SJEC seeks to heal SRE damage

In a wide-ranging and in-depth interview, Simon Longstaff from the St James Ethics Centre (SJEC) has responded to concerns about the implementation of the ethics trial in public primary schools, particularly the way the lessons competed directly with Special Religious Education (SRE).

In a major development in the debate, Dr Longstaff concedes that the ethics lessons should not compete head-to-head with SRE, but rather that SRE should remain 'opt-out'.

Significantly, he suggests a process for how this could operate in practice.

The interview also reveals that the SJEC does not yet have clear plans for the ethics lessons in 2011.

In other developments, Dr Longstaff dismisses concerns about the involvement of DET staff in teaching ethics lessons.

He says classroom teachers will not be approached to fill gaps when community volunteers cannot be found, but rather are "not being excluded from volunteering".

The full interview is reprinted below. Other issues covered include:

* Why the SJEC is adamant about using the name 'ethics' rather than a less contentious alternative such as 'secular philosophy'.

*  Criticisms around the pedagogy of the ethics lessons.


JEREMY HALCROW: Simon, thanks for taking the time to clarify a number of contentious issues surrounding the proposal for ethics lessons.
One issue that has been raised by letter writers to Southern Cross are links between the St James Ethics centre and atheist organisations. Is the funding for the ethics lessons coming from any humanist or atheist organisations?

SIMON LONGSTAFF: The ethics course is not being funded by a humanist or atheist organisation.

SJEC has no connection - formal or informal - with the Sydney Atheists or any other organisation of a similar ilk.

The Centre's funding does, indeed, come from a broad cross-section of the community. The bulk of the funding has come from three people - two of whom I know to be deeply committed, prominent Christians. Beyond this, I have no knowledge of the religious, political or other beliefs of our donors.

JH: The major SRE providers are reporting losses of between one third and one half of their students. So a key matter of contention is why the trial course was offered to all SRE students. What is your response?

SL: The decision for the trial classes to be made available to all students in years 5 and 6 at participating schools was made by the Department of Education and Training.

To do so was inconsistent with the Ethics Centre's own position - that ethics classes only be an option for students who have chosen not to attend SRE.

However, the DET insisted that we be subject to its usual policy which requires all parents to be advised of any new offering made available during SRE.

For example, if faith groups introduces a new SRE option into a school - say, the Bahai - then all parents must be advised of this - including those whose children are already attending SRE offered by an existing provider - say, Anglican.

To make matters worse, we were instructed by the DET that the communication must be sent on SJEC letterhead and that the text of the communication be approved by the Department.

All of that said, I think that the letter sent to parents on our letterhead was unduly welcoming in tone, partly explained by the fact that the primary intention of the letter was to speak to non-SRE parents. Still, I would have worded the letter with more circumspection.
Once alerted to the fact that the letter was causing misgivings, we actively supported a process by which a new letter was sent to the same cohort of parents in order to clarify the situation.

In particular, I personally insisted that the DET clarify the point that even if children had nominated to participate in the trial of the ethics classes, then this would not limit their options to return to SRE. This second letter was sent out before the end of the school term before the ethics classes were due to commence.

JH: Simon, I have been told that it is the SJEC’s intention to implement a K-6 curriculum from next year. Is that correct? And is it right to assume that the current intention is to offer the course to all primary school students in 2011?
SL: As to the future, we are still coping with the extraordinary reaction to this pilot program.

I had assumed - wrongly as it turned out - that the various religions, and the churches in particular, would see the ethics classes as a welcome opportunity to provide a meaningful option for children not attending SRE classes and that this would be recognised as a major advancement on the status quo - not least because it would make the allocated period valuable to all students and not just those attending SRE.

That is, it would shore up the public's support for the period, which would be better than relying simply on the law which, if anyone cared to read it, actually offers less to the religions than many people assume.
At present, our plans are quite provisional. Not only do we have to await the outcome of the evaluation. There is also the political landscape to be negotiated.

In principle, we would want to ensure that all children in NSW State Primary Schools could be offered a meaningful - not merely useful - option to doing nothing.

In this regard, our policy is that parents would be asked to decide whether or not to choose to undertake a class in SRE. Having made that decision, then those who have chosen not to opt in to SRE would be offered a distinct and additional choice to opt in to an ethics class. That is our policy. I do not know if it will be acceptable to the DET.

