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?

Jeremy Halcrow is a veteran Christian journalist, a former media relations consultant and former editor of Southern Cross Newspaper. He is now Director, Communications and Strategic Partnerships for Anglicare Canberra and Goulburn

Comments (93)

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  • Michael Robinson
    April 20, 10 - 12:27am
    What's this "hour a week" everyone says is given to SRE? I know the Act provides for an hour a week, but this is rarely the case in most schools. More like half an hour - less by the time the kids are in and out. And many High Schools have an hour or two a term!

    I'm also getting tired of the idea that non-SRE students are only playing computer games and so on. That may well be the case, but I believe the Act (or regulations) stipulates that they be gainfully occupied reading or doing homework. (A parent complained in the SMH letter that her child had to spend half an hour reading every week. How terrible that a child should actually have to read a book in school!) If children are not gainfully occupied in non-SRE, surely that is failure of the school to insist on children doing private study; it's not a problem with SRE as such.
  • Shane Rogerson
    April 20, 10 - 12:29am
    good thoughts

    I doubt that fundamental atheists are that organized or interested in teaching their own SRE curriculum, hence the secular ethics is a good alternative for them and the many indifferent parents who don't care for 'religion'. in their mind anything is better than SRE.

    I would be interested to know how the current debate is effecting present participation.

    my classes at St Peters this morning had a noticeable increase in non participating children i.e more parents are wanting their child not to participate in SRE in Term 2 this year. And this is a school that we have an excellent relationship with, but in an area that may be considered more skeptical atheistic and irreligious than most.

    it raises the question in my mind, how much longer do we insist on SRE when an increasing number of parents are indifferent, even antagonistic to it? pressing legal rights may not be the most winsome strategy.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    April 20, 10 - 12:46am
    It doesn't help you in St Peters, Shane, when the education minister is out in the media saying the course is so fantastic.

    In my mind the biggest problem with the current trial course is one of branding. If it wasn't being marketed as being unbiased and universal it wouldn't really be such a problem. The support from the Minister, Dept and local school principals all reinforces that this course is the preferred option parents should take.
  • Pauline Pang
    April 20, 10 - 4:48am
    I currently teach a year 5 scripture class in one of the schools where the ethics classes are being piloted. I was informed this morning by our Anglican Scripture Coordinator that I will be losing 17 children from my scripture class of 25 to the ethics class. This is the reality from the ground. Our scripture classes are being decimated. If we don’t’ act and lobbied hard against those who allowed the Ethics classes in the first place, this could very well be the beginning of the end of our scripture ministry.
  • Kevin Murray
    April 20, 10 - 4:48am
    I serve in Hurstville which is one of the pilot schools. One of the problems that we face is that most of the pupils in the Primary School are of a Chinese background. This means that when it comes to education they are highly motivated and there is a perceived educational benefit when it comes to the ethics course compared to SRE.

    The biggest threat we face is not simply this proposed ethics course but the fact that so few churches are taking up the opportunity to teach SRE.
  • Ian Welch
    April 20, 10 - 4:51am
    Philosophers, seemingly a lonely crowd, have been trying to find a slot in the school curriculum for decades. The ethics thing, marketed as an alternative to SRE, is a wedge operation intended to get a spot inaccessible up to now. I think you are right that if ethics is to be given a formal place in the curriculum it should be available to everyone and not marketed as an alternative to SRE.

    I wonder, statistically, just how many schools offer SRE on a systematic basis? The churches are concerned about ethics replacing SRE but I wonder how many kids actually get teaching and even more, I wonder about the quality of what they are eXposed to,
  • Michael Deal
    April 20, 10 - 5:33am
    In the class in one of the schools I teach in I have lost around 30% of the number of kids compared to previous years. There is no pilot ethics classes happening this term however there is certainly discussion and interest from persons within P and C in teaching ethics. My guess is that when classes start (not if...) we will lose more children out of our classes. I have taught SRE for a dozen years and hope to teach it for another dozen at least. While in theory I support the teaching of ethics and would even be interested in teaching a class myself it is hard not to see this as an anti-SRE push. Drs Cam and Longstaff are at pains not to paint it as anti SRE but it is hard to share their opinion when much of the letters in various media outlets are aggressively pro-ethics and anti-Scripture.
  • Shane Rogerson
    April 20, 10 - 5:37am
    just one other observation, the area in which we live is increasingly gentrifying. to put it bluntly, more educated philosophically sceptical urban orientated 'whiteys' (like myself in many ways) are moving in, and bringing with them the push for secular humanist ethics classes.
    I see this as an inevitable cultural current, where parental indifference to SRE can be leveraged by those with their anti SRE agenda

    I think this can all seem rather gloomy. the atheists are on the ascendency etc. SRE will disappear etc

    but I think we also need to give thanks for the many years there has been such a privilege and recognize it as such. there are certain rights to push, but it may not be particularly winsome nor strategic in the long term to do so.

    good to ask how many schools are actually receiving SRE, also worth asking what is the quality of the provision.

    one of the stronger arguments I have heard for SRE's removal is how badly it is taught, regardless of the curriculum.
  • Shane Rogerson
    April 20, 10 - 6:21am
    I see your point Marc
    Christianity is not, and should not be allow to be perceived as anti critical thinking.

    sadly there are plenty of examples of thoughtless Christians who have not been self critical enough, nor felt the full force of philosophical skepticism long enough to be honest and genuinely engaging in reply.

    yet the gospel's logic, coherence and livability has stood the test of time despite the present skeptical climate and the sneers and mocking of those who think it is foolish and weak.

    maybe the push for the ethics course and more critical thinking is somewhat of an indictment that more recently we as Christians have not successfully risen to the challenge of giving a critical defense? too busy with in house matters?

    again this issue gives us the opportunity to bring the ethics of the gospel into the marketplace of ideas in ways we have maybe not considered or at least pursued before?

    it also suggests to me the importance of things like the social issues executive, Moore College ethics department and think tanks like the Centre for Public Christianity (CPX). I do hope we support these vital bodies and get behind their continued funding whilst we get on with loving the city and seeking its welfare - with or without SRE. The gospel is growing in Victoria and there is no such legal privilege there!
  • Michael Canaris
    April 20, 10 - 6:23am
    History has an uncanny habit of forgetting things, Marc.

    On a more serious note, I suspect that while this course is styled Ethics, the cohorts in question would probably mainly be taught Morals instead.
  • Mark Short
    April 20, 10 - 7:07am
    It's fascinating that at the same time as SRE seems under threat from the secular ethics push others fear the secular nature of our public schools is under threat from developments like chaplaincy. In some ways this mirrors the scene at the political level where both Christians and secularists worry the ideological tide is turning against them. I suspect in both cases we are witnessing the breakdown of the 'generic Christian' or perhaps 'generic protestant' worldview of Christendom, whereby committed parties at both ends of the spectrum felt comfortable enough with the consensus not to engage with it too robustly.

