with Christianity.

“God, Gaia, whatever: school children are already as familiar with the solstice as with the sacraments. In pockets of Cornwall, children will point out a nun in her habit: “Look, a Druid!” Their parents will merely shrug — one set of belief is as good as another. How long before the end of term is marked by a Black Mass, with only Health and Safety preventing a human sacrifice?

So with the discourse on this non-event having sunk about as low as it could go, it was time for the journalistic grown-ups at the BBC to step in and set things to rights.

Sue Green, director of education, said Cornwall’s heritage was “quite unique” and must be celebrated. The director said the syllabus suggested if there was an important religious aspect of beliefs such as Paganism, teachers should “explore it”. “We must celebrate the spiritual and religious heritage for our children.” Ms Green said: “For many of our schools there will be children who come from Pagan families and we wouldn’t want those children to feel marginalised.” But she added, that “no school is being told to teach about Paganism”.

It should be noted that Sue Green is director of education for the Anglican Diocese of Truro, which serves Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, so not exactly a shill for the powerful (and largely imaginary) Cornwall Pagan lobby. Nor is Green the only prominent Cornish Christian to speak up in defense of the curriculum guidelines, a local paper in Cornwall interviews the Rev Mike Coles, pastor of Falmouth Evangelical Church, and chairman of Cornwall’s advisory body for religious education, about the council’s recommendations.

“It seems right to develop a distinctively Cornish element that included the early Celtic saints, the influence of John Wesley, and the history of Truro Cathedral, as well as the significance of pre-Christian sites.”

Rev. Coles is a conservative Baptist, again, not exactly a “rah rah Paganism” kind of guy. That paper also speaks with David Hampshire, RE adviser for Cornwall, who notes that the “option” (notice the word option and not “mandate”) was developed “in order to develop a ‘Curriculum Kernewek’ (Cornish curriculum),” and that Paganism would “not be a major feature” of the curriculum. Thus, yet another controversy constructed by The Daily Mail is laid to bed, though I’m sure critics will once again lash out at the BBC for being too “Pagan friendly” for daring to accurately report the news.

In a final note, only one news outlet bothered to get a statement from the local branch of the Pagan Federation, and that was the Huffington Post UK.

“Fiona MacDonald, co-ordinator of Cornwall’s Pagan Federation, said the group welcomed the decision to include Paganism on the curriculum. “We have been campaigning for schools to introduce it for the past 10 years,” she told The Huffington Post UK. “It is not a question of teaching children Paganism, rather teaching children about Paganism. “We are just normal human beings with different ideas,” she added.”

So here’s to HuffPo UK for actually asking local Pagans what they think about a story that affects their lives. It’s sad that they were the only ones to do so.

So, to wrap up, an advisory RE curriculum is advisory, not mandatory, local Christians and Pagans don’t seem to have a problem with the RE curriculum, children are not being indoctrinated by Pagans, and the Daily Mail is a terrible way to get your journalism and you should really stop reading and linking to it.

Jason Pitzl-Waters