God in the classroom

By Legal Eagle

As many know, my daughter is in Prep this year. I got a note home asking me to nominate which brand of Religious Education I would like her to attend: Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Ba’hai. Fortunately I was spared the difficulty of making a choice this year, as RE classes do not start until Grade 1.

My own experience of RE classes was not good. My mother sent me to Christian RE on the basis that it was important for me to understand Australia’s Judaeo-Christian heritage, which is fair enough. Nonetheless, neither of my parents are believers. In Grade 2, an RE teacher told me and another girl that our parents were going to Hell because they were not Christian. I lay awake that night, terrified, thinking of my parents burning in Hell. Then I made the following deduction: I did not like that RE teacher. If she was right, and she was in Heaven, I didn’t want to be in Heaven with her. I wanted to be in Hell with my parents, so I was not going to believe in what she said. If she was wrong, well, it didn’t matter anyway.

The next year we had an extremely eccentric RE teacher who told us that Jesus had resurrected her goldfish, twice, after it flopped out of the tank on a couple of occasions. The first time, Jesus ensured that a nearby drawer was open so that the fish fell into the drawer and the sound of its tail flapping on the wooden drawer alerted her to its plight. The second time, she found the goldfish on the floor and it seemed that all was lost. She put it in a saucepan and stirred it around, praying to Jesus, and the goldfish recovered.

Suffice to say that these various RE teachers put me off any religion altogether for a long, long time. Why, you may ask, did I keep on going to the classes? Well, there was one girl, a Catholic, who didn’t go to RE, and she had to sit in the library by herself (although I think they got her a priest later). It was weird not to go. If you didn’t attend, there was a risk of being ostracised as strange. This was all at my State Primary School. Funnily enough, when I spent three years at a nominally religious private high school, the RE teaching was far more inclusive and respectful of other religions, and there was nary a mention of Hell or anything like that. Perhaps that was because they had professionals teaching, not volunteers.

On the whole, though, I’d count my religious education as a big fat FAIL. By the time I was 19, I was a devout atheist, and utterly convinced that religion was bunkum in a kind of Richard Dawkins evangelical way. It was only when I hit adulthood and did a lot of reading and research that I came to have more respect for religion. (So when evangelical people approach me and say, “Have you read the Bible?”, I say, “Yes, from cover to cover a few times. I’ve also read the Qu’ran and various tracts from the Talmud, and have some knowledge of Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism. Which would you like to discuss first?”) Actually, I didn’t realise that Jesus was God until I was 25 years old, and attending a history subject at university called ‘Histories of God’. Prior to that I’d thought He was some kind of prophet or avatar. I never understood the whole sacrifice for our sins thing either.

A few days ago, The Age reported that the Education Department has forced public primary schools to run Christian religious education programs when schools and parents did not want such programs. This is despite the fact that s 2.2.11(1) of the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic) states only that ‘special religious instruction may be given in a Government school in accordance with this section.’ (emphasis added). The Victorian government said that “may” in this context should be interpreted as “must”, in accordance with a purposive interpretation of the Act. Prior to last year’s State Election, the Labor Government prevented the institution of a humanist ethics course in Victorian schools for children who did not want to attend a religious class. The Humanist Society has since taken legal action, claiming that there is no viable option for non-religious students. All this has ignited debate again here in Victoria.

Interestingly, the NSW government has recently instituted a “special ethics” class for those students whose parents wish them to attend some kind of class of a non-religious nature. The Coalition had initially intended to scrap the program but backed away from this during the election campaign.

If I had my choice, I would send my children to a special ethics class. If I were teaching such a class, I would emphasise the ethic of reciprocity, with pointers to where it has been raised (not only in Christianity, but also in many other religious traditions). I tend to agree with Jewish Sage, Hillel, who was asked to summarize the Torah concisely, whereupon he said: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.” (Shabbat 31a) Of course, Hillel expressed the ethic of reciprocity in the negative form, which is importantly different to Jesus’ contemporaneous positive form of the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” Then you could discuss the problem of knowing whether someone wants you to do unto them as you would have them do to you. Karl Popper believed that he improved the ethic of reciprocity by being more specific: “The golden rule is a good standard which is further improved by doing unto others, wherever reasonable, as they want to be done by” (The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol. 2). I’d also want to raise Mill’s Harm Principle, and discuss when we can intervene to stop people harming others. What about intervening to stop people harming themselves? Perhaps, too, a class could look at a variety of different creation stories side by side from all kinds of different traditions. I’m sure there are ways in which such a course could be appropriate and teach children to be thoughtful and open-minded.