Given that those adversely affected by the decision not to attend classes in SRE are children from K-6, we do envisage a program being developed for years K-6. Should this be done, then all material would be made freely available to SRE providers, for use as they think fit - naturally amended to meet their own religious orientation.

As previously stated, making the material available to all is a conscious decision to help ensure that no child is drawn away from SRE simply out of a desire to gain access to something new and different.
So, that's the position in principle.

In practice, I doubt that the development process could achieve this broad outcome by next year - especially given the likely late notice we would receive if approval is given to proceed beyond the trial.

Mind you, it may be that the churches will come to recognise that their best interests would be served by working with us, rather than against us, on this program.

In that case, progress would be collaborative and potentially much more swift.

JH: Simon, you have told me that you have felt some aspects of the reporting in Southern Cross June was misleading: in particular that the SJEC proposal will invite "school teachers to run ethics classes when volunteers are not available". So can you please clarify your policy?

SL: The situation is as follows: The ethics classes would only be taught by volunteers; no teacher will be required to teach ethics classes, nor will the provision of ethics classes create an additional burden for teachers.

Teachers will not be excluded from volunteering, but solely in their capacity as a parent or citizen.

JH: A major aspect of the Anglican Church’s concern about your proposal is that your course claims to be universally designed for all students, in a way no SRE course is written or marketed. This means any involvement from DET classroom teachers may muddy its status as non-mainstream, opt-out, community-based and a mere alternative to SRE.

SL: As I said earlier, our policy is to merely provide this course to children who do not opt to attend an SRE class.

Nevertheless we do not make any more of a universal claim than does any SRE provider.

I gather that, say, the Anglicans would welcome to their SRE class any child wishing - or whose parents wish for them - to attend.

Likewise, the ethics classes are open to any child who is not attending SRE who wishes to attend. If anyone makes ‘universal’ claims, then it is one or more of the faith groups that proclaim a universal truth. At least in the case of many Christian churches such a claim would include the source of universal salvation - with the Gospel being universal in it’s relevance to all.

JH: You may have misunderstood what I meant by the ‘universal’ objection. Perhaps my question was poorly expressed. The objection is not about any universal claims made in the course content. Rather it is about the way the ethics course appears to undermine the entire rationale or basis for SRE provision. From the very beginning, SRE has been specifically provided on a denominational or sectarian basis: Roman Catholic SRE for Catholic families; Muslim SRE for Muslims; Jewish SRE for Jews. By definition it is 'denominational' or 'special' religious education. Your course obliterates the rationale for SRE by specifically requiring the participation of a diverse cohort.

SL: Your premise about ‘universalism’ is false.

As I understand it, the providers of SRE classes welcome any child to attend. I gather that, say, Jewish children may attend Anglican SRE if they wish to do so.

I take this to mean that Anglican SRE is universally available to any child attending a school where Anglican SRE is offered. If this is not so, then could you please let me know.

If no child would be turned away from Anglican SRE because of their faith or lack of faith, then I would say that the provision of Anglican SRE is ‘universal’ in the sense that you are using the term.

Ethics classes would be offered on an identical basis - but to students who have chosen - or whose parents have chosen for them - not to attend SRE.

JH: It is possible to conceive of a non-religious alternative to SRE that still respects the 'denominational' rationale for SRE. Overseas there are school courses in secular humanism provided by humanist organisations.

SL: I cannot agree to this reasoning, for it assumes that the only people currently not attending SRE classes are the children of non-religious families.

In fact, there are children from religious families who do not attend SRE because their parents do not wish to have their children receive religious instruction from relative strangers, from outside the home, or because their particular faith community does not offer SRE classes.

JH: This may be true, but the push for the ethics lessons is mainly coming from atheists and other non-religious parents. The argument is that an alternative provision could be made for them that does not undermine the rationale for SRE.

SL: I would like to suggest that far from undermining the position of SRE in NSW schools, the proposal to introduce these classes represents one of the most potent measures to support the provision of SRE on a continuing basis.

As things stand, the trend is for parents to choose, in increasing numbers, not to have their children attend SRE. If the churches had supported our proposal then it would have been possible to ensure that a majority of parents had a strong interest in maintaining the period assigned for SRE - not simply because it is allowed for by legislation (for some a grudging acquiescence) but in recognition of the valuable opportunity the period would offer to all children to engage in meaningful activity.

