Ethics classes in schools: Conspiracy?

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In my TAM Oz report earlier, I referred to an excellent panel discussion which addressed the issue of the provision of a secular public education system.

This has been hotly debated in recent times, especially in a selection of NSW primary schools in which a trial has been underway this year.

The concept is simple: In many schools which provide religious instruction (RI), those children who do not attend are often shunted off to the library or given no meaningful work or instruction. The initiative by the NSW government aims to provide the secular equivalent of RI, to give children the opportunity to discuss issues of fairness, honesty, care, rights and responsibilities in a secular setting.

Sounds reasonable, right? To my astonishment, proponents of religious education objected! To what were they objecting? That non-RI kids weren’t wasting their time? That only RI people deserve to know certain things? I couldn’t for the life of me imagine what complaint they could have.

But complain they did. Loud and long.

Their argument is basically: “Ethics means Christianity, and Christianity is ours, so you can’t have any ethics.” Don’t believe me? See this editorial.

Not only that, they then (hypocritically) go on to add: If you do insist on teaching ethics, then it’s wrong for ‘our’ kids to be excluded. What? The article I just referenced, by a Jim Wallace, Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby, is the most insulting piece of nonsense I have heard from a (so-called) Christian for some time.

Let me take you through it. It’s a bit long, but I couldn’t work out what to exclude, so buckle up for the ride….

First he opens with an insult over the recent Global Atheist Conference:

With our nation having just played host to a big atheist convention trumpeting the intellectual superiority of unbelief, many may well be wondering why we still bother gazetting an extended long weekend to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Then another gratuitous insult:

For future generations this perplexity will grow if the NSW Government, dancing to the tune of intolerant secularists, has its way in our schools.

In the next few paras, he trots out the old canards that if it wasn’t for scripture classes, we’d all be savages:

For more than 100 years, Scripture classes in schools have provided an avenue for children to learn about the Bible, the person of Jesus and the ethic that has underpinned societies such as Australia’s.

This is entirely appropriate. No serious historian – regardless of whether or not they are religious — doubts the formative influence of Christianity, its ethics and values on the legal, cultural and political development of Western civilisation. Indeed it is the Judeo-Christian ethic that sets the way we live apart from the way other cultures live.

Now there will always be some parents who conscientiously object to their children being taught the Bible. This is their right.

Oh, they have some rights, thanks. Not just conscientiously, but consciously; i.e. they are the ones who think.

And it was supposedly with these students in mind that former premier Nathan Rees announced late last year the introduction of “ethics” classes in primary schools.

Of course ethics is in quotes. Not real “ethics” like yours.

Reeling from a number of high profile ministerial ethics scandals itself, it was reported that the ethics classes to be rolled out for kids were a chance for the government to show its moral compass still pointed north.

And just for good measure, de-value the initiative using some good ol’ ad hominem attacks.

At the time it was made clear that these new, supposedly religion-free, ethics classes would not compete with traditional Scripture classes.

What do you mean ‘supposedly religion-free’. Let’s settle on “intentionally and enthusiastically” here. And surely a bit of competition for the mighty Judeo-Christian faith won’t do any harm.

However, with the pilot trial due to start next term in 10 public primary schools, it has emerged they are being pitched with the obvious aim to draw students away from Scripture classes, despite the Government’s assurances they would not.

What??? Yes, it’s all a big conspiracy to lure people away from religion. That cover story of trying to have a meaningful discussion with a handful of kids for an hour a week is just lame.

Sounds like a serious ethical issue has arisen even before the first class is taught.

Yes, teaching kids about values without mentioning god is as unethical as it gets.

The trial ethics curriculum is produced by the St James Ethics Centre and the aim is to “provide a secular complement for the discussion of the ethical dimension of students’ lives”. This by definition excludes the discussion of Christian values, which underpin so much of Australia’s ethical framework.

[Insert swearing here] By whose definition? Once again Jim, ethics don’t BELONG to Christianity. If anything, Christianity cherry-picked some of the best attributes of humans and claimed them for itself. Incidentally, they also disown the worst ones by blaming the devil for them, right?

