Primary school principals shut down religious education classes

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With a headline like that, how could I resist?

I believe the appropriate response is woo-hoo!

After some years of fairly negative news on the  RI in schools front, and the apparent stagnation of any efforts to expose the idiocy of spending public money on proselytising to primary school children, we have this welcome development, as reported here.

Some primary school principals are actually taking a stand, based on their own assessment of the SRI curriculum. This curriculum is being provided by Access Ministries, of which I’ve written plenty, for example, here, here and here. And it’s not just one or two – it’s hundreds apparently. The figures are that in 2011, 940 schools delivered SRI, while in 2013 it was 666 (yes, I know, the number of the beast – a coincidence? I think not). This is 40,000 fewer kids protected from wasting time on mindless drivel, and more importantly, protected from attempts to disable their clear-thinking circuitry.

Joe Kelly, principal of Cranbourne South Primary School, said:

“It is not education. It has no value whatsoever. It is rubbish – hollow and empty rhetoric … My school teachers are committed to teaching children, not indoctrinating them.”

Wow. Beautifully said Joe. I’m going to put that on a t-shirt. And nominate you for a Nobel prize of some sort.

He also went on to reveal that a lot of his colleagues feel the same way, but were not comfortable being as public about it.

Dr David Zyngier, a senior lecturer in curriculum and pedagogy at Monash University, backed up Kelly’s view of the curriculum, saying:

“I have reviewed all six booklets produced by Access Ministries, and it’s basically low order, unintelligent, busy work and rote learning. It horrified me. There’s nothing educational about it. It’s all about becoming a disciple of Jesus.”

Somewhat surprisingly, at this stage there does not seem to have been a backlash of any sort. Parents certainly aren’t in revolt. The Education Minister was quoted as having full confidence in the principals, and even the CEO of Access Ministries seems unperturbed. Those are the public positions – I’ll bet there is some heavy-duty lobbying happening behind the scenes however.

Nope, no backlash at all – although it could be a good explanation for some of the extreme weather events around the planet, as god extracts his special brand of biblical retribution. After all, what other explanation could there be?


Quackery at Australian Universities – Southern Cross I’m looking at you

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It seems like ages since I’ve laid into some form of -pathy, whether the homeo or naturo variety. And I miss it.

But there has been a lot of chatter recently about the role of the Australian tertiary sector in promoting all the various forms of quackery, which masquerades as ‘holistic’ medicine.  In this article, we read that a group called the Friends of Science and Medicine, boasting some heavy hitters in the science and medicine, has been formed to lobby universities to review their courses, claiming that one in three universities offer some form of quackery as a course.

Some universities are actually achieving notoriety for the amount of quackery they are peddling. Here’s a recent article by Steve Novella at the Science Based Medicine blog, pointing the finger at one Iain Graham, of Southern Cross University’s School of Health, calling him out for his defence of the obvious quackery being taught. In this excellent discussion, Steve easily dissects the logical flaws in Graham’s pathetic attempts to sell us his nonsense.

When one digs a bit deeper, it turns out that Southern Cross University is actually a major offender in the peddling of quackery, having a whole faculty churning this stuff out. Is it any coincidence that Southern Cross is located in northern NSW and Southern Queensland? Only the other day I was pointing out that this region is a hot-bed of nuttiness – a rallying point for all your new-agey nonsense, including the perils of vaccinating children. So I guess it’s no surprise SC has a ready-made catchment for their expensive but worthless product.

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On Public vs Private Education

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I’ve avoided this topic long enough. I can hold my silence no longer.

This completely artificial and unnecessary social divide exists and shows no sign of improving anytime soon.

