Operant Conditioned Education, Religion in ECEs.

As an attachment parented child, when my child began daycare in October 2018 at, I was prepared to spend several weeks helping him transition to being at an early childcare centre away from his primary caregiver, me his Mum.  Having a Playcentre ECE history and being securely attached, this transition took about 2 hours.
I was at the centre long enough to observe the centre’s practice of Christian prayer in te reo, including the leading teacher demonstrating clasping hands in prayer, before meals.  I raised this, first with a teacher, then the receptionist and had a discussion and meeting with the manager. 

During this meeting I explained our family’s belief, that we are atheists and felt prayer was inappropriate in our majority-secular and multi-denomination society[1].  The manager informed me that I should have asked before enrolling my child and the karakia was part of her Maōri culture. 

We had a discussion around traditional karakia and the imposition of Christian religion into Maōri culture by missionaries and that my 3-year-old child being taught prayer was a similar imposition.  The manager took issue with my use of the word imposed.  It also honestly never occurred to me that the first question I should ask in our secular country should be, is this a secular educational centre?

I offered academic resources which were declined, (I did however deliver some printed material to the manager’s desk).  I also advised secular karakia was available on the internet and was assured the teachers would discuss the issue and that my child wouldn’t be exposed to the prayer (I mentioned my concern that my child would be excluded due to religious belief).  I was never informed of the outcome of any discussion.

My child settled well, quickly made friends and enjoyed the routine and when I was asked about my child’s inclusion in Christmas activities, felt the centre was respecting our belief and relaxed.  I made other arrangements for my child when a class trip to attend a super rugby event.   Our household doesn’t promote sports culture heroes, cartoon super-hero types or any other idolised or omnipresent problem solver that ties into and/or promotes magical thinking and abdication of personal responsibility or uses violence to solve problems. 
This is sound evidence based psychological best-practice[2].

On Sunday 17 March 2019, I placed my child’s breakfast in front of him and he clasped his hands and began to incant prayer.

We are a science based academic household and I respect others’ rights to hold their beliefs and expect similar.  Freedoms are part of the New Zealand Rights Act, it expressly states the right to freedom and belief include the rights to hold a religious or ethical belief… and not to hold a belief.

The United Nations Human Rights Council states that neutral and objective teaching of religion is permitted but that instruction in a particular religion is not. The freedom to act in accordance with one’s religious or ethical belief is not as wide as the freedom to hold those beliefs. Limitations can be imposed on how religion and belief is expressed, particularly where matters of public safety or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others are affected.[3] 

I have no issue with my child learning about religion, all of them.  However, children under seven years old have a difficult time understanding the difference between fantasy and reality[4] and the socialised form of learning instilling worship into children is not appropriate in an educational facility that does not specifically promote itself as for that purpose.

I spend today visiting ECE’s, asking if the centre is secular, and they were ALL surprised I asked that question and shocked at what my family and my child has been through at.  Incorporating non-secular karakia or prayers into curriculum is not considered a normal part of a daycare routine.

NZ has a diverse society and Playcentres, Kindergartens and primary schools need to ensure they are inclusive of our broad range of people by leaving religion where it belongs - at home.

[1] https://www.stats.govt.nz/
[2] Coyne SM, Stockdale L, Linder JR, Nelson DA, Collier KM, Essig LW. Pow! Boom! Kablam! Effects of Viewing Superhero Programs on Aggressive, Prosocial, and Defending Behaviors in Preschool Children. J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2017 Nov;45(8):1523-1535.
[3] https://www.hrc.co.nz/files/4614/2388/0493/HRNZ_10_Freedom_of_Religion.pdf
[4] Christakis, D.A., Garrison, M.M., Herrenkohl, T., Haggerty, K., Rivara, F.P., Zhou, C., & Liekweg, K.  (2013).  Modifying Media Content for Preschool Children: A Randomized Controlled Trial.  Pediatrics.  131(3): 431–438.


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