Unfortunately, church opposition to the introduction of ethics classes for children not attending SRE has been perceived as indicating a preference for institutional self-interest over the interests of the children. In turn, this has increased concern, in some quarters, about the maintenance of a reserved period for SRE.

What a pity it is that despite our best efforts to consult with faith groups, it has not been possible to secure a wide-spread common front to ensure that the period set aside for SRE is of value to all children.

JH: Partly that is because fears remain about the power imbalance specifically implied by classroom teacher involvement in a 'non-denominational' course, especially as you can’t guarantee how the DET would implement its guidelines for teachers. It is fair to say you can't guarantee any future DET policy, correct?

SL: While I cannot guarantee what the DET will do in the future about teacher involvement, I can say that the NSW Teachers’ Federation shares our view.

As such, I doubt that any government would seek to impose additional burdens on teachers who already work so hard in the service. I believe that the same principles should apply in relation to SRE and that any teacher wishing to volunteer to teach SRE in a school should be allowed (but not required) to do so.

JH: Simon, the use of the term 'ethics' to some Christian ears sounds like you are marketing the course as an alternative moral vision to Scripture. You have said repeatedly that this is not the case. So why insist that the course be called ‘ethics’ rather than something less provocative and contentious? Archbishop Jensen suggested ‘secular philosophy’ - why do you reject this option?

SL: The reason for calling the classes ‘ethics classes’ is because this is the specific focus of the program: rather than, say, ‘logic’ classes or ‘ontology’ classes or ‘metaphysics’ classes, etc. As the Archbishop must know, the term ‘secular philosophy’ covers many topics including: logic, ontology and metaphysics. Our focus is on ethics.

Furthermore, this helps to distinguish the classes from those offered by SRE providers because although they deal with ethical issues - albeit through the application of their preferred moral framework - they, in fact, more so teach theology and Scripture etc.

The ethics classes only address a subset of the matters covered in SRE. Even then, they are considerably more meaningful than simply doing nothing.

JH: The point you are making here reminds me of one other concern that has been raised… around pedagogy. You confirmed to me earlier that you were looking at providing a course that covers K to 4 as well as Years 5 and 6. Are you certain that kindergarten children (aged 5 years) are capable of the required level of self-reflection?

SL: No, I am not certain and would defer to experts on this matter.

However, I have heard it said that children of quite tender years are quite adept at addressing issues appropriate to their age - far more so than used to be thought the case.

[Professor] Phil Cam could provide you with a much better answer about what is known/not known around this issue.

JEREMY HALCROW: Thanks for your time Simon. I trust my readers find your answers informative.

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 (41)

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  • Jeremy Halcrow
    June 8, 10 - 12:47am
    Assuming the report in today's SMH is accurate it is interesting to note the tack the Baptist, Uniting churches and some parts of the Roman Catholic church are taking.

    Embrace the ethics classes to such an extent that you demand its offered to all students.

    Wise approach?
  • Craig Schwarze
    June 8, 10 - 2:36am
    I believe it is tactically saavy move, aimed at the same outcome as the Anglican approach. Taking a positive attitude towards the classes is much more attractive than a negative attitude.

    Reading your interview, I get the feeling that SJEC may not have the stomach for a long fight on this one. My own feeling is that if we win the "Ethics" battle, we may lose the "SRE" war in the long run.

    It is very important that we clearly articulate what we consider to be valid alternatives to SRE. Ideally we would even produce these ourselves.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    June 8, 10 - 3:00am
    Yeah - well the upset is so widespread across all the churches plus the Jews and Muslims that the SJEC can't afford to be seen to be the 'anti-God bad guy'.
    Not that I think that is the case. But the debate has tended to obliterate nuances.

    My own feeling is that if we win the "Ethics" battle, we may lose the "SRE" war in the long run.

    That's one of the main points Simon tries to make in the interview.

    However, the problem with the talk of compromises is that the SJEC and SRE providers could all agree on a compromise they could live with and that plan could still be rolled by the Government.

    I'd really like to hear some clarity from the Department of Education on some of these issues. Their silence is deafening.
  • Craig Schwarze
    June 8, 10 - 12:12pm
    Their silence is deafening.