I won’t go into the economic arguments – but I’m unconvinced by the hoary old ‘it would cost the state much more if it weren’t for private schools‘ argument. I will not accept that the huge resources pumped into profit-generating private schools by a minority of families, to enable that third football oval to be built, or the rowing shed to be re-modelled, could not be better spent across society. Having spent some time consulting to a number of private schools, I’ve seen first hand the money-making businesses that these institutions actually are. These schools project one persona for ‘clients’ – you know, values, caring, nurturing, guaranteed future etc, while there is another for the board – return on investment, real estate holdings, revenue growth, investment portfolios etc. etc.

Nor will I go into the educational outcomes, although I am once again unconvinced that there is any real benefit for any one individual student. Sure the stats for major private schools are impressive, but we need to consider cause and effect. Students at these schools are self-selected for academic success, or at least selected by their parents. And these schools do a marvellous job protecting their results – who doesn’t know of some kid who was ‘moved on’ by their private school because they couldn’t reach a required standard.

Unfortunately this is a social experiment which relies on anecdote more than testing – it would be nice to compare alternate universes, with and without private schools, but that’s not going to happen. My own key anecdote is: looking at my cohort from high school and university, most of whom had a state education background, I can not imagine how they could have done any better in life than has been the case to date. Central to this is that high school results are absolutely not a predictor for success in life; hell, they are not even a predictor for success at university.

So what other motives are there for sending one’s kids to private school, if success in university or life is not dependent on it? Discipline? That’s what parents are for. That great music program? That’s what music lessons are for. Army cadets? Join the scouts or the army. Better teachers? They come from the same pool of available teachers. Drug-free environment? Don’t make me laugh. Instilling core values? Ditto. Entree into exclusive clubs and cliques in later life? Well, maybe I’ll pay this one.

I have been fortunate that the discrimination described in this article has not really been a factor for me. While quite a few of my friends have subsequently sent their children to private schools, we are all generally respectful of each other’s choices. Any ‘in your face’ comments have been rare, although there is an example in which Mrs. Rationalbrain relates a chance encounter with an acquaintance (of the private school parent variety) in a supermarket. Small talk ensued, in which it was revealed that we had recently taken our youngest daughter to Europe.  The acquaintance was quick to respond with “That’s nice, I wish we could afford to travel but we thought it was more important to give our children a good education“, with the implication being that we didn’t. You’ll be pleased, and perhaps surprised, to learn that Mrs. Rb didn’t deck the acquaintance there and then.

There, I’ve said it. I think I feel better now.

PS: Here’s some free advice to parents thinking of sending their children to a private secondary school. If you’re doing it to ensure your child gets a good ENTER score and therefore get their choice of university courses, consider this instead. Send them to a state school, invest what you would have paid as fees (I’d recommend fixed interest just at the moment!), and use it six years later to buy them entry into the course of their choice. You can also spend it on music lessons, language lessons, membership of the rowing/football club, travel, and so on, at your discretion.

“The gift of thinking”

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In response to the post on the Scepti-kids, regular correspondent Luxinvestor was moved to relate her own similar experience in which some teachers, and her Dad in particular, were able to give her the ‘gift of thinking‘. She says:

I have a lot of teachers to thank who took the same type of initiative. And my Dad, for undoing the Sunday School damage each and every week.

Having a mom who grew up in the church, you can understand her believing that her child possibly burning in hell was a true fear for her. God was a big part of my youth. Every Sunday morning and Wednesday night at the Mega church (actually built in the shape of a crown, on the top of a hill mind you) spent being told to be good or else burn for eternity.

But, what I saw as just fun time with Dad the engineer was really learning to question everything. Even Sunday school teachings. To understand the why’s to what my eyes see everyday. My questions were rarely answered by him. I was directed to a primitive Google, known as the library. If my answer was still wrong, I was sent back. That taught me how to properly research and not just believe the first answer that seemed right. And, to show my work. Despite a few calls to poison control, I was still allowed to experiment freely.

He fostered a love of science and critical thinking through PBS afternoons, Carl Sagan specials, science fiction stories (still my favorite genre of books) and a life long subscription to Popular Science/Mechanics. It was fun. It didn’t seem like I was being taught. Unlike the hell fire and damnation of the church.