    How well are we prepared to engage with what will be an increasingly contested and pluralistic environment in our public schools, regardless of how the institutional arrangements do or do not change? How are we going to 'market' SRE to parents who no longer share the 'generic Christian' worldview of a generation or two ago? And do we have the resources and energy to do this as well as develop our own alternative schooling networks?
  • Mark Short
    April 20, 10 - 7:36am
    My sense is that the Pentecostals are developing a parallel approach to schools ministry alongside SRE. While the latter pre-supposes a 'generic Christian' or 'generic protestant' core of doctrine which can be taught by people from various denominations programs such as Shine very much reflect the distinctive worldviews of the denominations or networks from which they emerge.

    Part of me wonders whether this may be the way of the future? The 'generic Christian' approach has never really worked for Catholics, for whom 'non core' matters like sacraments are really 'core'. And it can mean the Christian faith is taught in abstraction from its practice in real flesh and blood communities of faith.

    OTOH our willingness to teach the 'core' has probably ensured our continued access to schools, who hardly want to be juggling a smorgasbord of programs from the Pentecostals, Catholics, Reformed Evangelicals, Broad Anglicans etc etc etc.
  • Craig Schwarze
    April 20, 10 - 12:31pm
    pressing legal rights may not be the most winsome strategy.

    The political lobbying does not look especially attractive.
  • Kenneth Cooke
    April 20, 10 - 12:45pm
    Jeremy Says ...

    "2. The atheist lobby (perhaps via the Atheist Foundation or similar) register as an SRE provider to provide a non-religious alternative."

    It is really nice of you to offer this alternative suggestion. Unfortunately The Education Act and Department of Education and Training regulations do not permit non-religious organisations to register as SRE providers!
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    April 20, 10 - 2:11pm
    Kenneth, given the Govt has effectively suspended the rules to allow the ethics class I think that is a moot point.

    If the main SRE providers and the P&C;agreed to such a compromise, amending the legislation would be a breeze.
  • Scott Donnellan
    April 22, 10 - 3:39am
    I'm thinking that it may be worthwhile for local church leaders to schedule meetings with their local state MP's to present our case face to face with them. I've just scheduled a time to meet with our local MP here in Port Macquarie. I wonder if others have found it helpful to do so?
  • Roger Gallagher
    April 22, 10 - 5:25am
    While the ABC and the Sydney Morning Herald have been all over this issue, the Daily Telegraph's left it pretty much alone. However, Maralyn Parker, their Education writer, has written an opinion piece on the subject:
    http://blogs.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/maralynparker/index.php/dailytelegraph/comments/ethics_class_not_what_the_doctrine_ordered/

    Her support for the ethics classes doesn't come as a surprise. Anyone who's read her column knows of her antipathy towards government funding of private schools.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    April 22, 10 - 5:39am
    Been speaking to the SRE coordinators in the trial schools

    Even those who thought the Archbishop's comments were over the top last week have now completely changed their minds after this week's experience.

    The Department of Education (DET) has been actively luring kids to switch.

    Still working on the numbers but we are looking at SRE being slashed by around 50% across the board.

    To put it as politely Simon Longstaff's reassurances about the impact on SRE now look plain silly.

    I'll try to get a proper news report up ASAP.
  • Mike Doyle
    April 22, 10 - 8:05am
    the problem is - the numbers will also work in their favour

    "SRE numbers have been slashed by 50%? It just shows what we've been saying all along - that this course is much needed!"
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    April 22, 10 - 9:23am
    Mike, It can be demonstrated that it isn't a level playing field.

    On a host of levels Government action has been ruthlessly promoting the course, in a way that SRE providers can not or are not allowed.

    Given that the Minister has repeatedly reassured Christians/SRE providers this wouldn't happen how can we trust them when they say this is part of a bigger agenda to get rid of SRE?
  • Sandy Grant
    April 22, 10 - 10:09am
    Agree on the tilted playing field!

    Schools have often used unhelpful SRE enrolment procedures, e.g. failing to inform parents whose denominational choice may not be present in a school that they can nominate an alternative if they wish.

    When SRE numbers have dropped, we have sought chances to promote it better.

    But in schools we have worked in, churches were refused permission to hand out to parents the generic brochure, Why consider SRE? (which Youthworks produced - for free! - alongside a Chinese language version - scroll down on link pages to actually see content).

    We have also been refused chances to speak briefly at information sessions for new parents giving an outline SRE.

    So it becomes a vicious circle. We cannot inform parents about SRE and why they might like to consider it, then afterwards the schools say less people are interested.

    On the other hand, the news emerging seems to be that schools where the ethics trial is on appear to have been able to promote the course to all parents, and not just those in non-SRE, despite prior assurances of only targeting non-SRE kids.

    As Jeremy says, where's the level playing field?

    I'd also be interested to know whether schools are supplying any funding at all (e.g. for workbooks) to the ethics trial. They certainly don't pay for SRE workbooks!
  • David Palmer
    April 22, 10 - 10:13am
    No intention to cut across this important discussion, but the Christian position in the State School system has been significantly undercut by Christian parents voting with their feet for Christian schools and home schooling. I am constantly amazing by how many home schoolers we have in the PCV.

    Another point: will the secularists be able to sustain their ethics courses on a volunteer basis. The religious prove they can but can the secularists?

    I don't know what the situation is in NSW but the Access material in Victoria, the only approved material, is very disappointing if you adhere to supernaturalist Biblical faith. However our teachers can find ways of getting around that - though not always.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    April 22, 10 - 11:53am
    Another point: will the secularists be able to sustain their ethics courses on a volunteer basis.


    Indeed. I doubt they can if 30-50% of parents chose ethics over SRE. But this might not be good for Christians, as classroom teachers are asked to do the ethics course and then it may brings the whole volunteer SRE system in this State under scrutiny.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    April 22, 10 - 11:57am

    I'd also be interested to know whether schools are supplying any funding at all (e.g. for workbooks) to the ethics trial


    I have been told (though haven't verified this} that in one of the trial schools the school principal is the one teaching the course!

    How can parents say no when the school principal says he expects them to sign up?

    This would not be tolerated from a Christian, Muslim, or Buddhist public school principal.
  • Pauline Pang
    April 22, 10 - 12:24pm
    Thank you Jeremy and to everyone who takes an active interest in this debate. I am trying not to be too discouraged here after teaching my 9 scripture kids out of a class of originally 24, having lost 15 to the Ethics Class when it started yesterday. In this school, there are 4 Ethics classes being piloted numbering about, I'm estimating, 100 children in total. What surprised me is that some children whom I thought were from christian families ended up in the Ethics course. I'm thinking the parents, the majority of non-english speaking background were mis-led into thinking the Ethics course is new 'educational' subject.
  • Craig Schwarze
    April 22, 10 - 12:29pm
    I suspect a big part of the appeal is that it is new. It's not going to be new forever - or even very long. Do they even have any material beyond 10 weeks?
  • Pauline Pang
    April 22, 10 - 12:40pm
    It is only a trial for 10 weeks and will be subjected to review. What is alarming is there are parents in the P&C;lobbying for the Ethics course to be taught from Kindy upwards..and not liminting it to only Year 5/6, which are the grades currently being trialed.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    April 22, 10 - 12:46pm
    lobbying for the Ethics course to be taught from Kindy upwards..and not liminting it to only Year 5/6, which are the grades currently being trialed.