I really don’t mind if religious people have religious education for their children. I am absolutely fine with religion and other people having religious beliefs, as long as they don’t harm others. I no longer hate religion as I did when I was 19 years old. For some people it is an important and positive part of their life, and I respect that. But it would be great if the government and religious lobby groups could let me choose an appropriate program so that my children could be taught in accordance with my beliefs. After all, isn’t the Golden Rule that they should do unto me as they would have me do to them?

P.S. The Humanist Society in Victoria has set up a website to gauge reactions to religious education in schools.


  1. Miss Candy
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    Excellent post as always LE, and relevant to me as a mother of a schoolie.

    At my daughter’s school there is no request to opt into religious classes. There’s an optional class that few go to. The rest do the normal curriculum. Our school has a multitude of faiths, including Ethiopian Orthodox, Muslim, Hindu, etc etc. It would be very difficult to cater to everyone!

    So it doesn’t have to be done (although it sounds like we’re flying under the radar a bit. Sounds like your school is being a bit limited. Most of ours opt out. Is there no option for that?

  2. Miss Candy
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    …at the same time, I wholeheartedly agree that a humanist ethics class would be an incredibly valuable class for children – not just for non-RE kids, but for all children. A school near us has a philosophy course for primary kids.

    I notice that my daughter is regularly struck by the simple philosophical queries. What is time and where does it come from? Why do we eat meat? What happens when you die (although she seems to have happily resolved that one. You “stop”. End of story.) I’d love for her to explore these issues, and I think it improves the learning and creative thinking of children across the board.

  3. Patrick
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    That’s illegal, actually, Miss Candy, if they do the normal curriculum at the same time.

    But it would be great if the government and religious lobby groups could let me choose an appropriate program so that my children could be taught in accordance with my beliefs.

    You will be relieved to know that that is exactly what they do.

    The Age article was a ridiculous beat-up. All schools have to do is offer a compulsory ethics/religion period, and they have to offer Christianity as an option, but they can offer anything else they like.

    Given the disportionate amount of anti-Christians in school administration versus the general population, that actually strikes me as a reasonable measure of protection for Christian parents and their kids.

  4. derrida derider
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    I don’t hate private religion – whatever gets you through the night is alright, however strange some “whatever”s are. But organised religion is another matter – its a racket that propagates convenient absurdities to keep people in subservience to authority figures.

    Does no-one think it strange that religion requires childhood indoctrination to have any chance of holding adherents? Truth surely should not depend on such methods. Religious figures in NSW – and it now appears in Victoria – fought tooth and nail to prevent any alternative to RE in schools. If they really believe their doctrines are divinely revealed truth, then why are they afraid of a little competition?

    Give the devil a fair go, I say, and let the more convincing arguments win.

  5. Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    I say wedge the lot… make religion, comparative religion that is, a compulsory part of the curriculum.

    The religious types can’t object (they think they get religious values in schools, they can’t admit their preference is actually brainwashing).

    if kids knew what all religions were on about, most of them would see the commonalities, and either be more tolerant of different views of their favorite sky fairy, or more likely, reject /all/ sky fairies.

    Imagine getting peak religious groups around the table saying “reach agreement amongst yourselves what the curriculum should be, and then get back to us… Until then, no proselytes in any way, shape or form in schools… Take as long as you like…”

  6. Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    oh, btw, at school (Geelong College), we had a prof emeritus of queens theological college, came in to teach RE as form of semi-retirement. He thumped the table hard and forced through a full year’s study of islam, a full year of buddhism, and a full year of hinduism. He argued “it’s religious education, not religious instruction nor religious indoctrination. Religion is an important part of human culture, like history or geography, and you’d never be considered historically literate if you were unaware of a renaissance, a french revolution, or the roman empire.”

    It’s worth noting that he took a very sympathetic line with all the religions (and buddhism, which isn’t a religion in it’s traditional form).

  7. RipleyP
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    A very poignant post given I was reading about the High Court Challenge to the chaplaincy program currently being run.

    I was also reading some of the alternate view from supporters of the chaplaincy program. I must admit there were a few eye openers in that group from the point of view of promoting their particular religion.

    RE in school for me was a waste period. I don’t remember my primary schooling but I do remember my high schooling involved long debates as to morality. Alas these debates did not provide anything of value as it was mainly the students challenging the instructor on their pronouncements and the instructor relying on a “Because it’s in the book” response.