    I think NSW Labor has much bigger problems than SRE at the moment..!
  • Michael Jensen
    June 8, 10 - 9:50pm
    My take is that our casting of the Ethics course as 'secularist philosophy' is a bad misreading of what it really is - and we are paying for our lack of caution in branding it thus. Of course, the P&C;and the greens think that it is this, but it isn't.
  • Paul O'Brien
    June 8, 10 - 11:07pm
    I have been teaching SRE for a number of years, I relish the opportunity but also mourn the decline in resources being given to this ministry. I think the SJEC is exactly right when it says...
    "Unfortunately, church opposition to the introduction of ethics classes for children not attending SRE has been perceived as indicating a preference for institutional self-interest over the interests of the children. In turn, this has increased concern, in some quarters, about the maintenance of a reserved period for SRE."

    We are bleeding badly on this one.
    We need to let non-SRE parents have an option for their kids
    and we need to work harder at providing a quality Christian ministry in our
    time slot.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    June 9, 10 - 2:52am
    Hi Michael -

    I've used the term 'secular philosophy' a number of times to describe the proposed ethics lessons but not in any pejorative sense. I maintain it is accurate. Indeed, I think Dr Longstaff aknowledges in the interview above that it is an accurate description. (His argument is that the lessons focus on one narrow type of secular philosophy study - ie ethics).

    The point, however, is whether the term 'ethics' confuses parents into thinking the lessons will teach morals. I think there is clear evidence (including from the P&Cs own comments) that parents thought that the lessons would teach morals and values.

    So I think what you are really objecting to must be something else? ie - that some comments from some Christian leaders implies that the ethics lessons are anti-Christian?
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    June 9, 10 - 2:59am
    Craig said:

    I think NSW Labor has much bigger problems than SRE at the moment.

    True :)

    But I specifically said the DET not Labor. The DET officials aren't going anywhere. They will be there when we (probably) get a new Govt next year.

    Paul said:

    We need to let non-SRE parents have an option for their kids

    Totally agree with you.

    My argument has always been that the *real* debate should be around the new guidelines the DET will need to put in place to allow ethics to compete with SRE. Will they allow fair competition?

    From what I hear, I am increasingly optimistic.

    Nevertheless I still think there are legitimate questions about the pedagogy of the ethics lessons. The debate in the secular media is unhelpfully superficial. I'm not convinced (yet) that most 5 year olds will be capable of having the kind of discussions Dr Longstaff imagines.
  • Michael Jensen
    June 9, 10 - 5:51am
    Yes, that's right JH. I used the term 'secularIST', not 'secular', note.
  • Steve Howes
    June 10, 10 - 4:48am
    From my experience of teaching SRE in different schools I thoroughly support the down-to-earth comments of Paul O'Brien #6. As just one example, one school I know has been well led by several Christian principals over the years and other religions are not represented in this Anglo community. Yet 40% of pupils are non-SRE!
    What can the school Principal do for perhaps 120 pupils during the time for SRE?
    Christians need to face up to practical problems of educational administration so that the provision for SRE does not become unworkable.
  • Rod Campbell-Ross
    June 10, 10 - 5:20am
    I also agree with Paul O'Brien at #6. I would add that the Church has no monopoly over morality; and my perception over this issue is that it is being arrogant. It is possible to determine right from wrong without the context of religion. I would point out that usually any publicity is good publicity. The church, by making such a big deal of this issue, has actually drawn attention to it, made it news worthy and possibly done a disservice to its own cause. The latest publicity about "packing" the PNC's makes it virtually certain ethics classes are made permanent in all schools. I personally would welcome them.

    As for myself I have an 18 year old in HSC doing Religious Studies as one of her courses and she is doing very well in it. She is staunchly atheist, but she has learnt a lot (for school) about various cultures and philosophies. My 10 year old, in the OC at our local public school, has just opted out of SRE. She now reads in the library. I would prefer her to go to SRE, so she could learn about what is in the bible and participate in the discussion. Any religious dogma could be debunked if needed at home, however I certainly wouldn't force her into SRE. She says it is boring and exactly the same as last year.
  • Steve Howes
    June 10, 10 - 5:43am
    I am very sad to hear, Rod, that your bright 10 year old finds SRE "boring and exactly the same as last year."

    Such poor lessons highlight Paul O'Brien's second comment at #6 that the churches "need to work harder at providing a quality Christian ministry in our time slot" for SRE.
  • Michael Jensen
    June 10, 10 - 8:31am
    @Rod - the latest publicity about P&C;'s has been terribly distorted. There is no 'branch stack' - that's an appalling misrepresentation. All that is being encouraged is involvement. It is no good complaining about a decision if you aren't involved.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    June 10, 10 - 10:57pm
    Maybe Youthworks needs to consider whether their upper primary curriculum is pitched too young (ie at 8 year olds rather than 11 year olds). The whole 'tween' phenomena has made that age group a little more worldly wise than they were twenty years ago.

