SRE debate: agendas need untangling
Imagine if the only time your child could learn water safety and surf life-saving skills was during the hour given for Special Religious Education?
Most parents would be tempted to send their kids along.
In effect, that's the dilemma many parents will confront when they weigh up whether to sign their kids up to the new ethics classes.
As someone who studied philosophy at university, I see as a great value in teaching children critical thinking skills.
And so do many Anglican schools.
Some of our top schools teach philosophical ethical models in addition to divinity classes.
This is why Dr Simon Longstaff from the St James Ethics Centre told the Sydney Morning Herald "The ethics program is a meaningful alternative that builds on what is already being done, complementing what is already being done in SRE."
Hmmmmm. a complement to SRE. Sounds great. But is that really what is being proposed for public school students like my daughter?
And there's the rub.
What has annoyed me most about this debate is the unwillingness of anyone to untangle the somewhat contradictory agendas of the three different groups pushing the ethics classes.
The philosophers SJEC's Dr Simon Longstaff and UNSW's Professor Philip Cam would really like to see a scenario where all children are taught critical thinking skills, including those in SRE.
The P&C says its aim is to provide something "useful" for kids of parents who object to any religious instruction. But is teaching Years 5 and 6 students philosophy really going to address that problem for the majority of the primary students in Years K to 4?
The groundswell of support for the P&C comes from what I will dub the atheist lobby (so not to be confused with the opinions of individual atheists) who ultimately want SRE banned from public schools. This was made crystal clear to me in the scores of letters Anglican Media has received from atheists in the past week. They see introducing generalist ethics classes as a first step to getting rid of SRE all together.
I have great sympathy for those parents who are upset that their kids are spending an hour a week watching videos or playing computer games. But the ethics proposal is not a fair way forward to provide an 'atheist option'.
As a result, I am most upset with the P&C who are meant to represent me as a public school parent, and yet have turned themselves into a sectarian organisation promoting the interests of one group of parents against another.
My personal opinion (and this should no way be confused with any official position of the Anglican Church) is that there is only one solution that is fair to all children.
1. Recommend to the Board of Studies that philosophical ethics models be taught as part of the mainstream curriculum
2. The atheist lobby (perhaps via the Atheist Foundation or similar) register as an SRE provider to provide a non-religious alternative.
What do you think?