    I doubt I learned anything to add to the development of my own moral or ethical system from the courses.

    My issue is with religion in school as a place to preference a belief system. A comparative religion and ethics course makes sense but that is education not indoctrination.

    If people wish to teach their own children about their religion then all power to them. However it is for the parent to see to that education not the state. They can teach the children themselves or at Sunday school or another privately or church funded initiative in their own time.

    I didn’t play football at school or any of the other sports on offer. I was an archer. I didn’t see the school including my personal sport into the physical education curriculum to suit my own passion.

  8. Jacques Chester
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    RE was referred to at my school as “Rest Education”, because it was a doddle. Very little hard work was required — read the sunday school fairy tales and regurgitate them.

    By close observation of my classmates I was able to deduce that it was no more taxing than being asked to recap a missed episode of Home and Away.

    “Then Moses, like, totally got angry with the Jews, like completely flipped.”

  9. Posted April 4, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    [email protected], that’s pretty much my position on the issue as well.

    Religious education in school did little for me other than solidify my rejection of the church by highlighting the inconsistency of the texts, hypocrisy of the clergy and ignorance of the followers. However, it did provide a framework for teaching of life skills/mentoring that didn’t fit in the academic structure of other subjects. I do like the comparative approach to religious education though, as it could easily include ethics and philosophy.

  10. Posted April 4, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    and the thing is, if you want to give more-than-equal time to xtianity, you get to point out the conflicts (protestant iconoclasm v RC “polytheism”), and, ideally some of the debates (1 v 3) along with the schismatics/heretics… Pelagius in 5ce making an argument for secular ethics in the 21ce – manichees, arians, cathars… Imagine the kiddies taking questions home their skyfairyfan parents cannot answer … Or “is that milk homogenized or homoigenized?”

  11. Patrick
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    LE, I’m not sure what they are referring to, do you know where they got this from? (You are out of your mind, with all affection and respect, if you think that printing it in the Age means anything as to its truth).

    My eldest has the option of non-religious ethics class, and have for at least three years (the time he has been at school, incidentally).

    Like I said, the Age article is a beat-up, and you should know better than to readily believe someone beating on their favourite gong..! Would you believe Chief Justice Peter Young bewailing the evils of restitution so readily?

  12. conrad
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    “I say wedge the lot… make religion, comparative religion that is, a compulsory part of the curriculum.”

    I third that with desipis. To me, religion is a really important part of human societies, and I don’t see why it shouldn’t be on the curriculum somewhere (perhaps history). The problem now is that it’s indoctrination of young kids rather than being something interesting to a 14 year old.

  13. Jeremy Gans
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    Section 2.1.11 of Victoria’s Education and Training Reform Act provides that:

    (2) If special religious instruction is given in a Government school during the hours set apart for the instruction of the students-

    (a) the persons providing the special religious instruction must be persons who are accredited representatives of churches or other religious groups and who are approved by the Minister for the purpose;

    (b) the special religious instruction must be given on the basis of the normal class organisation of the school…

    though there are exceptions for (b).

    para (a) would seem to explain why humanist ‘special religious instruction’ isn’t an option, despite Patrick’s experience. (Note that s.2.1.10 permits compulsory ‘general religious instruction’ provided by the school itself, which can cover comparative religions and all that, but cannot promote a particular religion.)

    who knows what para (b) means? But maybe it’s the basis for the alleged rule that kids can’t be taught the general curriculum when special religious instruction is scheduled, i.e. because that would place the SRI outside of the normal class schedule? I dunno.

  14. Jeremy Gans
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    Further to this, from the Victorian Education Department website:

    Secular instruction may not be timetabled while students from the class are attending special religious instruction.

    So, no beatup from the Age this time, folks. Unfortunately.

  15. Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    Any suggestion that schools, particularly at primary level, have the freedom to teach comparative religion/philosophy is just about precluded by the curriculum demands of recent years. A proper comparative approach, comparing not just knowing something about them all would cop even greater political opposition.

    Perhaps the even more subtle wedge for xtain proselytes is to say “hmmm… you fundy xtians, how’d you like exposure the basic xtian thinking forced on islamic schools?”

  16. Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    Interestingly enough, my girl goes to a state school – she loves it and I can’t afford a Catholic school.

    Her school doesn’t have any sort of RE, and I’ve told her teacher that I don’t particularly want any sort of comparative religion studies. Not in primary school, and teaching her religion is my job.

    It’s difficult enough bringing up your children and trying to counter the dreck their poor heads are filled with, without having to play Guess Which Festival.

