Most students that I can think of have an aversion to R.E. as they disagree with it because they 'don't want to be oppressed by the establishment' - of course that's the more articulate, slightly hippy-ish and less profane version. In fact, it is a complete load of toss, but I'm trying to communicate the fact that half of the people in the school don't even have a valid reason - they just don't like it. And I'm yet to hear a proper or imaginative [dis]belief regarding why the atheists are so. It isn't even that the people in my classes disagree with organized religion or that they simply have not been able to manifest their faith - it is just because they feel that they have to do work on something that does not relate to them! And also, they leave out the exam questions because they're a general balanced equilibrium of reasoned argument and reasoned thinking... These are some of the reasons that I find the hypothetical idea of schoolchildren studying philosophy to be completely, and utterly ludicrous! The kind of appreciation and drive to understand would be absent in the vast majority.
I can also envision this situation quite clearly:
Teacher: You have the opportunity to completely drop R.E. -
Teacher: *ahem* - and take a Philosophy Class instead, taught by Mr(s). __________
Class: ...... *tumbleweed*...... That is so gay.
The other scenario would be that the main portion to all of every class (I'm thinking England here) would negate the R.E. course and then subsequently opt for the Philosophy course because they all hate R.E. etc, to find that the latter class would be much more taxing, the homework increasingly onerous and that they would learn nothing in this process: Hard work, not enough focus --> Distraction --> Chaos --> Unsuitable learning environment --> Teacher on heavy medication and other placeboes.
Giving it as a general class would surely be ineffective as the prospect of activity to some childrens' torpid brains would be highly repugnant. The only feasible thing would be to develop some sort of extra-curricular course for the GAT, NAGTY and other able students, and then decide whether it should continue based on the response and demographics.
I believe R.E. should remain the mandatory subject because, even though I do not believe in some transcendent power myself, it encourages students to open their minds to people of a different ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds. Britain are getting different kinds of people all of the time due to immigration (fortunately this government seem to be handling illegal immigration a lot better than Blair's, but that's another debate for a different place) so it's essential - really - that xenophobic and cultural prejudices are eradicated before their culmination of violent, inherent racism is borne. It also involves a lot of perceptive skills and facilitates the development of good reasoning in arguments and teaches us good morals, virtue and good stuff like that.
Philosophy is a nebulous term to cover such ambiguous branches of knowledge. I firmly believe that if a student wants to go to the library in their spare time, pursue a course in college or higher education then all credit and prosper to them, but the idea of attempting to instil it in the kind of disinterested, unmotivated people I share a class with is beyond farcical.
The people I sit in a class with are all bright and very intelligent people - don't get me wrong, I mean some of us are the best in the school. I know how patronising and disparaging I have sounded about the people my age and their approach to these subjects... but this is because I have a true first hand experience and have been in mixed set groups before, and am therefore able to give an objective, pragmatic viewpoint on this.
The majority would be truly disinterested, but join because R.E. is not a popular subject (of my experience, and I've had A LOT of different students from other schools verify that - quite colourfully!). They would either become bored or find it too easy - I can't see a medium - and then cause turbulence which would upset it for those who had a genuine lust for learning it. And there would be an incredible uproar from the church if R.E. in some schools was to be abolished, it is a tradition that I cannot see being broken.
I would like parents to bear this in mind if such a situation were to ever arise.
I'm 14 years old, and probably need post-traumatic stress therapy or whatever due to my R.E. "lessons"