    Of course they are. They don't want kindie kids doing 'useless' things like colouring in!! ;)

    But wait what will the ethics course looke like in K?

    hmmm.. year 6 get to debate the ethics of lying to Grandma about her ugly jumper, while Kindie gets to colour in a picture of Grandmas jumper.

    This is why the P&C;approach has been entirely misguided. They are forcing a round peg into a square hole.
  • Kenneth Cooke
    April 22, 10 - 1:15pm
    Sandy Grant says - "I'd also be interested to know whether schools are supplying any funding at all to the ethics trial. They certainly don't pay for SRE workbooks!"

    While we are talking money, a point. In the Catholic Diocese of Sydney, SRE catechists are trained by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) who also compiles and publishes the material used by the students in their SRE classes. Since "advancement of religion" is defined as a charitable cause in law, donations to the CCD are tax deductible.

    Should the Atheist Foundation of Australia or the Humanist Society of NSW ever be allowed to register as an "SRE provider" to provide a non-religious alternative as suggested by Jeremy, then any donations made to these organisations to support such an undertaking would not be tax deductible since these organisations are not entitled to the tax concessions available to religious organisations.

    Not a very level playing field indeed!

    If financial inequities such as this and if the current Department of Education and Training policy against allowing non religious organisations such as the Atheist Foundation and the Humanist Society to register as "SRE providers" could be sorted out the I think that Jeremy has come up with an excellent solution to the current problem resulting from the ethics classes. As Jeremy suggests...

    "The atheist lobby (perhaps via the Atheist Foundation or similar) register as an SRE provider to provide a non-religious alternative."
  • Les Grant
    April 22, 10 - 3:20pm
    Hi Jeremy,

    How can parents say no when the school principal says he expects them to sign up?


    Just curious - did he actually say that or is this just conjecture on your part?

    Cheers.
  • Les Grant
    April 22, 10 - 4:15pm
    Re: level playing field

    The churches have had legislated access to children in public schools for 130 years to promote their worldview. For years, parents who do not share your worldview and opt their children out of SRE have been prevented from providing any useful alternative. When you complain that the playing field is not level, do I detect just a hint of hypocrisy?

    Cheers.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    April 23, 10 - 12:37am
    I understand where you are coming from, Les, but myself and Craig are speaking as individuals. Is it wrong for us to seek a fair go for all, because of the legacy of history?
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    April 23, 10 - 12:41am
    Just curious - did he actually say that or is this just conjecture on your part?


    I'd like to sort out what is hearsay and check all the facts before commenting further.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    April 23, 10 - 12:51am

    Should the Atheist Foundation of Australia or the Humanist Society of NSW ever be allowed to register as an "SRE provider" to provide a non-religious alternative as suggested by Jeremy, then any donations made to these organisations to support such an undertaking would not be tax deductible since these organisations are not entitled to the tax concessions available to religious organisations.


    Churches get tax free status on the basis that they are providing education and welfare services. if they atheist foundation do that then they should get tax free status.
  • Kenneth Cooke
    April 23, 10 - 1:17pm
    Jeremy says...
    "Churches get tax free status on the basis that they are providing education and welfare services."

    Which of course is why the Church of Scientology gets exactly the same tax exemptions as the Anglican Church in Australia"

    No seriously I believe that you may not be fully informed of the legal dfinition of charitable purposes.

    Of course you and I would agree that the good works done by charitable organisations of the church such as Anglicare should atract concessional treatment by the Tax Office - exactly the same treatment as any non religious charity such as the Smith Family or Medecins Sans Frontieres.

    However the law goes beyond that. The present law is based on a case decided in 1891 by Lord Macnaghten who stated in Pemsel’s case that the legal meaning of ‘charity’ could be placed into four separate classifications. He stated that a charity should be a trust for one of the following:
    • the relief of poverty;
    • the advancement of education;
    • the advancement of religion; or
    • for other purposes beneficial to the community.

    This was extended in Australia by the Extension of charitable purpose act 2004 which added...

    (a) an open and non-discriminatory self-help group.
    (b) a closed or contemplative religious order that regularly undertakes prayerful intervention at the request of members of the public.
  • Kenneth Cooke
    April 23, 10 - 1:44pm
    The Report of theInquiry into the Definition of Charities and Related Organisations (June 2001) says in its conclusion to chapter 20 that...

    The Committee affirms that `the advancement of religion' should continue as a head of charity. It is clear that a large proportion of the population have a need for spiritual sustenance. Organisations that have as their dominant purpose the advancement of religion are for the public benefit because they aim to satisfy the spiritual needs of the community. Religious organisations satisfy these needs by providing systems of beliefs and the means for learning about these beliefs and for putting them into practice.


    The Australian legal definition of what constitutes a religion was determined by the High Court of Australia in the Scientology case which was decided in 1983. Since neither the Atheist Foundation of Australia nor the various Humanist organisations meet these requirements they cannot apply for tax preferential treatment in order to cover the costs of the promotion of atheism or of humanist philosophies in the same way as religious organisations can gain tax advantages for the purposes of promoting their particular religious ideology. This has nothing to do with the more conventional man in the street concept of charity such as providing for the poor.
  • Les Grant
    April 23, 10 - 3:57pm
    Hi Jeremy,

    Is it wrong for us to seek a fair go for all, because of the legacy of history?

    But this is exactly my point. The church has been the monopoly provider for a long time but now an alternative is being trialled (playing field being levelled?), you are crying foul...

    Cheers.
  • Tom Magill
    April 24, 10 - 12:11am
    That seems a trifle unfair, Les, given Jeremy's seemingly repeated insistence that it's not the *existence* of an alternative that is the issue but the implementation of it.
  • Roland Cartwright
    April 26, 10 - 5:42am
    Jeremy,

    Your proposal sounds entirely reasonable but I can’t see that it would result in anything much different to the current ethics trial. Prior to any non-religious associations, be they atheist, humanist or other secular group, being accredited for SRE it would be desirable to require development of a curriculum (presumably by the sponsoring association) so that parents choosing the secular SRE had some idea of what their child would be learning. It would be surprising if this didn’t focus, at least in some way, on ethics and civic values, as part of providing guidelines for decision making and discussions of right and wrong. So I think that if there is provision of an “atheist option”, as you suggest, it will in fact have parts at least that look something like the current trial. If so, making ethics part of the teacher taught curriculum (which I agree would be a good thing) wouldn’t necessarily diminish the attractiveness to some parents of the additional ethics available via non-religious SRE.