  17. Henry2
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    Gday all,
    My parents were/are religious and yet I was kept away from RI. It may have been some Catholic/Protestant thing. Im not sure. I was a regular attendee of Sunday School which I expect covered much of the same stuff.
    Do any of you consider what your kids may want in all this?
    It may be only my opinion but I think my head is screwed on pretty well. I dont think I was harmed by lots of regular Sunday School. I dont think it did them much good though because I didnt end up a religious chap.


  18. Posted April 4, 2011 at 9:32 pm | Permalink


    I’m totally surprised you got through school and reached the age of 25 with such a profound ignorance of the purported [as we say in the trade] divinity of Christ.

    As to religious education in government schools, it is probably more accurately understood as denominational education, and is an accident of the path (through the “Irish” system) which the colonies took to the state provision of education in the nineteenth century. What follows is my very imperfect recollection of this.

    Historically, education had been provided by the church. In the Australian colonies, the state did not provide education itself but instead provided matching grants to various religious denominations. When the state changed to providing elementary education itself (which was when it also made it free and compulsory), it was part of the necessary truce with and between denominations that the state not itself teach religion but that denominations be permitted to do so.

    [The holdout from this truce was the RC church which did not accept the new godless schools and did not until the Menzies-DLP concordat of the early 60s receive any state funds for its own schools.]

    It’s a corollary of this that RE (or, as I knew it as a child, “Scripture”) in State Schools (an entirely different legal creature from RE in a school such as Geelong College) not be at the same time as any scheduled secular parts of the curriculum.

    That’s why (as with some other “may” clauses) that section of the Victorian Act probably doesn’t quite mean what it seems to say.

  19. Posted April 5, 2011 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    I heard a story on the weekend of a teacher who had converted from Anglican to Catholic and was undergoing a Catholic theology course in order to take a position at a Catholic school. Apparently they were utterly perplexed at the idea that the book of Genesis was not taken literally by theological scholars.

    The picture I got of Jesus from school was of Jesus-the-wet, and so I was quite surprised when I read the New Testament and saw some of the tough aspects

    Like any good religious text, the bible provides a diverse scripture capable of supporting just about any position desired by religious leaders.

    I still don’t like St Paul much.

    Paul always came off as a bit of a religious hijacker to me.

  20. Posted April 5, 2011 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    [email protected] wonders why many weren’t indoctrinated by the interloping proselytes in classrooms. Intelligence, and likely exposure to polytheistic views in well-regarded societies (hell, you’d know this even if you only watched “jason and the argonauts” as a kid).

    The other thing worth contemplating the time spent doing nothing – apart from the “time is money” truism, the enforced mind-numbing inactivity is counterproductive to good behaviour. If the brains aren’t being occupied with stuff on the curriculum, (even art is in primary school), then let their bodies be occupied with sport.

    I reckon if anti-indoctrination principals had imagination, when prevented by the state from teaching when there is opportunity, making that time as much fun as possible would soon get most of the other kids still in brainwashing sessions begging their parents to be taken out of brainwashing.

  21. Patrick
    Posted April 5, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] No it is a beat-up because they can and do do plain ethics in that time, or free time, they just cannot, unlike Ms Candy’s example, have maths at that time.

  22. Mel
    Posted April 5, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Patrick, either cut the crap or name the school that allows this apparent breach of Victorian law. We’ll then have the opportunity to determine for ourselves the truth or otherwise of your claims.

  23. Heather
    Posted April 5, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    m\My daughter has a Grade 1 at a Victorian school. Parents are given the Departmental choice of having their children opt out, and they are then permitted to sit in a quiet place but not to do any school work.. Teachers, whatever their religion of lack thereof, have to remain in classrooms with the volunteer religious instructor, meaning there are no spare teachers to supervise the ‘opted out’ children, who are made to remain quietly at the back of the classroom. I forgot to ask if the Department provided them with ear-plugs!

  24. Posted April 5, 2011 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    heather… In other words, the education department is still subjecting your kids to something under the regs they shouldn’t given they know you have withdrawn consent, and they are duty bound to comply with your wishes.

    Is that something you could force them to remedy with legal action? Hmmm. If there is the possibility of compensation, what would it be?

    in heather’s school at least, it seems the principals have the duty to say “no” to proselytes unless the proselytes pay for an extra room and extra supervisor.