    That's one question I'm hearing from some SRE teachers and Christian public school teachers.

    Any response from those in the know?
  • Rod Campbell-Ross
    June 11, 10 - 1:30am
    @ Jeremy - I didn't fully understand your comment. If I take it that RE should be pitched at younger kids because the older ones are "too worldly wise" I would be concerned that the church is trying to indoctrinate kids before they can question information critically. I personally want my kids to grow up with open enquiring minds and to be well educated with as good a knowledge of the world around them as possible. If they choose to be religious in their lives that should be up to them to decide after a decent period of reflection, at an age when they can think the issues through critically. While young and impressionable I am happy for them to learn about religions, but in a comparative way. I am especially happy for them to learn Christianity, because that is their cultural background, not because I want them to "believe" or "have faith" because they are too young to understand what they are being told. As I said above - we can debunk any dogma at home, so that side of it doesn't worry me too much.

    A little history: we as a family sailed here from the UK on a 44' yacht a few years ago. On the way we visited Tanna where the locals worship John Frum (a cargo cult). Like Jesus, John Frum is going to return some day. It is easy for us to sneer, but they take it very seriously. My eldest daughter (the atheist) asked us if "this was how the cult of Jesus started". Later on the boat we had a very serious discussion about it all. It was a turning point for all of us.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    June 11, 10 - 2:05am
    @ Jeremy - I didn't fully understand your comment.

    I have been told by a primary school teacher that the pedagogy of the Anglican SRE lessons is old fashioned. There is too much emphasis on workbooks and not enough on *relevant* group discussion

    This may be why we are hearing from some SRE teachers that their Years 6 kids find the lessons boring and repetitive.

    This criticism may be unfair. I'm no expert.
  • Dave Lanham
    June 11, 10 - 11:59pm
    Can i suggest the the title 'SRE on Trial' has caused a wrong impression. The title suggests a defensive stance, inviting opponents online to play the role of prosecutor & jury. The debate remains ‘content free’ while discussed on this level. The more serious outcome is causing our own to be on the defensive, fostering reactive comments and unnecessary fear.

    Simon has some helpful points about the unexpected reactions of the religious community. We have taken SRE for granted, and now can't. I even wonder if our prevailing pedagogy may be a result of this. That is, how seriously does your church take SRE? Now we do, but what about the past 20 years?
  • Steve Howes
    June 12, 10 - 12:29am
    Dave, your comments are all too true.

    Next Thursday as a layperson I have been asked to lead a delegation on behalf of the Ministers Association of our town to our local State Labor MP who I expect supports SRE. I would like to ask readers for their comments on these two practical questions.

    1. What are the key points that you think we should make in our 15 minute interview with him?

    2. What should we say if our State politician asks us what practical steps we can suggest to overcome this pressing problem: we need to provide something worthwhile for non-SRE children and at the same time maintain SRE?
  • Dave Lanham
    June 12, 10 - 1:24am
    Hi Steve
    Key points: 1. SRE not on trial – Ethics-based lessons are being ‘trialled’.
    2. SRE long established part of community, taught by parents & grand parents & local church members,
    3. SRE uses approved, professionally developed curriculum.
    4. Those who authorise SRE are increasing their commitment to training & development in order to promote best practices in the teaching of SRE.

    On the 2nd questions, not really possible for us to suggest alternatives, as that would be a conflict of interest. We want kids in SRE, not alternative programs. Of course, the question could be raised as to what existing community/social structures will be used to teach/run and alternative program. An alternative is no small task.

    I would encourage us to stay away from the discussion on alternatives, and focus on our own task. Doing SRE better will address some of the issues.
    By this I hope we can avoid the mistakes we made in entering the discussion on human rights, with self protection tripping up the discussion along the way.

    Doing what we do well, better, is a good place to begin.
  • Craig Schwarze
    June 12, 10 - 1:55am
    I would encourage us to stay away from the discussion on alternatives

    This is a problem. The state has come up with an alternative and we have nixed it. It's reasonable for them to ask what alternatives would be acceptable.

    This is by far the weakest part of our position.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    June 12, 10 - 1:57am
    As Dave says, the premise of the whole debate is flawed. But we have to play with cards we have been given.