    (continued)
  • Roland Cartwright
    April 26, 10 - 5:43am
    As to untangling agendas, doesn’t this cut both ways? Is your opposition really only to do with branding, which may be only a temporary? Might it not also be that you recognise that there is a conflict between what Christians want to present in SRE and what many parents actually want? Christians don’t present the narratives of the bible just to equip children to think morally or to understand allusions in our literature. Ultimately the aim of SRE is evangelism, to provide children with knowledge of God and the offer of salvation in Christ. That is the primary value from a Christian perspective is the presentation of the metaphysical beliefs from which the ethics flow. However, what most parents want (assuming that Christians in a public school are in the minority) is teaching of values, a presentation of the “golden rule”. Michael Jensen put it this way an earlier discussion on values in education on this website (on August 8th, 2006):

    When I was a School Chaplain, secular parents were clearly under the impression that ‘values’ was what I was teaching their children – which I think was how they made themselves comfortable with what I was doing. For my part, I was very uncomfortable teaching ‘ethics’ in Christian Studies as if somehow the students could take the ethics and leave the rest.

    (continued)
  • Roland Cartwright
    April 26, 10 - 5:44am
    Isn’t your real objection to the ethics course that it delivers the portion of SRE that non Christian parents want, the values, without any presentation of the metaphysical beliefs, to which most have a benign indifference and a vocal minority have a positive and strident objection? Isn’t this why you see the ethics course as such a potent competitor? The difficulty is that the SRE program is unlikely to remain viable if it is run solely for the children of Christian (or other faith) parents. I don’t know how this issue is to be resolved but I think the issue will persist, with or without the current trial, as our society becomes increasingly post-Christian.

    If you wanted to be tactical in your opposition I would suggest that you focus on SRE being provided by volunteers. Given that Christians and other faiths, with the infrastructure that these communities possess, struggle to find the volunteers to make effective use of SRE then it is unlikely that non-faith associations would have the capacity to supply the volunteers for a mass alternative. If DET teachers are needed to present the material then it should be in the core curriculum and available to all.

    Regards, Roland
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    April 26, 10 - 8:03am
    Roland I agree that the title "ethics" has been cleverly pitched at what the nominal Christian middle-ground wants. Thats certainly true. I don't think most parents have a clue what the implications are of the particular philosophical models being taught.

    The "ethics" (or really philosophy) course being taught isn't really an alternative to SRE at all (it is only an alternative in the sense that it is in the same time slot).

    I have two objections

    1.The kind of critical thinking course (leaving aside the details of trial) is that this kind of course should be taught to all kids. Hence why some Christian parents - as noted on this thread - are considering sending their kids along.

    2. I think religion is an important aspect of human society and all children should have an education in religion. If atheists want their children to be taught religion as a myth then they should be taught a curriculum that reflects that but nevertheless informs them about an important aspect of the world around them.

    You are no doubt right that the ethics course will not be able to meet the demand using the voluntary model. I expect DET knows this already.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    April 26, 10 - 8:04am
    I have two objections

    1.The kind of critical thinking course (leaving aside the details of trial) is that this kind of course should be taught to all kids. Hence why some Christian parents - as noted on this thread - are considering sending their kids along.

    2. I think religion is an important aspect of human society and all children should have an education in religion. If atheists want their children to be taught religion as a myth then they should be taught a curriculum that reflects that but nevertheless informs them about an important aspect of the world around them.

    You are no doubt right that the ethics course will not be able to meet the demand using the voluntary model. I expect DET knows this already.
  • Craig Schwarze
    April 26, 10 - 8:10am
    Christians don’t present the narratives of the bible just to equip children to think morally or to understand allusions in our literature. Ultimately the aim of SRE is evangelism, to provide children with knowledge of God and the offer of salvation in Christ.

    Yes, that is clearly what we are doing. Part of my discomfort now that the debate is out in the open is that we (Christians) are not being entirely honest about our motives for SRE.
  • Roland Cartwright
    April 26, 10 - 8:47am
    Jeremy,

    In relation to your objections:

    1. I agree that a critical thinking course should be taught to all children and said so above. In fact I think the proposed course looks quite good and would be happy for it to be made part of the general curriculum.
    2. I think your second objection is confusing General Religious Education (GRE) with Special Religious Education (SRE). I don’t think there is any debate that GRE should be part of the curriculum and that students should learn about the various beliefs and religions in our society. That is just part of learning about our world. However, you can do this without having SRE, which is based on sharing a faith.

    What I don’t see in this discussion is any suggestions as to how to deal with the fact that an increasing number of parents are withdrawing their children from SRE and that they legitimately complain that their children are not productive in the absent hour. You might respond that under the Act the DET is responsible to ensure that the children are receiving appropriate care and supervision, and this is true. However, there is a limited amount that the DET can do with this time as they instruct schools “to support SRE by ensuring that no formal lessons or scheduled school activities occur during (the) time side aside for SRE.” As long as this policy of “support” is maintained and parents continue to withdraw their children, then the issue will remain.

    Regards,

    Roland
  • David Palmer
    April 26, 10 - 9:45pm
    Rather than lamenting/fighting the alternative ethics stream (whatever that means), I suggest a studied neutrality toward it. Accept the reduction in numbers for Scripture classes and make sure everything about these classes is done well in a God honouring way.

    I see some reference to Scripture classes being adapted for evangelistic purposes. I would say this is inappropriate – Scripture should be used for teaching the plotline of the Bible, basic Christian doctrine and ethics.

    Parents should be free to choose an alternative to Scripture, if there are volunteers willing to do the teaching as is the case with Scripture. This is likely to be the problem area for ethics teaching – maintaining a sufficient pool of volunteers over the long haul. As far as Christian parents sending their teachers to ethics classes, this will likely sort itself out as parents recognise the lack of a Christian framework. Time tends to sort most things out, witness the current doldrums the global warming juggernaut has fallen into.

    However, a possible longer term danger is the probable failure of the ethics alternative to sustain sufficient volunteers over time will see ethics and Scripture folded together and brought into the curriculum and taught by paid teachers as per the UK.

    The Christian cause in State Schools has not been helped by Christian parents withdrawing from the State School system (I don’t say this as a criticism, only as a fact that needs to be understood)
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    April 26, 10 - 11:04pm
    However, there is a limited amount that the DET can do with this time as they instruct schools “to support SRE by ensuring that no formal lessons or scheduled school activities occur during (the) time side aside for SRE.” As long as this policy of “support” is maintained and parents continue to withdraw their children, then the issue will remain.


    Yes, I think I have acknowledged that this is the nub of the problem right from the beginning of this thread. But in what sense are the ethics classes any more compatible with SRE than anything else that could be taught in that time slot?

    I am not confusing SRE with GRE. I am saying GRE would be a better solution for SRE objectors than the ethics classes because its an oranges v oranges alternative. Otherwise why not teach ESL or maths extension or a plethora or other education options that are (arguably) even more "useful" than ethics in that timeslot? Once you head down this utilitarian track for justifying education both SRE and ethics will be squeezed out.

    Love to hear from atheist why they disagree with being taught GRE.
  • David Palmer
    April 26, 10 - 11:38pm
    From today's SMH,

    (Catholic) Bishop Ingham said he did not oppose the teaching of ethics in schools but did not want children enrolled in scripture classes to be excluded from them. He said he would call on parishioners of the Catholic diocese to sign petitions asserting the importance of scripture classes.

