Monday, 12 April 2010


Okay guys. What to talk about?

The plans to have the Pope brought before the courts for covering up child sexual abuse?

(Which, by the way, is a stronger possibility than you might think)

The plethora of anti-atheist media coverage going at the moment, especially about how we are responsible for the decline of western civilisation? Including from Gary Ablett, who seems to have discovered morality after that little underage drug dealing incident some years back. Good for him.

No. No, no, no.

I'm going to concentrate on the hot button issue of today. That is:

Ethics Classes for Children.

I require you to do some quick off-site reading first. I apologise profusely for this, but it is essential background information.

Here is the original announcement from the now-ex-premier Nathan Rees way back in November 2009. He talks about the importance of allowing non-religious ethics classes as an alternative for parents who do not want their children sitting idle for one hour a week while their classmates learn about a single religion (it is important that we acknowledge that fact: a single religion).

Fast forward to today, and we suddenly have some very vehement opposition to these classes - likely spurred by the current climate of anti-atheism that exists in the media. I present to you the very defensive-sounding editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald from Jim Wallace, the managing director of the Australia Christian Lobby. Read this one all the way through and try to keep in mind that nobody is threatening his scripture classes with anything except an alternative for children who were not going to attend anyway.

I also request you read the very well organised ten point list written by Archbishop Dr. Peter Jensen, which even goes so far as to threaten all of his constituents in the final point with the ludicrous claim that if you allow children and parents to have choice in their ethical education, then schools will become divisive. Because not everyone is forced to learn Anglican values. That is really, seriously what he said. I promise - go and read it.

Alright, now that we've gotten up to speed, here is the big problem that can be easily solved. Though not without a great deal of resistance from the religious lobby.

No religion? No learning.

The NSW curriculum for the implementation of SRE (Special Religious Education) Section 3.11 reads thusly:

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 school’s policy on minimal supervision will operate.

 I'll explain what this means by way of anecdote.

Recently, on the radio with Carol Duncan, I told the city about how I was a non-scripture student. That means whenever scripture was being taught to the other kids, I was sent to the library to sit and read books on my own. At the time, I thought nothing of this - I had no idea why I was sent to the library while everyone else got to stay in the class room. I do now, and I will never stop thanking my parents for the gift that they gave me back then. A right to choose without any influence from vested interests? Priceless. Absolutely priceless. (So quickly, as an aside: Thankyou, Mum and Dad - you two are the reason I turned out the way I did and I'll repay you every day for it).

Pardon my digression - the point is, it is lucky that I was a studious and interested child. I read books during that time and learned a lot about just any topic you can name. For a while I was big on Killer Whales, so I read the library up on Orcas. Then I was into tornados. That was how, in kindergarten, I discovered what 'Meteorology' meant. I say it was lucky, because if I hadn't been this studious, I would have learned absolutely nothing at all. According to the NSW curriculum, I was barred from having any kind of structured lesson during that time or from attending any class that might possibly compete with Special Religious Education.

I spent 40-odd hours a year over the course of 7 years learning nothing at my school. Take it as 40 hours a year. Over the course of 7 years? That's 11 and a half days. Eleven and a half days of doing absolutely nothing. For the most part, I was the only non scripture child at that school. So that is 11 & a half days of doing nothing on my own.

If anyone is of a mind to say that, perhaps, this is what you get for being so uppity about secularism for your children, I cordially invite you to examine yourself closely in the mirror. I attended a government school - one of those ones supposedly protected by that invincible barrier between church and state. Why religious education is taking precedent over anything is lost on me entirely.

Ah, you say - but there was only one child in non-scripture! How can you expect the school to provide a structured learning program for one child! To that my answer is simple: I'm not asking for a fully equipped classroom and teacher for an hour. How about a lesson plan that can be completed independently, under supervision from the librarian or anyone else who happens to get stuck with the non scripture kids, and evaluated by the regular classroom teacher? Much smarter minds than I could figure it out. It's not asking a lot. Just the right to not have a non-religious (or forget non-religious, it is just as possible that the children belong to a different religion to that of the school's officially adopted local church) student's education grind to a halt for eleven and a half days over seven years.

At this juncture I'd like to say thank god for Leslie Cannold. This article, as I read it, is possibly the most accurate and level-headed take on the situation that I have seen. If you doubt the validity of what she is saying, please email me. I'll detail my experience more thoroughly for you. I can vouch for the fact that everything said in that article is true - I went through it personally.

Where's the respect?

Where is the respect for parents like that in Leslie's article, or mine? What sort of respect is accorded their children when, for an hour a week, they are sent to sit in the metaphorical dunce's corner while everyone else learns the doctrine of the anglican church and no others?

It is utterly absent. And the lobby groups ought to be ashamed.

What is being asked for with the introduction of ethics classes is in no way an attack on Christian values or the right for parents to have their children put through special religious education. It will still be an opt-out process. Offering an alternative simply means that children like me - and parents like mine - won't have to put up with being shunned and ignored for an hour every single week. They'll have a legitimate place to go, and legitimate lessons to learn.

The only objection the religious lobby groups can possibly have is that they feel threatened by the mere existence of these classes. Ask yourself honestly - if they truly believed that the lessons they had to offer were unique, morally absolute and pure and just and all the things that they claim for them, then an alternative would be absolutely no threat to them, wouldn't it? So why, then, is Dr. Peter Jensen warning parents that allowing children to not identify as Anglican is going to be divisive? Why is the Australian Christian Lobby, ever a bastion of conservatism and fear-mongering, taking itself off in a huff and writing scathing editorials over the introduction of these classes? Why can the classes not be allowed to stand on their merits or fail on their faults?

It's disrespectful. It's wrong. It is generally everything that the religious claim that they are not.

Would it be too exactingly in-context of me to casually bring up the phrase 'Ye shall know them by their fruits'?

If defensiveness, nay-saying and political pressure campaigns that literally promote the retardation of children's education are what we have to go on, then I posit that the entire lobby is saturated in the stench of rotting fruit.

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