    What should we say if our State politician asks us what practical steps we can suggest to overcome this pressing problem: we need to provide something worthwhile for non-SRE children and at the same time maintain SRE?

    1. The problem with the ethics proposal is that it undermines the entire rationale for 'special' religious education. There are secular alternatives to Special Religious education classes that will not do this. For example the humanism course in the UK.

    2. The ethics trial process is flawed pitching the debate as ethics v SRE. As a result the Govt has inadvertently launched a culture war (my point in SMH today that came out a little garbled).

    3. Instead, the Government should have had an open and transparent tender process to independently determine the best secular option that can sit with the current SRE alternatives. Bit hard for Labor to do this now. But the Lib-Nats can.
  • Craig Schwarze
    June 12, 10 - 2:00am
    For example the humanism course in the UK.

    Ok - this is good, a practical example of an acceptable alternative.

    Would other readers of this thread be happy with a humanism course offered as an alternative during SRE?
  • Dave Lanham
    June 12, 10 - 2:34am
    Craig said:
    This is by far the weakest part of our position.

    Agreed, and it is not too late for us to shut up. We got asked because we responded badly to the intial issue. We then sentationalised it with the heading 'SRE on Trial' and made ourselves out to be the victims.

    Rather than being aprt of the discussdion, we polarised it. Sure, others had agendas to undermine our freedoms. But the SJEC didn't - though what impression did we give to the average Christian following the discussion.

    Allow those articulate enough to keep the debating going publically (eg. Our TV friendly Bishop) – and call on our churches to better support SRE I their local schools.

    The other reason we need to stop talking about this, is because there are Christians making posts in other avenues (including the SREonT facebook page) using pejorative, derogatory, rude, inflammatory and simply ungoldly language to defend our right to SRE in school. We go that started, not the Govt, not SJEC. So we need to stop it.

    Again, and sorry to flog a sadly dead horse – but we looked very poor in the eyes of many in the broader community because of our introspective stance in the human rights debate. We are doing the same again.

    Jeremy, can is ask – did the govt get the pitch wrong – or did we take it the wrong way. If, with the help of someone like Simon, we see how things were – can we admit our error, and start this again?
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    June 12, 10 - 2:46am
    Where we have gone very wrong is confusing the agenda of the SJEC with the agenda of the Department of Education. This is a point I have been making for some months.

    Jeremy, can is ask – did the govt get the pitch wrong – or did we take it the wrong way.

    The Government has been misleading and unclear about its agenda. This has contributed to polarising the debate.

    Given that the Govt has to rewrite the SRE guidelines to allow the ethics class, it is understandable that some Christians (and others) will be fearful about the real consequences of that change.

    The prospect that SRE will be marginalised by the new rules was real and remains real.

    The polarisation will continue until the Govt makes its position clear.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    June 12, 10 - 2:52am
    and just to confuse things further there is two parts to the Government in this debate - the Minister of Education and the Department of Education.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    June 12, 10 - 3:19am
    I would also add Dave that I agree that the positioning of the SRE on trial website is factually wrong and a major tactical mistake. I have said that on the record previously and have told Youthworks directly.

    My understanding is that are locked into that positioning now and can't change. Ie that's their campaign url...
  • Michael Jensen
    June 14, 10 - 10:15am
    Jeremy: I am SURE they can change. I have talked to many many Christian people who feel the same unease.
  • Les Grant
    June 14, 10 - 12:23pm
    Jeremy: Technically, it may be difficult to change the URL but it should be easy to change the content.

    Michael: I am also sure they can change but do you think they will? I have contacted Youthworks and I was disappointed by the response to the first email (basically, go check out the web site which I had obviously already done) and there was no response to the second email though they did eventually change the wording in their banner advert...

    Are you two gents able to contact Youthworks to suggest they fix the factual errors or at least tone down their rhetoric in the light of Jeremy's interview with Simon Longstaff? Thanks.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    June 14, 10 - 10:44pm
    I have met with them already. But I have no say over what they do.