It will be interesting to see how values such as loving one’s neighbour, self-sacrifice, helping the poor etcetera are dealt with when the Bible stories that have shaped our understanding of these concepts for hundreds of years are excluded from the discussion.

Gee Jim. You may be surprised about what our kids will believe if you are honest with them, instead of telling them they will burn in hell if they don’t do X, Y or Z. And besides, do we really need parables to discuss loving each other, or helping each other? If you can explain the benefits of those activities without the aid of a fairy tale, you’re just not trying.

It seems the ethics of the Bible and of the person of Jesus are now deemed so inconsequential that the Government must fund its own ethics curriculum and use its resources to draw students away from Scripture classes, which have been taught by dedicated volunteers for decades.

Not inconsequential Jim. No-one is seeking to take anything away from you. It’s not a plot. It’s just those families who reject your particular view of the world seeking equity for their children. To simply refuse to accept this point is simply un-Christian and obtuse.

If it is so important for the Government to provide secular ethics classes and promote them to all students – not just the small minority of conscientious objectors – then all students should have the opportunity to attend but not at the expense of the existing Scripture classes.

So, again, those useless ethics classes, which will be devoid of meaning since they don’t cite Bible stories, should be added to Scripture classes?

While secularism sounds good, no one should think that its values come from a vacuum.

No they don’t come from a vacuum – they come from the general agreement between human beings on patterns and standards of behaviour to enable us to live harmoniously in societies. This harmony is periodically disrupted by, oh, the Crusades, Inquisitions, and sundry Jihads, but in the main has survived a reasonable period of time.

The idea of loving one’s neighbour as oneself – or do unto others as you would have them do unto you – is religious. More accurately, it is Christian.

Guffaw. (Not sure what that is, but seems appropriate here. I was going more for that sound the Robot from Lost In Space made when he laughed).

Secularism is certainly not neutral and those who wish to expunge Christian values from our schools and public institutions should more fully explain the worldview from which their alternative values derive.

Again with the conspiracy and insecurity. Good grief, the worldview of which he speaks is so simple – see my previous to last comment. But I’m sure Jim wouldn’t settle for that.

In the mean time, if we are going to continue to recognise and celebrate our Judeo-Christian heritage, the state government should not dilute the influence of Scripture classes because they are the one opportunity in life the majority of young people have to understand what it is all about.

Ahh, there’s the rub. This is the one opportunity to grab young people before they understand what it is all about. Now I see what he’s on about. If they miss this chance, and the kids start thinking they can think and live in society without religion, then where will we be???

Yes, Christianity has many things to be proud of. This ridiculous article ain’t one of them.


6 thoughts on “Ethics classes in schools: Conspiracy?

    neutralturn said:
    December 13, 2010 at 11:40 pm

    I feel your rage. I heard this topic discussed on radio national a couple of months ago. It seemed to me that at the core of the objections raised by the religious fraternity was the well justified fear that many, perhaps even most, parents would prefer their children to attend a secular ethics course; that this alternative course might quickly become the mainstream and marginalise the RI course. So the gloves were off. Mind you, I did pick up the impression that a positive outcome for a secular ethics course was likely. Is this still so?

      rationalbrain said:
      December 14, 2010 at 9:00 am

      Yes, happily I understand that the actual program is going well in the NSW test schools, and it is to be rolled out again in 2011. However, the wolves are at the door, and the opposition will cut it if it gets in next March. Therefore, the way things are going politically, the program will be shortlived. (Here’s a report on it).
      The woman quoted, Helen Walton, was at the TAM Oz discussion, and seemed very optimistic that other states would follow suit, so perhaps all is not lost.

    More on Ethics in Schools « rationalbrain said:
    December 23, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    […] become fascinated by the debate that this generally harmless proposal has created. See my earlier post on […]

    Taking Down the Religiati « rationalbrain said:
    December 24, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    […] the likes of Neil Ormerod and Jim Wallace, I simply say, by all means have your faith, pursue your academic analysis of the bible, and […]

    […] followed the debate on ethics in schools, and the associated bleating by the religiati that their rightful place in society is being eroded, […]

    […] dear, one more opportunity to commence the brain-washing has been lost. Add that to the success of ethics classes in schools, and the new fight being taken up regarding the forcing of chaplaincy programs on state schools, […]

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