Religion in schools – movement at the station

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Well the battle continues.

You may recall an earlier piece or two on the teaching of religion in schools. It seems that as well as some pending high court action against this practice, there has also been a complaint lodged at the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, that religious education in state primary schools discriminates against children whose parents opt out. Apparently, there are still many examples where the education department segregates children on religious grounds and forces them (or rather their parents) to opt out rather than specifically opt in if they want religious education.

Legal action against the department was also reported here. Interestingly, it revolves around the use of the word ‘may’ in relation to the teaching of religion. See this pronouncement by the department, and see if you agree with their interpretation of this word…

Email from Education Department to parent Tim Heasley.

And what about that second paragraph! ‘Secular instruction may not be timetabled while students from the class are attending SRI’!!!! That’s just ridiculous – institutionalising the practice of leaving non-SRI students in the cold, as it were.

Not surprisingly, this interpretation is now being challenged.

One thing I didn’t know was that a mob called Access Ministries has volunteers in two thirds of Victoria primary schools, teaching religion of all flavours. Not surprisingly, its head, Stephen Hales was quoted as saying:

“when religious instruction was last reviewed in 2006, the community had overwhelmingly supported it.”

He would say that wouldn’t he. He also went on to say:

Christian education is like environment lessons – it was ”not just about teaching things in a neutral way,” but encouraging children to have an opinion and ”be committed to doing something”

To me, that sounds like utter nonsense. No matter how many times I read it, I can’t fathom what it has to do with religious instruction.

In fact, if you look at the About page of Access Ministries, it conveys just the opposite impression:

Victoria’s children and young people need to know God cares for them. They need positive role models and strong values. They need to develop skills and strategies to break the negative cycles in their lives. Young Victorians need CRE teachers and school chaplains, from ACCESS ministries.

Every day of the school year, ACCESS ministries CRE teachers and chaplains are sharing God’s love with over 200,000 young Victorians. They are helping students explore their lives with meaning and purpose. Well-trained, culturally sensitive and with great respect for students and their schooling, CRE teachers and chaplains are introducing young Victorians to the spiritual dimensions of life.

ACCESS ministries, formerly CCES, is an inter-denominational body which provides Christian Education and Chaplaincy in State Schools in Victoria, under the provision of the Education Act 1958 (revised 1999, 2006). It provides this service in partnership with Christian churches.

Our vision is to reach every student in Victoria with the Gospel. Join the vision and help us transform this nation for God.

How is this in any way teaching in a ‘neutral way’? Please don’t insult us with your lame nonsense. You simply want to spread the gospel, right? Just say so. Don’t give us those weasel words about opinions and commitment and so on, as if you’re encouraging free thinking or rational thought.

In any case, enjoy it while you can, your prime-time gig in primary schools will be finished shortly as the courts sort out your mumbo-jumbo for us, and get those ‘heathens’ out of the corridor and back into the classroom where they belong.

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7 thoughts on “Religion in schools – movement at the station

    RationalFollower said:
    March 29, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    I remember, when I myself was in primary school, we had a block where half the students watched an italian video (no one could understand it or learn from it as it was all in italian) and half the students did christian religious education. Then the groups swapped. if your parents decided you were not to do religious education class, you were forced to sit through the Italian video a second time. This equaled 3 hours of mind numbing boredom. I felt we were essentially being punished . I begged my non religious father to let me do RE just for this reason. Wouldn’t it be great to have an alternative class, which taught religious education in terms of ALL religions, different religious views, Including Athiest views, to give children the chance to make informed decisions, or at least have information other than given by their church and parents.

    RationalFollower said:
    March 29, 2011 at 7:15 pm

    Although I myself am not religious, I do believe religion serves a function, an existential anxiety buffering function, as postulated by the terror management theory and the mortality salience hypothesis. I therefore think “good on u” to those who have faith, however, I do not believe this faith should be taught in schools unless it is accompanied by other types of faiths and views. What makes christianity more plausible and accepted than any other religion?

    rationalbrain said:
    March 29, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    That’s interesting RationalFollower. My daughter had the same experience with Italian videos at school!
    But I’m most interested in your second comment, and would like to hear more on existential anxiety buffering and the mortality salience hypothesis – care to write some words on it for the blog?

    Mrbonchapeau said:
    April 2, 2011 at 8:55 am

    Hi there,

    Thanks Rationalbrain for your article.