    Seems reasonable response to me, particularly signing petition on importance on teaching of Scripture. If you value something you need to be in the face of the politicians. Petitions, local ministers and lay leaders visiting their local politicians, letter writing by Christian parents, writing article(s) for Online Opinion and then going in to defend your position is way to go, don't just rely on friendly chats between Archbishops and Premiers.
  • Les Grant
    April 27, 10 - 1:41pm
    Hi Jeremy,
    Love to hear from atheist why they disagree with being taught GRE.

    I don't know specifically what is taught in GRE but I get the impression that it is teaching about religions (without teaching that any metaphysical beliefs are true) rather than teaching a religion (SRE - teaching a faith). I don't think there is any serious atheist objection to teaching about religion - ie, comparitive religion. For example, teaching about the biblical origins of many expressions in our language and literature. So, I think you are mistaken if you think we disagree with being taught GRE. Others may disagree...

    Cheers.
  • Les Grant
    April 27, 10 - 1:49pm
    (Catholic) Bishop Ingham said he did not oppose the teaching of ethics in schools but did not want children enrolled in scripture classes to be excluded from them.

    You should all know that, if the ethics course is approved long term, the creators of the course intend to provide the course materials to all SRE providers. It would be inappropriate to do this until after the trial is complete. The Bishop needs to be a little more patient...

    Cheers.
  • Les Grant
    April 27, 10 - 2:10pm
    Hi Jeremy, (#48)

    http://www.curriculumsupport.education.nsw.gov.au/policies/religion/implement/definitions/index.htm (definitions of SRE and GRE)

    I don't have a problem with GRE being taught to all students in public schools. I think there is also a place in public schools for an ethics course for all students - not just the secular humanist/atheist students. I have serious reservation about teaching SRE in our supposedly secular public school system. Isn't this material the realm of 'Sunday school' and 'bible study' classes - out of school time?

    Cheers.
  • David Palmer
    April 27, 10 - 9:15pm
    Hi Les,

    A little historical perspective.

    Up until the 1870's or thereabouts most education was provided by the churches. At that time, with the exception of the Catholics, the churches handed over their schools to the State and in exchange gained the right to conduct Scripture classes.
  • Rob Callander
    April 27, 10 - 10:04pm
    Love to hear from atheist why they disagree with being taught GRE.


    Who? I don’t know any atheists who are against the teaching of the various belief systems which operate throughout the world and within Australia; quite the contrary – I think you’ll find that the various Atheist/Humanist/Secular organizations all support a program on comparative religion in mainstream education.

    Jeremy,

    I think on occasion you have conflated ‘atheist’ with ‘secular’, which many Christians would resent. Does anyone seriously suggest that there is a singular ’Christian’ position on many of the most contentious moral questions we face? I doubt that a Uniting Church parent would want their child taught within a Charismatic framework.

    Rob
  • Rob Callander
    April 27, 10 - 10:08pm
    Legislation enacted prior to Federation under the auspices of the British Government, providing a privileged position to the Church (of England?) for the provision of children’s religious education at State institutions in the Colony of New South Wales…

    Is this still appropriate in the multi-faith, generally secular in outlook, Australia of the Twenty-First Century?

    Is this not a legitimate question?

    Rob

    Jeremy, thanks for the opportunity to comment – an engrossing discussion with many excellent contributions, especially from Shane, Roland, David and Craig,
    And of course your good self.
  • Kevin Murray
    April 27, 10 - 10:41pm
    Rob
    I'm a Presbyterian - it was all the churches.

    Is it still appropriate today in a multi-faith society? I would argue 'Yes' for two reasons:
    a) the spiritual side of the human nature [if we can make such a distinction] cannot be ignored. Just teaching children facts [I used to be a teacher] is not enough. Like it or not religion is a part of life and has a place in the classroom.
    b) like it or not our nation since 1788 has operated with a Judeo-Christiian framework. This is woven into the laws and literature of our society. There was an article in Time magazine a few years ago when some secular education experts were arguing that the Bible had to be taught in the classroom so that people could begin to understand the American culture. Before I was a Christian I used to think that the Bible was something that could be easily mastered like a school novel for an exam. When I became a Christian I realised how wrong I was and that you can't really get to the heart of the Bible without believing it to be the very word of God.

    Yes, we live in a multi-faith society and so the NSW Government allows all faiths to teach Scripture to children enrolled in those faiths but the fact remains that we still have a broad Christian framework. I think it's only ?20% of people who say in the census that they are atheist/agnostic.

    Kevin
    Kevin
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    April 27, 10 - 11:10pm
    Rob, I think you are somewhat misrepresenting the church school debates of the 1860s-80s. Its a complex history. However, in the very least, as Kevin points out, the Presbyterians, Methodists and Anglicans all agreed to the State's offer to take over most of their schools in return for SRE access. The Catholics stuck with their systemic schools... in hindsight probably a wise decision. (Ironically Hurstville one of the ethic trial schools was founded by the Anglican Church).

    I think on occasion you have conflated ‘atheist’ with ‘secular’, which many Christians would resent.


    That's probably a fair call. However the meaning of the term 'secular' is so highly contested. This is why I avoid using it.

    I think it is interesting out that the trial course favours a progressive political view. I wonder if conservative secularists will want to fight back with their own secular option? The approach the Govt has taken opens a political pandoras box really. Hence why I think a GRE course is a better way to go than the ethics course.

    I doubt that a Uniting Church parent would want their child taught within a Charismatic framework.


    This is true, but the SRE system allows for this. In fact in many schools (including my daughters) there are separate Uniting and Anglican options.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    April 27, 10 - 11:17pm
    BTW Rob - the irony here is that you tempted me into this debate, against my original judgement. I knew some would end up unfairly portraying me as a right-wing Christian nut job! Given some of the abusive emails I have received over the weekend it seems thats what people have heard. [/sigh]

    Believe it or not I am totally sympathetic to the green-left parents who have pushed for the ethics course. I just don't think the implications have been thought through properly and that this is the best possible result for an SRE alternative all round.
  • John Modra
    April 27, 10 - 11:41pm
    Rather than lamenting/fighting the alternative ethics stream (whatever that means), I suggest a studied neutrality toward it

    Yes ,please .The important thing, it seems to me in this era/moment is to support our credibility in the classroom . Those of us that teach there know it to be a great privilege and responsibility; one that requires open scrutiny by parents and teachers in particular ( they being the key to all responsible education practice).
    What we all, I trust are agreed on is that the temptation of our politicians to weigh in with their words ( as they now hope will happen in Victoria)is sad but increasingly common case of misplaced authority and responsibility. One hopes the thinking Aussie will like so many moves of late in the direction of [url=http://politicaceleste.blogspot.com [/url] see through the flyover and cut off the fuel supply.
    This challenge could be good for us as we rework how responsibly we should talk to different aged children etc( a critically important question in relation to questions of comparative religion eg )
    Best we/you ( David and Jeremy )take the lead now ( more specialized post areas)
    There is a real risk -opportunities we now have will be eroded by legislative change . Nothing, to my mind, would be better than that the current trial demonstrate( by lots of scrutiny and practice )how limited a place in the good scheme of things now, the proposed content has.(too much theory/worry is bad theology?)
  • John Modra
    April 28, 10 - 12:30am
    GRE would be a better solution for SRE objectors than the ethics classes because its an oranges v oranges alternative.

