The map and the territory

Welcome to REtoday Summer edition 2024

Have you come across this riddle: what has rivers but no water, cities but no buildings, forests but no trees, deserts but no sand, and mountains but no rocks? The answer, of course, is a map!

The scholar Albert Zorzybski (1933) put it like this: ‘The map is not the territory’. Educators spend hours meticulously planning lessons and mapping curricula to provide well-constructed and thoughtful frameworks for learning and progress, to guide teaching, and to ensure that learning experiences are valuable to the children and young people we teach. A necessary but arduous endeavour which, when done well, serves well. But, as Zorzybski’s adage reminds us, we must not forget that – just as geographical maps can never accurately reflect every detail of a terrain – lesson plans, curriculum maps and student ‘flight paths’ cannot perfectly align with the dynamic nature of the classroom environment, nor take account of the diverse needs, interests, and perspectives of each and every student we teach. Dare I say that some of the best lessons I taught in RE were those when, for one reason or another, we deviated from the plan and our detour led us to new, rich and challenging terrain? Even the best-laid plans should never, in my view, take a more central place in practice than the students themselves. The journey itself is far more important than the planned route.

The Summer Term is a good time to be thinking about ‘mapping RE’. As the school year draws to a close, thoughts turn to reflecting on the paths we have charted in our teaching so far this year, as well as looking ahead to where next year may take us. Perhaps you are also looking forward to your own voyages and journeys of discovery during the well-earned summer break. I hope this issue of REtoday will help you to steer your course, and perhaps inspire you to go off the beaten track, exploring new ideas and approaches to RE. Within the pages that follow, you will find articles that deal with issues around the direction of travel for RE, and ideas for cross-curricular RE, as well as insight into planning effective and purposeful RE within and across phases.

Befitting this edition’s theme, we pay attention to pilgrimage. RE is so often – and in so many ways – about journeys! Physical and spiritual journeys and voyages of discovery feature strongly in many of the narratives of great religious and spiritual traditions. In RE, we explore life journeys, not only through study of rites of passage and the ways in which people and communities mark life’s milestones, but also by encouraging learners to think about their own journeys in life and learning.

In these pages, the Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell talks about his new book P is for Pilgrim, and helping children discover and understand the big ideas of Christianity. As featured on the cover, we learn from cast members of the BBC’s Pilgrimage: The Road through North Wales how following in the footsteps of ancient pilgrims in Wales challenged and inspired them, along with suggestions on how this powerful resource can enhance RE in your setting.

My hope is that the practical ideas, insight and opinion throughout this issue will open up opportunities for you and your learners to be intrepid explorers of the beautiful, awe-inspiring, often mysterious and sometimes hard-to-navigate terrain that is RE.