    It’s worth noting a few things with The Age article where you quoted from. It seems to me that this article was not written in a neutral tone but actually using misleading rhetoric:

    Under Education Department guidelines children who opt out are not allowed to do other school work and are often forced to sit at the back of the class, or in quiet rooms or corridors while religious education is under way.

    Note the word ‘forced’ –this is hardly accurate or objective use of language. If students wanted to, I’m sure they could go to the library to go do homework/ read a book.

    quote from article:But the department and Christian religious education provider Access Ministries says they have no choice.

    That’s hardly a balanced, contextualised use of quote from the Access Ministries–why not quote the original statement?

    quote from article: Access Ministries has 4000 volunteers who teach in two-thirds of Victorian primary schools. Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, Baha’i, Greek Orthodox, Hare Krishna and Roman Catholic courses are also accredited, but Access provides 96 per cent of ”special religious instruction”.

    So, statistically Christian educators are the majority. But that would make sense right–there are more Christian teachers *available* than other religions! Also there is an intrinsic urgency or motivation to teach kids about Jesus in Christianity which is not necessarily inate in teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, the latest teach of the Bahai belief. Finally, this quote actually contradicts the very first sentence of the article!

    quote: The Victorian Education Department is forcing public primary schools to run Christian education classes taught by volunteers, angering parents and schools that do not want to host them.

    Evidently, the classes do not have to be Christian education–other worldviews teachers are welcome too, provided they are “persons who are accredited representatives of churches or other religious groups and who are approved by the Minister for the purpose” (Education and Training Reform Act 2006 – SECT 2.2.11.)
    http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/vic/consol_act/eatra2006273/s2.2.11.html

    So sadly, this is an example of poor journalism by The Age which is unnecessarily inflammatory.

    source:
    http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/backlash-as-god-forced-into-schools-20110326-1cb7c.html

      rationalbrain said:
      April 2, 2011 at 10:30 am

      Thanks for your comment.
      However I’m not sure I agree re the ‘misleading rhetoric’.
      I will concede that maybe it was clumsy of the writer to include Access Ministries under the ‘forced’ – but I believe this is due to Access Ministries relying on the letter of the act and therefore explicitly supporting the policy of the department, for obvious reasons.
      Certainly there is no question that the department is ‘forcing’, by virtue of the legal interpretation of the act which they have adopted.
      I also question your view that children opting out have a choice. While they may in principle have a choice, for children of this age, if the teacher tells them to do X, they generally will do X rather than claims any rights they have to do otherwise. To argue otherwise would amount to your own rhetoric.
      As for your next points about statistics and contradicting the first sentence etc, I’m afraid I don’t understand what you’re getting at. Are we reading the same article? What is the relevance of the christian vs others? Christian is the biggest example, yes, but it’s not the point of the article, nor my previous posts on this subject. My grievance is the special treatment given to ANY religious instruction, and consequent discrimination against those who do not wish to be so instructed. That you see this article as inflammatory is symptomatic of the issue: that looking critically at religion and its modus operandi is somehow ‘not done’, because it occupies a ‘special place’ in our lives. I would have a similar issue if, for example, children were being taught revisionist history in which Hitler was a good guy, or, that the earth was flat, or that astrology has something to say about our daily lives. I would reject that ‘education’ and demand that my children spend their time in pursuit of real knowledge and skills rather than fairy tales masquerading as reality.

    […] 2, 2011 If you haven’t been following this thread, and in particular the comments on the previous post, I just wanted to say a few more words to emphasise that the whole religion is schools thing is not […]

    Blamer .. said:
    April 6, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    Keep digging, it gets worse.

    Bishop Stephen Hale – chairman of Victoria’s RE vendor, ACCESS Ministries – is the founder of the biblically literalist “Arrow” program.

    Parents, are in need of a wake up call.

    http://bit.ly/gT0o9i

    These aren’t the kind of enthusiastic volunteers you want to leave playing ‘teacher’ in the middle of the school day. They take 96% of the classes, but Australia is over 30% non-christian.

    Are christians going to stand up for minorities by ejecting these evangelists from Aussie public schools?

    • Please write a letter of asking for reform of the practice of SRI law in Victoria to our Premier, the Minister for Education, Hon Martin Dixon, and your own local member
    o martin.dixon@parliament.vic.gov.au
    o ted.baillieu@parliament.vic.gov.au
    o Go to http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/members and type in your postcode for information about your local member and how to contact them
    • Please write to your local School Principal and School Council President to voice your support changing the unfair policy of SRI and ask that religion be taught in an way that educates children about all religions, not single faith instruction.

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