Needless to say, the Pastor of my mothers church found me exasperating. I demanded to know how these “miracles” were possible. “Have faith” just wasn’t cutting it. Once I was old enough to decide church wasn’t for me, I did investigate the “spiritual” sides of life, herbals and all other types of pseudo-science. Who wouldn’t? It’s sounds awesome! So easy, you don’t have to learn anything. Until you realize it’s complete crap and would probably kill you.

I am thankful to have been given the gift of thinking for myself and to never be afraid to demand proof. He opened the door but let me make my own evidence based choices. These lesson I still use everyday.

Excellent contribution, thanks Luxi.

It’s exactly the sort of thing we need to be doing with kids, but it takes guidance and mentoring and Luxinvestor was lucky enough to get enough of both to break through.

I’m happy to post any similar stories from other readers, so please send them in.

The other take-aways from this story are that 1. Dads are cool, and, 2. Engineers are cool.  Just sayin’.

The diary of rationalbrain

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Rationalbrain is currently on holiday in Europe for a while, and for this week it’s Amsterdam. While initially I thought I might dig up some euro-pseudo-science about which to rant, I’ve been struck quite unexpectedly by something a little more serious.

No, I don’t mean how s**t the wireless broadband is in this otherwise excellent hotel.

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Followup to ‘One small step’

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Regular correspondent Blamer posted the following comment to my One Small Step entry, and I thought it was worth highlighting it in a post of its own.

Be sure to listen to the fascinating sound grab using the link provided. It gives an insight into the utter cluelessness of those who are provided access to our kids for the sole purpose of perpetuating their brand of fantasy.

Government schools in VIC are now allowed to offer an alternative when Religious Instruction is in session. And “no response” doesn’t equate to parental consent.

Both are small but important first steps.

The VCAT case is based on discrimination resulting from the segregation of children along religious lines. That’s what’s happing inside a government school. The “compulsary, free, and secular” system that was co-opted by the churches in 1951.

ACCESS Ministries still has their 96% monopoly. So it’s their Christian Religious Instruction. It isn’t general religious education.

Schools still aren’t allowed to refuse them if they rock up with their volunteers ready to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Any parody would be indistinguishable from the real thing:

One small step for man*…

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I hate to sully that famous phrase by co-opting it for a minor stoush on planet Earth, but it seems apt.

It seems the tide is starting to turn on the religion-in-schools debate, with the news that Education Department has modified it’s policy to ensure that non-RI kids are given ‘meaningful activities’ to do instead of simply sitting at the back of the class or sitting unsupervised in corridors. Interestingly, the change in policy comes mid-way through a VCAT hearing resulting from a complaint that the former policy discriminates on the basis of religion. The Age report is here.

Not surprisingly, the Minister for Education, Martin Dixon, is painting this as a ‘clarification of responsibilities’, rather than a change in policy. Even though a change in policy is clearly what it is. He even re-iterated that insulting ‘I haven’t received any complaints about children running around the corridors unsupervised’. Trivialising the issue to that extent is disingenuous at best, and moronic at worst.

Despite the changes, counsel for the parents who initiated the case, Holding Redlich partner Andrea Tsalamandris,  has said:

‘The new guidelines were potentially a positive step, however,  they relied upon significant resources within schools to enable other activities to be offered and for these to be supervised.’

This is a good point – I would argue that, as do the parents involved in the case, why should these extra resources even be required, if they are simply propping up the teaching of religion in the school?

There’s a simple solution: teach it out of hours. It’s no different to tennis, music, macrame, yoga, or any of a hundred other extra-curricular activities – pay your money, and have your children learn whatever fairy tales you wish, but don’t expect the taxpayer to indulge you.

Better yet, if can avoid indoctrinating children with that nonsense altogether, then it will indeed be a giant leap for mankind.

*(C) NASA 1969, even though Neil Armstrong blew it – he was supposed to say ‘One small step for A man’.