Voluntary Special Religious Instruction (SRI) has been taught in Victorian schools for 100 years, but an action by three parents in the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission is seeking to ensure “everyone else’s kids are blocked from exposure to Christianity”.
“It is a simple fact that culture derives from who or what a society values most. The militant atheists want their historical amnesia about the formation of Western values to be passed to the next generation and the best way to do this is to deny kids understanding of our religious roots.”
Please click here to read the rest of Rob’s article.
On Sky News’s Australian Agenda program on Sunday, Ms Gillard said that:
“It’s impossible to understand Western literature without having that key of understanding the Bible stories and how Western literature builds on them and reflects them and deconstructs them and brings them back together.”
Political opponents and other public commentators have been quick to seize on this statement and highlight what they perceive as a contradiction between Ms Gillard’s support for the Bible as an essential Western literary document and the failure of the draft national curriculum to recognise this fact. The contradiction is underscored by the national curriculum being an initiative of Julia Gillard herself when Education Minister in the Rudd ministry.
Queensland MP Peter Slipper rose in the House on Monday to ask the Prime Minister to indicate where in the government’s draft national curriculum the Bible is mentioned (read the House Hansard here from p. 52).
This was followed up by an article on The Punch opinion website by Shadow Minister for Education Christopher Pyne and Member for Aston Alan Tudge, who ask whether the national curriculum fails to give “Australian students the keys to understand Christianity, Western culture and literature, and Western civilisation generally” due to a cursory examination of the Bible.
This view is supported by Chris Berg, who is a Research Fellow with the Institute of Public Affairs, and the editor of The National Curriculum: A Critique. In an article on the ABC’s The Drum Unleashed, he argues that, “Just as the history of the Middle East can’t be understood without Islam, the history of Western Civilisation can’t be taught without reference to the West’s dominant religion”.
The Australian Christian Lobby likewise agrees that any national curriculum should take proper account of the religious and cultural contexts in which contemporary Australia came into being. This does not mean proselytising in public schools, far from it.
What it does demand is an honest account of the way in which Christianity, and its holy book, the Bible, have come to influence and shape Western society, culture, politics and the arts, and the way in which this has subsequently impacted the formation of modern Australia.
You can learn more of ACL’s position on the role of the Bible in education by reading our earlier submission to the consultation for the draft national curriculum, available here.
It has taken one man with a somewhat laidback attitude to ethics –“non-judgemental” – just seven years to be on the verge of getting his brand of ethical instruction into schools, to be taught at the same time as SRE.”
So writes journalist Shelley Gare in a recent post on her blog for the Sydney Institute. It’s an insightful piece where Shelley raises a number of pertinent questions about the ethics classes which the NSW Government has this week announced will be rolled out to primary schools across the State from the start of next year.
The questions include: Where’s the funding coming from? What will be done about the moral relativism which has already surfaced in the trial classes? And what will happen when other ethics providers start claiming their right to teach their versions of ethics in classrooms.
Thankfully, the NSW Opposition yesterday announced that they would scrap the St James Ethics Centre’s secular ethics classes if they win the March 2011 state election. Nonetheless, the Government’s plan is still to get the classes underway prior to the election. Shelley’s blog post, which can be read by clicking here, makes the point: “Can’t we just have ethics classes taught by properly trained teachers in school time?”
The NSW Government’s decision to roll-out ethics classes in primary schools next year actively discriminates against children of faith who will not be able to attend both special religious education (SRE) and ethics classes and also risks undermining a system of teaching SRE which has operated effectively for more than a century, the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) said today.
ACL today expressed deep concern about Cabinet’s decision and urged the Opposition to reverse this decision and safeguard the special place of SRE in NSW schools if it wins office next March.
“If ethics classes are to be taught in NSW schools then they should be rolled out for all children – and be based on a program which conforms to community standards,” ACL NSW Director David Hutt said.
“The Government should not be discriminating against children of faith who will not be able to attend both SRE and ethics but should run the ethics classes with the aid of professionals at a separate time within the general curriculum.”
Mr Hutt said the ACL also has deep reservations about not only how the St James Ethics Centre is going to recruit the large numbers of volunteers needed to run the ethics classes, but also the ability of the volunteers to effectively teach something as philosophically complex as ethics.
“For over 100 years, thousands of volunteers have given of their time to teach SRE in NSW schools each week – with successive governments safeguarding the role of SRE by not allowing other classes to be run in competition with it,” he said.
“It is extremely disappointing to see the NSW Government forgoing that role and we call on the NSW Opposition to reverse their decision if they come to office next year.”
The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) today congratulated the NSW Opposition for making a stand to protect Special Religious Education Classes (SRE).
ACL’s NSW Director David Hutt welcomed the announcement by the NSW Opposition that they will scrap the St James Ethics Centre’s secular ethics classes if they win the March 2011 state election.
“I would like to congratulate the NSW Opposition for showing leadership on this issue,” Mr Hutt said. “This decision guarantees a bright future for SRE – an important part of the NSW education system.
“Of course no one is opposed to the idea of children being taught ethics in schools however the St James Ethics Centre’s proposal was unworkable and put ethics classes – something all children should be able to attend – in competition with SRE. This meant that children attending SRE would be unable to attend both SRE and ethics classes.