    On that issue i think you maybe right at the higher levels.

    But at primary ( i take years 3/4's)there are some issues
    - what outsiders say there is,it seems to me , is much more critical . Its important the regular classroom school teachers are involved and "supervising the SRE curriculum " as in Vic . Its important to be there ( as with any outside teachers ) . GRE/SRE would it seems require additional resources -set timing .
    The talking through of the details are all the more reason to set up specialized posting areas on the subject.
    Following Craig Shwarz's point . I think the fact that many parents are genuinely oK with what is taught, even though they may not believe it, should be "in the stats" when the ideologues in charge want to make "knowledge" and worldview a very fixed things ( which maybe, many NC parents think they should not be? )
    Well done Jeremy for moving it along.
  • Rob Callander
    April 28, 10 - 6:36am
    Given some of the abusive emails I have received over the weekend it seems thats what people have heard. [/sigh]


    What a sad indictment of modern society – but conversely; don’t you agree that this discussion has been valuable? (not to mention courteous and well mannered). Surely, if anything it demonstrates the need for ethics classes.

    I’m just sad that so much of this has been about separating children into different groups – and how great a free-flowing discussion among all of them could be...

    “In the Qur’an it states…” “But Jesus said…” “What’s wrong with common sense?”

    Perhaps I am simply naïve.

    or Utopian

    Rob
  • David Palmer
    April 28, 10 - 7:15am
    Perhaps I am simply naïve.

    or Utopian


    You are Rob, but always a pleasure to hear from you.

    Go doggies

    Cheers

    David
  • Les Grant
    April 28, 10 - 4:04pm
    Hi Jeremy,
    I think a GRE course is a better way to go than the ethics course.

    Aren't GRE and the Ethics course two different things? GRE is about various religious belief systems and how those beliefs affect the lives of the believers while ethics is more about how we in Australia would like everyone to interact with each other (without reference to religious belief?). There is probably some overlap but the two subjects may be better taught separately. What do you think?

    Cheers.
  • Les Grant
    April 28, 10 - 4:13pm
    Hi David, #53

    I second Rob's question - Is that arrangement still relevant or appropriate 130 years later?

    Cheers.
  • Les Grant
    April 28, 10 - 4:24pm
    Hi Jeremy,
    This is true, but the SRE system allows for this. In fact in many schools (including my daughters) there are separate Uniting and Anglican options.

    I think one of the points against the ethics course was that it divided the children into two groups (ethics vs SRE). But, from what you say, there are already divisions in the SRE camp. Can you see that some parents may take their children out of SRE so their children can get the ethical and critical thinking course material with their friends (if there are enough 'defectors' and this seems to be the case)? I have heard that some children are only in SRE so they are not the ones that are 'left out of the group'...

    Cheers.
  • Les Grant
    April 28, 10 - 4:26pm
    “What’s wrong with common sense?”
    It is not so common! ;-)

    Cheers.
  • David Palmer
    April 28, 10 - 8:55pm
    I second Rob's question - Is that arrangement still relevant or appropriate 130 years later?

    Why not?

    Is Anzac Day no longer relevant or Parliamentary representation secured gradually over the course of centuries relevant or the fact that my forebears, beginning early 19th C came to this country to make a new life?

    Do we go back and revisit the decision to hand over those schools - is that what you mean? I attend South Yarra Presbyterian Church which is a healthy church. The State School next door was started by the Church and remained in the Church's hands for about 20 years.
  • Rob Callander
    April 28, 10 - 10:18pm
    Why not?


    * The legislation was passed in a British Colony which had a State Church – the Commonwealth of Australia has no such affiliation.

    * The vast majority of State Schools have been built since 1880 and have no association with any religion.

    * As many here have admitted, evangelism is an integral part of SRE – this is entirely INappropriate in a State institution.

    * It is now only utilised by a minority of students and is an unnecessary source of differentiation, which could potentially lead to prejudice – must we lay all our cultural baggage on the young?

    How’s that for starters David?

    Rob

    as for the Doggies – Shhh., we don’t want to, you know – besides the magpies have been particularly vocal of late (perish the thought)
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    April 28, 10 - 10:45pm
    GRE is about various religious belief systems and how those beliefs affect the lives of the believers while ethics is more about how we in Australia would like everyone to interact with each other (without reference to religious belief?). There is probably some overlap but the two subjects may be better taught separately. What do you think?


    Yes of course they are different subjects. And could/should be taught separately. Thats exactly my point.

    GRE & SRE are a better fit together in the one time slot.

    Ethics v SRE in the same timeslot is the problem. It may as well be maths up against SRE. What parent is going to choose SRE over maths?
  • Ian Welch
    April 28, 10 - 10:47pm
    There was never, repeat never, a State Church in Australia. The CofE was and is a voluntary association as were/are all other religious groups. That the colonial CofE clergy reflected their background in England did not and does not mean that they had a special status or authority in colonial law.

    Today's churches are bodies incorporated under some form of State or Territory law or legislation passed by a colonial legislature. The Anglican Church of Australia has no Commonwealth legislative basis but was created by complementary legislation in the States.

    SRE was designed without any specific 'evangelistic' values and 'evangelism' is a distortion of recent times as fundamentalists have worked assiduously to capture the SRE arrangement for their own goals. It does not exist in some other States where GRE is the standard form of religious education but the same conflict over 'evangelism' exists everywhere.

    The debate over the ethics TRIAL is getting blown out of proportion and we need a bit of calm thought rather than assertive comments without factual basis.

    If we wonder why more and more people worldwide see the institutional church as outmoded and irrelevant consider this forum and the discussion above.

    There was a parallel system of denominational and public schools in Victoria, and I think other colonies, before the education revolution of the 1870s and 1880s created the current public or state school systems. Both systems received public funding.
  • David Palmer
    April 28, 10 - 11:54pm
    There was never, repeat never, a State Church in Australia.

    Whoever said there was?

    SRE was designed without any specific 'evangelistic' values and 'evangelism'

    I agree. SRE should not (and I'm sure was never intended to) serve evangelistic purposes, but I have already made this point in post #47. Overstepping the mark and using Scripture to prosletise is a corruption of the original intent - mind you, personally speaking, the teaching of the Bible plotline and Christian doctrine was an important building block for later on when I was confronted with my own sin and need for a saviour. I thank God for the teaching that I received in Scripture classes, but at no stage were we put under pressure for a personal commitment. In this way the contract between church and state was honoured.

