Many of our religious leaders have called for the re-introduction of religious and moral instruction in schools.
It is their answer to what appears to be the moral decadence of society.
But what sort of religious instruction do they envisage? And will the leaders of even the various Christian churches agree? And what about children of other faiths?
I agree with the idea that something must be done to arrest the fall in the standards of learning and behaviour in our schools.
But will simple instruction be of much help while society appears to cherish no values? We naturally look back with nostalgia to the good old days when one could, for example, identify a Presbyterian school boy or girl.
In those days the schools had character, which the pupils assumed instinctively. In those days religious instruction featured strongly in the syllabus. But was it that which made the difference with today's pupils?
To answer this question we should make a little excursion into history and find out how other societies dealt with similar problems in the past.
We may even find that the situation is not entirely bad even in Ghana and we have dealt with similar problems of similar nature in the past.
My English master and friend, Jack Andrews, tried to disabuse my mind of the romantic ideas I held about the Victorian age because of the way the history of the period was taught me.
He introduced me to the writings of the English poet and social critic Matthew Arnold. I must confess I was not that much enthused by Matthew Arnold. But I was struck by his strictures on the materialising and philistine of the Victorian age.
It became clear to me that even when things appeared all right on the surface, a lot might be wrong. But I would not allow Matthew Arnold to destroy my fine imaginations of life in Victorian Britain.
I was more interested in Matthew Arnold's Father Thomas Arnold of Rugby, the famous English public school. “Tom Brown's School Days” was compulsive reading in Achimota.
The book made me try to find out what really went on at Rugby. When I discovered that Thomas Arnold's aim was to reform Rugby and make it a school for Christian gentlemen, I realised that, probably, Thomas Arnold wanted to do something positive about the decadence, which his son was to uncover in his writings.
His sermons in the school chapel reminded me of similar ones at the Achimota College chapel by the science scholar, the Rev. Dr Simpson. We were elated by the sermons of Dr Simpson.
Thomas Arnold doubted whether he could make Christian boys. He said his object would be, if possible, to form Christian men. To Matthew Arnold, what one should look for at Rugby were first, religious and moral principles, second, gentlemanly conduct and third, intellectual ability.
The values and principles of society will certainly permeate the school and so will its behaviour as well as character.
Learning assists understanding and opens up the mind with noble ideas and endeavours. It appears that the excessive examination dominates the present examination spectrum and does not allow the mind time to explore, reflect and analyse.
If examinations were so dominant, I would have dismissed Jack Andrews' promptings to read Matthew Arnold because it was not part of the examination syllabus.
We should seriously think of our school- days and assess how much of us was moulded by religious education. The scripture lessons I liked best at school were those conducted by the theosophist, K. B. Ateko. At 14, we laughed at anyone who did not speak English with an Oxford accent.
“But” was “bat”, not “bought” and so on. But K. B. Ateko would say “w?rms” for “worms” and we did not laugh. We were gripped by his exposition.
He expatiated on Eastern religions, the transmigration of souls and the like. We explored religious texts by reading on our own and asking the priests for elucidation when necessary.
In town, the churches established Sunday schools, which taught reading and explained the writings of the Bible. I never met an “illiterate” woman in my youth who could not read the Bible in Ga, Twi or Fante.
And Christian teaching and values were inculcated in them by example. Today, we have so many churches which take Bible studies seriously.
The young men and women know the scriptures well and take prayer meetings seriously. The pervading moral turpitude is therefore difficult to understand.
We may teach religion in schools but I do not think that will resolve the matter. Society should purge itself of its corruption, vanity and wayward ways.
Furthermore, we should not divide the nation by our demands. While we bear witness to our faith and promote its teachings, we should realise that there are other beliefs in our schools.
Moreover, even people of our persuasion sometimes differ in important aspects of interpretation and practice. What we want should not lead to religious segregation in schools.
Religious and moral education is not the only answer to the erosion of values in our society. It will help, provided we stress that which unites us.
Who will not subscribe to the following prayer by St Francis of Assisi?
“Lord, make us instruments of thy peace,
where there is hatred let us sow love
where there is injury, pardon
where there is discord union
where there is doubt, faith
where there is despair, hope
where there is darkness, light
where there is sadness, joy”.
By K. B. Asante
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