  25. Posted April 5, 2011 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

    As an aside, I’m now getting ads for World Vision and Christian Aid in the sidebar (they are quoting figures in £, though, which suggests it’s UK only…)

  26. Davo
    Posted April 5, 2011 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

    Thank ? for deductive reasoning.

  27. Patrick
    Posted April 6, 2011 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    I don’t think there is any breach of Victorian law at my kids school (although it sounds like there is at Ms Candy’s school). What breach are you thinking of?

    I’m also not going to name it, obviously.

  28. Posted April 6, 2011 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    Maybe I’ve spent too much time around Americans, but I don’t like the thought of any of this in state schools, especially subject to an act that seems egregiously badly drafted (the use of ‘may’, as Marcellous flags, is instructive). I’d third (or is it fourth?) Dave’s comparative religion suggestion, but add the caveat that comparative religion is surprisingly difficult to teach well, and does actually require a fair amount of background knowledge. I do wonder how many suitable teachers there would be out there to deliver the material.

  29. Posted April 6, 2011 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    [email protected] makes the valid point that it can be difficult to teach comparative religion well.

    Well, whether one or many… Derr… Trying to teach non-falsifiable propositions is tricky… There aren’t exactly any hands-on pracs the kiddies can do – even counting the different number of wishes coming true after 5, 10 and 15 minutes propitiatory grovelling wouldn’t stretch the arithmetic skills of any grade prep kid.

    Back to serious mode, for youngies, it’s the fact that there /are/ alternatives that is important. Start with perhaps the roman/greek ones (flying horses, etc, are great fun), various creation myths… That’ll put skyfairyism in its proper context.

    Older kids could do any moral components found in scripture, and capable of doing a compare-and-contrast of theistic texts v atheist “scripture” like M.Aurelius and the Dhammapada.

    Mid secondary could also cover “Creation” by Gore Vidal, written as a crash course in comparative religion but wrapped up in an adventure story. (Zoroaster’s grandson is raised in the household of Darius, sent as ambassador to India and China, has sit-down chats with Confucius and Buddha along the way, and ends up in Athens, hearing about the young Socrates). Mono-, poly- and a-theism all covered in a page-turner.

  30. Posted April 6, 2011 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    You know, Christianity ain’t that bad. I will never forget, back in Germany in 1992……..as my country of origin – BOSNIA – was CRUCIFIED at ‘Western’ Europe’s “balcony”… I had the ‘choice’ von Evangelisch, Katholisch und Ethik. I, who evaded the murderous crucading cross in a nation, surrounded by genocidal wolves into perfect circles known as enclaves, chose not:
    –Ethik (filled with children of other refugees, Germans of Turkish bloodline and many others).

    I chose: Evangelisch. I respected the law of the land and its population.

    In that class, they taught me their religion AND they taught me Islam.
    Eventually, Germany told me: “Go away, there is no God here.”

    Later, in a Multicultural Melbourne’s school’s English class – not the segragated English as a Second Language class (I mistakenly wandered off into it), an English teacher asked me: “What is your Christian Name?”

    I, who respected the law of the land and its population, answered: “Mensur.”

    “You see,” the teacher boasted before the class, “that wasn’t too difficult, was it..”

    It seems, it all depends on how RELIGION is offered. Or, in Australia’s on-going regime-status, whether it is “offered” or ENFORCED.

    Dangerous world this particular one is. If there is a God the message would be: “Nobody here is bound for Heaven.”

    I remained an atheist for the rest of my life.

    by Mensur ?ehi?

  31. Patrick
    Posted April 6, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    This is clearly how most people feel when they hear me talk about liberal principles, adding a silent: ‘and that’s why you are an irrelevant minority‘ to every comment.

  32. Posted April 6, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Well, I’ve just read the whole thing on the Humanist society website, various newspaper articles, a press release from the Access crowd and a letter from a Victorian government minister stating that discretionary ‘may’ is to be read as mandatory ‘shall’.

    No closer to figuring out what’s going on, I have to say, except that the whole thing is run even worse than an American presidential election. If I were Catholic or Jewish I’d be mightily piddled off, too, as Access are Proddies and have cornered 96% of the RE market.

    I have no idea of the system that prevails in Qld, but I have a distinct recollection (being from a ‘mixed marriage’ and all) of spending a fair bit of time playing netball during RE (the non-participating boys were playing touch footy/AusKick at the same time). One of the PE staff would supervise, and it was all very collegial.

    Every group under the sun was represented (including Pagans and Muslims) in what was a very multicultural area (Logan City). The Pagans and the Jews had the best food, IIRC, to the point where kids wanted to join their groups – I remember trying to inveigle my way into both at various times, mainly during the summer when the netball courts were stinking hot.