    Rob,

    I've made my point - history matters, contracts made in the past can't simply be ripped up.
  • Tom Magill
    April 28, 10 - 11:54pm
    “In the Qur’an it states…” “But Jesus said…” “What’s wrong with common sense?”


    I see what you did there.
  • John Modra
    April 29, 10 - 1:05am
    Is that arrangement still relevant or appropriate 130 years later?

    yes I suggest it is .
    I have no problem with reform, but lets do more than talk about the sustainability of our institutional frameworks; let's resist the politics of reaction only that comes from the quickfix politics all around us ; We can do that by recognising why the tension of having RE in State schools has lasted so long - never been without controversy(eg debate over origin worldviews has been strong for at least 100 years)
    3 reasons
    1. The position adopted at the end of last century clearly reflects a lot of respect for the inherent freedom traditons of early Australians - especially over the issue of the seperation of Church and State across the board . Noone apart from a very few with the church state connections wanted the church ( any church ) to influence the State in a way which had often developed back where they came from.
    2. Sustainability tests are reasonable in the light of the common temptation to advocate trial and experiment under any simple proposition by wannabes ; something which is increasingly offensive to scientists.
    3. The agreement helps explains why many church people have been happy to support State schools( as opposed to setting up our own ) The position says State schools respect the need for sensitive/ specialized teaching of some subjects.
  • Roland Cartwright
    April 29, 10 - 1:36am
    SRE was designed without any specific 'evangelistic' values and 'evangelism' is a distortion of recent times as fundamentalists have worked assiduously to capture the SRE arrangement for their own goals.


    Notwithstanding that I used “evangelism” as a description of the aim of SRE, perhaps the better term would be catechesis. I don’t imagine that any SRE teacher is actually conducting an altar call in the lessons but equally they are not simply providing a general description of a faith but are providing instruction in that faith. By contrast GRE does not include instruction in a faith as the Education Act in NSW differentiates general religious education, which is explicitly part of the secular curriculum, as excluding “dogmatic or polemical theology”. Dogmatic in this context referring to the content of SRE, not the manner in which it is taught. If all that SRE teachers present is, to use David Palmer’s description (#47 and #71), “the plotline of the Bible, basic Christian doctrine and ethics” then it starts to sound like GRE, except that such teachers aren’t providing this in the context of a comparison of religions. However, if this is an “important building block for later on when I was confronted with my own sin and need for a saviour” then its purpose is to be a building block to evangelism. Personally I think that this is quite appropriate within SRE, as this is exactly what differentiates SRE from GRE.

    (continued)
  • Roland Cartwright
    April 29, 10 - 1:41am
    Contrary to comments by Les Grant (#52) and Rob Callander (#55) above, I see no conflict with having SRE in the Government schools, given that is voluntary and that all faith communities are free to provide instruction if they are authorised by the DET. I would argue that having provision for SRE in schools is actually supportive of the “multi-faith, generally secular in outlook” to the extent that it encourages parents of any faith to send their children to Government schools. Freedom of religion (including freedom to have none) should no more be conflated with freedom from religion (as in the sense of banishing religious activities from the public sphere) than atheist should be conflated with secular.

    As to the handing over of schools to the State/s in the 1880s, I think you’ll find that the history is somewhat complex. The churches were struggling to support their systems and the objective from the State was more about providing a comprehensive system than necessarily a secular system. The provision of State schooling on a non-sectarian basis was to foster the comprehensive aim, rather than to exclude religious instruction from schools. Other than the land that the schools occupied, there are no assets surviving from the original “transaction” and as the churches couldn’t fund their systems in any event (and the Roman Catholic Church struggled for most of the 20th century despite having low cost labour in the religious orders) the point is probably moot.
  • John Modra
    April 29, 10 - 2:37am
    Thanks Roland
    The victorain goverenmnet about 4 years ago were I think expecting to change the agreement significantly . Why did they give up on the idea?
    My impression was that they realised that the agreement had fostered the churches engagement with the State system. and that to remove the opportunity for specialized classes , within the structure , would exaccerbate the clear drift of many parents to chose " religious schools " , that is already happening . Also while it was controversial to have RE , there was a lot of support - a bit like with chaplains along the lines of the logic applied before.
    While we personally are very supportive of the State system , we identify with many non-christains in our town who " are just not happy " with the State system. Not that RE is the key to that ( more the worldview and intangibles) but as i said before a survey would i think reinforce the value parents/ teachers having "clearly christian classes" there. That its more controversial to have those classes is accepted/ welcomed .
  • Les Grant
    April 29, 10 - 2:12pm
    Hi David, #67

    Of course I would not change ANZAC day or Parliamentary representation. These are very real and important facts of history. And, no, I was not suggesting we "go back and revisit the decision to hand over those schools". I specifically said the "arrangement" referring to "the right to conduct Scripture classes" granted to the churches. My apologies if I was not clear enough.
    #71
    I agree that history matters - it explains how we got to be where we are today. And I agree that "contracts made in the past can't simply be ripped up." However, if the circumstances in which that "contract" was made have changed significantly, shouldn't the parties (or their successors) be allowed to re-negotiate the contract or even agree to terminate the agreement? I would respectfully suggest that our society has changed significantly (become more secular) in the last 130 years to the point where many Australians consider SRE in public schools to be inappropriate today. As suggested above, emphasising the legal arrangement may not be your best strategy...

    Cheers.
  • Les Grant
    April 29, 10 - 2:42pm
    Hi Jeremy, #69

    Fair point. Perhaps I misunderstood your intention.
    Perhaps ethics was chosen as it was not currently being offered and it would be seen as being similar to SRE but without the 'faith' component?

    Could it be seen that SRE students would be disadvantaged if SRE and GRE were in the same timeslot? The two courses cover different materials don't they?

    Cheers.
  • David Palmer
    April 29, 10 - 8:21pm
    I would respectfully suggest that our society has changed significantly (become more secular) in the last 130 years to the point where many Australians consider SRE in public schools to be inappropriate today.

    Hi Les,

    I don't disagree that society has become more secular, but granted that that is so, it is also true secularism lives off the social, religious, political, economic capital of those earlier less secular, more Christian generations.

    Whilst secularism has strengthened that doesn't mean that somehow the religious have disappeared or are about to. Far from it.

    I think it was those aggressive secularising tendencies that crept into Education Depts and the teaching profession that drove so many of us out of the State School system in the late 1970's and 1980's, at some considerable financial and time and energy costs, something to which I can testify at a personal level.

    Nevertheless there are still Christian parents, like Jeremy, who for a variety of reasons have stayed with the State School system. Not only that but there is an even larger group who whilst not church attendees still are happy/desiring for their children to receive Scripture lessons.

    I for one would consider it the height of intolerance for the powers to be to remove Scripture taught in Schools by Christians for the past 100+ years, and would be disappointed if you supported such an action.