    Somehow they will have to make significant changes to their campaign positioning. The 'SRE on trial' line may have been aimed at stopping the ethics trial??? But that slogan is not going to make a lot of sense in 6 months time when the trial is a distant memory.
  • Dave Lanham
    June 14, 10 - 11:44pm
    Jeremy, are you able to ask nicely for the facebook page to be removed? We don't really need to provide a public platform for those who oppose SRE already.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    June 15, 10 - 1:00am
    Yes (and so can you).
    They are more likely to change tack if they have lots of SRE teachers expressing unease.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    June 15, 10 - 11:25pm
    UPDATE 9.30am. Rob Forsyth and Simon Longstaff are just about to discuss this issue on ABC 702.
  • Mark Rundle
    June 16, 10 - 1:54am
    @Jeremy - just tracking back to #16...
    "I have been told by a primary school teacher that the pedagogy of the Anglican SRE lessons is old fashioned. There is too much emphasis on workbooks and not enough on *relevant* group discussion

    This may be why we are hearing from some SRE teachers that their Years 6 kids find the lessons boring and repetitive.

    This criticism may be unfair. I'm no expert."

    As a long-term user and teacher of the Connect material, I'd have to agree with the above assessment. I adapt and alter the lessons to include class discussions and responses to the big, genuine questions that the Upper Primary students have.
    I wonder whether the workbook emphasis is a result of needing to supply clear structure to the volunteers (often non-teacher trained) who take the classes.
    In any case, a review of the material is needed.
  • John Sandeman
    June 16, 10 - 2:31am
    I understand that the SRE material is being rewritten by Youthworks. As a scripture teacher (absolutely non-teacher trained) I am grateful for the existing course and look forward to an improved one.
  • Tom Barrett
    June 16, 10 - 4:18am
    UPDATE 9.30am. Rob Forsyth and Simon Longstaff are just about to discuss this issue on ABC 702.

    I heard it by chance, and it was fabulous. Rob and Simon chatted away in a most amicable way, with the presenter left in the back seat!

    On the "what should it be called?" question, I've found it incredibly hard to figure out whether the ethics course is teaching kids (A) specific answers to ethical questions (presumably secularist/humanist answers), or (B) ways of exploring ethical questions (philosophical ethics more generally). If it's A then it's a natural alternative to the existing SRE options that teach particular wordviews. If it's B then it should be available to all students. But nobody can tell me which it is!!
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    June 16, 10 - 4:20am
    It's closer to B, Tom.

    An ethical dilemma is posed and then the kids discuss their opinions.

    To be frank, its not that dissimilar to some of the recommended lessons in mainstream PD - although the scope is broader (animal rights etc) whereas PD focuses more on navigating playground conflict.
  • Les Grant
    June 17, 10 - 4:19pm

    You may find answers to your questions about the ethics course at:
    and... See more

  • Steve Howes
    June 17, 10 - 11:06pm
    Aren't we forgetting the basic document for this issue? It is not the latest report in SMH but the submission to the Minister for Education from the St James Ethics Centre and the P and C. As well, we have lost sight of the key fact that it is the InterChurch Commission On Religious Education In Schools which is the body that represents the churches in discussions with the Department. Its long name gives us the ugly acronym, ICCOREIS, which does sound like an emetic. Even though Sydney Diocese withdrew from it last year, ICCOREIS was established through the leadership of a Sydney Anglican, Canon Alan Langdon, back in 1972, and represents most denominations including Baptist and Presbyterian and it advocates for all SRE teachers.

    We should all be concerned that in the submission to the Minister ICCOREIS is poorly portrayed as "responsible for protecting the 120 year old agreement that secular, state schools must provide one hour a week of religious instruction." (page 4)

    ICCOREIS provides much more than "protection" of the past. Not only does it offer some ongoing training to SRE volunteers of all churches across NSW, it is the representative group that will deal with the Department following the Ethics Pilot to work for the future of SRE.
  • Matthew Thomas Robson
    June 18, 10 - 12:33am
    @ Posts 30 & 31:

    I understand the problems with the SRE on trial Facebook page that people have at the moment, however it is like Jeremy said:
    They are more likely to change tack if they have lots of SRE teachers expressing unease.

    If the site was used for what it is supposed to be there would be no problems - Encouraging people to share there positive story. It's been hijacked by anti SRE people - But if people shared there positive story we would not have a "problem" so to speak.
    Contributers to the page number about under 20 each, if we had more than one positive story from SRE folks every two days, It would be achieving its goal.
  • Michael Jensen
    June 18, 10 - 12:46am
  • Matthew Thomas Robson
    June 18, 10 - 12:51am
    Also, I believe Youthworks needs to change its tune...Ive been in contact with them on all different subjects, it has not gotten back to me on several issues...It would be helpful if those on the front line of its campaign had there concerns heard!