Bishops protest teaching of humanism

Experts reject the argument that curriculum changes are trying to counter religion.

Illustrative stock photoIllustrative stock photo (Source: SME)

Catholic bishops have recently voiced their opposition to portions of the national action plan of the education of children that encourage schools to incorporate topics related to humanism into their classrooms, the Denník N daily reported.

The action plan recommends that schools include in their curricula topics related to multicultural education; education linked to humanism, human rights and children’s rights; equality between men and women; prevention against all forms of discrimination, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, intolerance and racism; and migration.

The Conference of Bishops of Slovakia (KBS) disagrees with the proposal, saying that humanism contradicts the preamble to Slovakia’s constitution.

“The Slovak constitution’s preamble states that the Slovak nation claims allegiance to the Cyrillo-Methodian legacy,” the KBS said, as quoted by Denník N. “Humanism is an ideology which is at odds with this legacy and with the rights of parents to raise and educate their children in compliance with their philosophical and religious belief.”

The bishops also claimed they wanted the terminology of the curricula to be clarified.

“Humanism may be perceived not only as a cultural movement but also as a philosophical direction which links the emphasis on the human being with the rejection of religion,” KBS spokesperson Martin Kramara told Denník N.

If the second meaning were adopted, it could be at odds with the constitution. “It would be better to replace the phrase ‘education in the spirit of humanism’ with ‘education towards humanity,’” he said.

Opinions differ

Education expert and Editor-in-Chief of the Dobrá Škola (Good School) magazine Vladimír Burjan said that the official comment of KBS was unfortunately phrased and inappropriate.

“It is not the first time the KBS has acted like a bull in a china shop,” Burjan told Denník N.

Burjan, who co-authored the action plan, said that society commonly uses the term humanism in the sense of humanity. This is part of the reason that the KBS has seen so much opposition to its comments, he explained.

According to Burjan, the bishops’ statement has made two over-simplifications: equating humanism with atheism and reducing the meaning of the Cyrillo-Methodian legacy to religious belief.

“Then it would seem that these two ideas oppose each other,” Burjan said, as quoted by Denník N. “It is a shallow, archaic and counterproductive way of thinking,” he said.

Headmaster of the religious Bilingual Grammar School of C. S. Lewis in Bratislava Dušan Jaura is also critical of the statement made by the KBS. He said that the appraoch of the bishops offers fear instead of curiosity, stagnation instead of flexibility, a box with pre-prepared answers instead of critical thinking, and monologue instead of dialogue.

“It is a sad world that a few sad men are trying to project,” Jaura told Denník N.

Theologian Miroslav Kocúr said he understands the reasons of the KBS for submitting a comment against the education towards humanism and believes that their statement is legitimate. He said the question to consider is whether the organisation and Slovak society itself can accept the possibility that dialogue must be opened on these issues.

He said that he does disagree with several statements of the KBS, including the argument that humanism might be at odds with the rights of parents to raise and educate their children in compliance with their own philosophical and religious belief, Denník N wrote.

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