    TBC
  • David Palmer
    April 29, 10 - 8:22pm
    I say, and respectfully so, let the alternative ethics classes devised by secularists proceed on the same volunteer basis as Scripture classes. Let’s test their metal. Let’s check out again in 5, 10, 50 years time and see how the respective ethics and Scripture streams are performing. I’m not sure the secularists are up to the mark, but why not give them a go!
  • Kevin Murray
    April 29, 10 - 9:09pm
    David you write "I’m not sure the secularists are up to the mark, but why not give them a go!"

    I think if the ethics course is implemented across the state then the SRE classes will be much smaller. Many churches will then eventually pull out of SRE. When the ethics course then falters after 10-15 years due to a lack of commitment to teach it on the part of volunteers then the Department of Education will scrap it and along with it any remaining SRE classless.

    I'm sure there are plenty of people who will teach the ethics course in the short term but will there be people like me who have been teaching SRE for 24 years?
  • Craig Schwarze
    April 29, 10 - 9:30pm
    I was under the impression that the ethics classes would be taught by the regular teachers.
  • Kevin Murray
    April 29, 10 - 10:15pm
    I'm involved with SRE at Hurstville, one of the Pilot schools.

    One of the term 1 newsletter articles from the Principal reads "Ethics Pilot A letter went home recently to our Year 5 students about an ethics pilot project which will take place at our school in Term 2. It is a series of 10 lessons which will be run during scripture time. We are looking for volunteers from the community who would like to be trained in the delivery of this program."

    However my understanding is that some Departmental teachers are also teaching this which is a bit of a grey area.
  • Kevin Murray
    April 29, 10 - 10:16pm
    Here's a quote from the St james Ethics Centre web site

    Towards an Ethics-based Option to Scripture in NSW Primary Schools: rationale St James Ethics Centre
    “The existing NSW legislation governing scripture classes dates back to a century old agreement between then existing churches and the State. At that time, the churches were the primary providers of most education. When the State made a bid to assume this responsibility, the churches agreed on the condition that one hour a week be reserved exclusively for scripture. While it is almost certain that a majority of parents would have approved of this settlement at the time, the drift towards today's more secular society has meant that an increasing number of parents do not favour the attendance of their children at scripture ! making the need to provide an ethics! based course to run alongside scripture in primary schools all the more pressing.
    ”
    [18 December 2008]
  • Kevin Murray
    April 29, 10 - 10:18pm
    Here's a quote from the Department of Education document on the ʻImplementation of Special Religious Educationʼ - my bold highlighting

    11. Schools are to provide appropriate care and supervision at school for students not attending SRE. This may involve students in other activities such as completing homework, reading and private study. These activities should neither compete with SRE
    nor be alternative lessons in the subjects within the curriculum or other
    areas, such as, ethics, values, civics or general religious education
    . When insufficient teachers or accommodation are available, the schoolʼs policy on minimal supervision will operate.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    April 29, 10 - 10:27pm
    Could it be seen that SRE students would be disadvantaged if SRE and GRE were in the same timeslot? The two courses cover different materials don't they?


    There will be some religious parents who will want to expose their kids to other religions. But personally I am not tempted to send my own kids to GRE over SRE but I am with ethics.

    More importantly, I think the overlap is less of an issue in the case of GRE for two other substantive reasons.

    1. It is consistent with the view that the State provides education on behalf of all parents (including Christians, Muslims, Hindus etc) by respecting and supporting the provision of a special option.

    2. It is closer to what the Govt says is its aim: providing a complimentary alternative rather than a genuine competitor. "Opt-out" GRE and "Opt-out" SRE would keep this timeslot for religious instruction as per the intention of the legislation. It doesn't deal with this issue of some parents opting out of everything that even smells of religion, but neither does the current suggestion of providing "opt-out" progressive ethics. (on reflection are politically conservative atheists/agnostics really happy with course content? I have heard that some are not.)
  • Rob Callander
    April 29, 10 - 10:57pm
    Roland,

    Thank you for that concise and informative summation of the situation... though

    then its purpose is to be a building block to evangelism.


    Sort of like being 'a little pregnant'?

    they are not simply providing a general description of a faith but are providing instruction in that faith.


    Precisely, and I wonder if you would be so sympathetic if Scientologists were to embark on a large scale involvement in SRE (as Kenneth has pointed out, they can).

    Voluntary? "Mum, my best friend is in this Scientology thing - can I go... please?" Single mum - limited education, non-English speaking background - "It's science is it?"...


    The irony is that had the Ethics trial passed unremarked, it may well have been mildly successful, and then petered out after a year or so through a lack of volunteers (as others have suggested).

    However, the considerable antipathy toward it, has brought the spotlight onto SRE.

    David,

    I hardly see how it would be intolerant; as you yourself have acknowledged, much has changed over this period within our society – Women have gained universal suffrage and can now aspire to the highest position in virtually any institution (with a couple of notable exceptions)

    Surely it is legitimate to ask whether it remains appropriate for views which are not universally held to be expounded within a State educational institution?

    Rob
  • Roland Cartwright
    April 30, 10 - 12:04am
    Rob,

    In answer to your question in #87, if I was a Scientologist then I would welcome my co-religionists running SRE (albeit my view is that it is actually a cult, but that's not really your point). What I think you're missing is that parents are asked which denomination they identify with, or a happy for their child to receive SRE from, and participation is voluntary. So either you don't get into the position you outline or you resolve it by withdrawing.

    As to views only being expounded if they are universally held then we'd have a very impoverished dialogue, for I know of almost no views of any interest that are universally held. Are you really saying that children couldn't discuss say in an ethics program or a general class, leaving aside SRE/GRE, whether capital punishment is moral or effective? My personal view is that it is neither and this view is actually the minority view in most opinion polls but I'm very glad it is the position of each of our elected Governments and I wouldn't feel constrained from advocating it should the position change just because I'm in the minority. Noting again that SRE participation is voluntary, I think that it is a good thing that it is in public schools and we need to learn how to have respective and constructive dialogue with each other even though we profoundly disagree. That's what I believe is a tolerant society, not one that banishes any strongly held or minority beliefs from the public square.

    Regards, Roland
  • John Modra
    April 30, 10 - 4:30am
    Some helpful clarifications thanks --77,78 ,85,86.
    SRE - specialized ,supervised ,noncompetitive and always optional- these are presumably some of the sustainable framing elements that have led Victoria to both closely review and reinforce the place of SRE in state schools in recent years- inspite as many have said more controversy.
  • Les Grant
    April 30, 10 - 5:28pm
    Hi David, #79,80

    While I am not actively lobbying for the removal of SRE in our public schools, I wouldn't mourn it's loss if that happened. On the other hand, I have no objection to GRE and I support teaching of critical thinking and ethics. I appreciate your willingness to allow the secularists to "give it a go" in the ethics trial.

    Cheers.
  • Luke Stevens
    May 3, 10 - 4:15am
    Who approved this hyperbolic nonsense? http://www.sreontrial.com.au/
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    May 3, 10 - 4:23am
    its from Anglican Youthworks.
  • Luke Stevens
    May 3, 10 - 4:25am
    Shameless.
  • Les Grant
    May 3, 10 - 4:39am
    It doesn't help reasoned discussion...