  33. conrad
    Posted April 6, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    “I do wonder how many suitable teachers there would be out there to deliver the material”

    You could have worse worries about maths if you wanted — I’m sure there are lots of smart arts graduates for whom teaching is a good alternative to other jobs they can get. However, this is based on the idea that you teach religious stuff much later than now when kids might actually be able to understand some of it.

    “I always told people to go to the Jewish opening of the legal year service – there was plum cake and other nice things”


  34. Posted April 6, 2011 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] “(the non-participating boys were playing touch footy/AusKick at the same time).”

    Each one of those would count as religion in some areas.

    “One of the PE staff would supervise, and it was all very collegial.”

    Are you saying there was more of the tolerance of virtue encouraged by participating in the non-RE group?

    As for the teachers, the only folk capable of giving comparative religion a fair go, in the sense of treating all equally, are either very sophisticated believers, or the unbelievers.

  35. Movius
    Posted April 7, 2011 at 12:56 am | Permalink

    I’m from South Australia, we never had any of this stuff in school, at least while at the public primary schools i went to.

    I attended a Lutheran high school in the Barossa Valley. An interesting experience that was. “Christian Living” rarely got in the way of my real education, but it was an annoyance. (Interesting fact: A former classmate of mine was accused of being involved in the tor… exorcism of a teenager a couple of years ago.)

    It’s interesting to me that the best possible outcome from this sort of religious education is it being a mostly-benign waste of time. In which case it would be more appropriate for a private rather than state-run school. Despite this, there are still otherwise intelligent people that endorse RE for public schools.

  36. Ms Candy
    Posted April 7, 2011 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    Oh dear. I hope our lovely little school won’t get into trouble with all this new hoo-haa about bl**dy religion. I’m assuming our school is one which decided it “may not”. There’s something going on, I’m just not sure what the arrangements are, but they’re in a definite minority over here. But my kids definitely don’t have to sit down the back of a classroom and be quiet. Yuck! What idiot thought that up? In our school it would be two kids down the front with the teacher and twenty up the back with said earplugs.

    As for dodgy statutory interpretation, bollocks to the Minister who says that “may” means “must”. Since when was the Minister the man who decides what a statute means? On the face of it, “may” seems pretty clearly different from “must”. (-shaking head-)

    Perhaps it comes down to this: if you want to indoctrinate your children, please do it in your own time and in your own institutions. If you want to include more than the currently stuffed-full curriculum includes, then you’d better have a very good argument to do so.

    So is there an argument to include religion over other subjects currently neglected like history, geography, social sciences, natural sciences or physical education?

    I personally think that proper comparative religion has limited benefit to primary school-aged children. It’s when you’re a young teenager that this stuff gets really meaningful and interesting, because your brain can handle it.

    I’d rather my young children be given some time being guided through a discussion of their own philosophical and ethical questions (What do you do when someone is being hurt in front of you? Is it ok to eat chickens if they’re nice enough to give us their eggs too?) Kids need that stuff. It teaches them maturity and independent, reasoned thinking.

    I could be convinced of the value in teaching children basic principles about understanding that others have truths that are different to yours, and that these are sometimes found in their religions.

    But for the primary kids, I’ve found that the whole god skyfairy business is kind of irrelevant to them. Far less relevant than whether Roshika had chips in her lunch, or whether Hannah decided to play with Emma or Lucy today.

    I suspect this is why our crazy fish miracle god-fearing RI teacher told us our parents would go to hell. It was the only thing that had any traction.

    But… talk to a teenager about the widow’s mite and you might have an interesting discussion on your hands. Now there’s a good place to start discussions about religions.

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  1. […] We just got a notice from my daughter’s state school yesterday inviting us to choose which religious education class we’d like to enrol her in. There were a multitude of choices: Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Ba’hai, Buddhist and Hindu (an accurate reflection the nature of her school, I think). Finally, there was the choice to ‘opt out’ (if I do not opt out, I suspect my child will be included in the Christian RE class by default). I wasn’t quite sure what to do – the notice did not indicate whether the students who opted out have a proper program or whether they’d just sit in the library. What if Eaglet No. 1 was the only student who opted out in her class? Would that mean she was alienated from her class and set apart as odd? I must remember to ask the school what the program for non-religious children involves, and how many children take it up. I’ve faced this issue before, but managed to avoid it last year, as I outlined here. […]

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