“However we also have very strong reservations about the ethics syllabus. We note the Education Minister had to intervene on the eve of the trial and remove controversial material about terrorist hijackings and designer babies from the Year 5 and 6 syllabus. Many schools also banned lessons on graffiti,” he said.
“ACL welcomes today’s announcement by the Opposition. There is now a clear choice for voters on this issue in the lead up to the March election.”
The inter-faith event, organised by ICCOREIS and ACL was hosted by the DET and the Education Minister, Verity Firth.
SRE has been getting a lot of bad press as a result of the debate surrounding ethics classes. In light of recent attacks on SRE by some proponents of the ethics classes including Greens MLC John Kaye, it was fitting to celebrate the wonderful work of volunteer SRE teachers.
These are wonderful people who are committed to their faith and committed to providing a well rounded education to children in our community. It was really important for the Minister to meet just some of the thousands and thousands people who are involved in providing SRE across NSW.
We have a wonderful spirit of volunteerism in this country but it is hard to think of any other volunteer movement that could compete with SRE in terms of its scope and longevity. SRE truly is one of the glories of the NSW education system.
Addressing the gathering, Minister Firth said children have an important “right” to receive religious education at school.
She said that while the government was exploring the option of an ethics class as an alternative for children who opt out of SRE, the NSW Government remained committed to SRE and had no plans to remove SRE from schools. This is the same commitment the Opposition gave to ACL in June.
Speakers at the event included:
- Richard Quadrio – NSW Council of Churches
- Ann Maree Whenman – ICCOREIS
- Khaled Sukkarieh – Islamic Council of NSW
- Yair Miller – Jewish Board of Deputies
- Cardinal George Pell
- Verity Firth – Education Minister
- David Hutt – ACL NSW Director
- Bishop Ray Smith – representing Youthworks
Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen, who was in Melbourne for the Anglican Synod, sent a video message thanking SRE volunteers for their commitment and dedication.
Mr O’Farrell said that, “I don't favour ethics classes being an alternative to special religious education classes”.
In a follow up interview, Mr O’Farrell clarified that he was expressing his personal views on the subject and that this did not necessarily reflect Liberal/National Party policy.
Mr O’Farrell said the Coalition would wait until the government’s review of the trial ethics classes had been released before making a judgement about whether to proceed with a state-wide roll out. This is certainly encouraging news.
As reported in ACL’s E-News several months back, the Coalition has given ACL a written guarantee that if elected, a Coalition Government would not make any changes to the sections of the NSW Education Act that allow for Special Religious Education (SRE) classes – guaranteeing their future under an O’Farrell Government.
ACL is concerned however that the review of the ethics classes will not be independent. Mr O’Farrell has expressed a similar concern saying that documents obtained by the Coalition under Freedom of Information law reveal serious concerns about how the trial and the review have been conducted.
The NSW Government conducted a 10-week trial of secular ethics classes for students who opt-out of scripture in Term 2 this year. The curriculum, developed by the St James Ethics Centre in consultation with NSW Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations, was trialled in 10 schools.
ACL supports the teaching of ethics in NSW public schools but believes classes should not be scheduled in competition with SRE. Children should have the opportunity to study both SRE and ethics instead of being forced to choose one or the other.
ACL will continue to make the case to both the Government and the Opposition that the current arrangements for teaching SRE in public schools do not need to be changed. Supporters can also inform their elected members on this issue through our ‘Save our Scripture’ campaign at www.makeastand.org.au.
Sexual assault and sexual harassment are growing problems in Australian schools, with Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research figures showing that 68 sexual assaults and 265 indecent assaults or other sexual offences occurred on school grounds in the year to September 2009.
A recent media report cites easy access to internet pornography as one of the probable causes of highly sexualised behaviour amongst Australian children and teens. Schools are reporting problems of sex-based taunts, explicit text messages and physical assaults, aimed at students and teachers.
The report quotes Dannielle Miller from Enlighten Education, a group which works with adolescent girls. She says that schools have not yet grasped the gravity of the sexual assault problem, and that the sexual behaviour of many boys, influenced by pornified music, TV, films and the internet, was highly problematic.
These disturbing reports, which seem to be appearing more regularly, demonstrate the need for tighter regulation of media, especially music clips and internet content. Mandatory filtering at the ISP level of the worst of the worst online content is a practical and sensible first step in securing a safer media environment for young Australians.
The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) today voiced concern that so-called ‘antidrug education’ in NSW actually appeared to be sending the wrong message to young people that illicit drug use was trendy.
ACL Managing Director Jim Wallace said a controversial postcard describing cocaine as ‘nose candy’ was the latest in a number of drug prevention strategies gone wrong in the State and questioned the agenda behind these campaigns.
“Young people need to be given clear messages about the harm drugs can do to them and how to say ‘no’ to drugs. The NSW Government and health authorities can’t afford to be watering down this message – or, worse still, sending out messages which might make drugs seem appealing,” Mr Wallace said.
“One has to question what is behind these campaigns. The Government appears to be blindly following a harm minimisation philosophy without regard to the effects of the messages they are sending out on this issue.
“When illegal drugs are being promoted in a ‘fun’ way to teenagers it is clearly time to rethink the policy.”
Media Contact: Glynis Quinlan on 0408 875 979.