Gack, if it’s possible for me to be less and less impressed with organised Christian churches and their attempts at changing the way the State runs, it’s happening.
They’ve been appearing to be increasingly panicked about the prospect of schools offering humanist/ethics courses alongside dogmatic Scripture classes (Special Religious Education (SRE), which is not to be confused with the non-dogmatic, comparative General Religious Education). The current situation varies slightly from State to State, but in many places it’s the case that students who have opted out of SRE cannot be offered any programmed education, which means they do things like spend the hour sitting in the library or colouring in. There have been lots of other issues about. These have included some kids being teased for opting out of Scripture classes, and young Scripture kids singing songs and being given lollies while the non-Scripture kids are sat down to do nothing.
In my State, the only way kids avoid Scripture class (if offered by their school) is by a written opt-out; Christian education is the State-sanctioned default. There are, it is said, a few non-Christian classes about (Islam or Ba’hai education is apparently offered here and there), but in general the choice looks more like ‘Catholic or Anglican?’
I wrote to my State Education Department a while back trying to find out what Scripture options may be offered and are offered by schools in WA, what syllabi are used, whether there is any syllabus oversight or definitions of acceptable content, what exactly happens when a child opts out, and how many children currently out. They had no idea. It’s all done on a school-by-school basis, and the State Education Department has absolutely no idea what is actually happening in their own State schools during this one hour a week.
The public discourse has ebbed and flowed, with a fair bit of silliness about the place. The silliness has included assertions like Scripture being the way to teach children about morals. Some people and groups have countered by proposing secular ethics education as an option. A few schools in NSW are trialling this as we speak.
Check out the ethics pilot programme here at Parents4ethics.org:
Session 1: “Getting Started”
Session 2: “Fairness”
Session 3: “Lying and Telling the Truth”
Session 4: “Ethical Principles”
Session 5: “Graffiti”
Session 6: “Thinking About Animals”
Session 7: “Intervening in Nature”
Session 8: “Virtues and Vices”
Session 9: “Children’s Rights”
Session 10: “Living A Good Life”
But the objections keep … evolving. Now, a group of churches including Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, and Uniting have decided that it’s not ok to offer ethics classes as an option for kids who don’t go to Scripture – because then the Scripture kids will miss out on being educated about ethics!
WA Today has Catholics try new tack in ethics row :
“We would love … if the government thought that ethics were a worthwhile addition to the curriculum, to enable Catholic kids to have the opportunity to attend it,” said Jude Hennessy, the director of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine for the Wollongong diocese and co-ordinator of the campaign.
“It is not fair they should miss this opportunity. Nor is it fair their parents should be caught in a dilemma about whether to send them to formation in their faith tradition or to choose ethics.”
Not fair? Not fair for all children to have access to an option that suits them? Not fair for all families to have equal opportunity to choose? In what way, exactly, is that “not fair”?
Also, Hennessy, do you realise that you have just said, out loud, that your Scripture doesn’t teach kids ethics? How do you reconcile this with ideas about your religion being The Divine Way To A Moral Life?
And lastly – have you ever heard of Sunday School? Or teaching your child about your own tradition? Do you seriously, truly believe in your heart that State school SRE programmes are the only way of teaching a child your faith? The only way this can make any sense – the ONLY way – is if you are dead set on instructing children in your particular flavour of dogma against their families’ will.
I can’t help but wondering if some of the panic is being occasioned after reading that one-tenth of the pilot programme involves teaching kids about their rights. Some people are really not very keen on that sort of thing.
Do schools in your area currently run ethics or values programmes? What would your ideal ethics programme include?