As I’ve heard more and more disturbing things about the state of scripture in Australian schools from teachers and parents, I think it’s time for some answers from the Department of Education. Here’s my current draft, I’ll probably chop it around a bit and cut it down (waaay too long).
The letter: Re: Scripture should not be taught in Government schools.
To Whom it may concern,
As it has been a concern of mine for a long time now: I’d like to ask is there any reason why we are still allowing religious people into public schools for the purposes of promoting their religion? I would have thought this would have ceased a long time ago.
It must NOT be opt-out requiring permission from parents, it must be a special opt in with strict syllabus if it is allowed at all. Having it opt out (with no material/alternative instruction) makes it seem like the parent is skipping an important aspect of their education to let their kid run around doing nothing.
The Education Act
From the Education Act, Section 30 – “Secular instruction”
“In government schools, the education is to consist of strictly non-sectarian and secular instruction. The words secular instruction are to be taken to include general religious education as distinct from dogmatic or polemical theology.”
I’m not sure at what point this got missed when Christian scripture in public schools was deemed to be the default choice and a secular education required parents to object in writing. I would think parents can assume that there will be no default religious element whatsoever (or else they would have sent them to a religious school surely?). In the several schools I’ve got knowledge of it is expected that parents either fill in a form and in some cases provide written and/or face to face justification for their reasons for not wanting religious indoctrination.
Referring to Section 32 of the act:
“Children attending a religious education class are to be separated from other children at the school while the class is held.”
The language of this implies that they will be a minority, not the default choice with the “non scripture” group left to fend for themselves as it is currently. Currently the process is that those “opting out” are separated grudgingly from the religious class.
Content of Religious instruction
Assuming nothing substantial has changed in the religious types since I was growing up: it was nothing more than Christian indoctrination. A bit of investigation (discussion a teacher friend and several parents of infants/primary school age children) and the recent media attention reveals it has not changed. In particular parents are regularly upset at some of the messages (e.g. “You’ll go to hell for not believing in Jesus” or “I’m not baptised and I’m worried I’m going to hell”) they come home with. It appears that these concerns are not raised to the department level and are referred to the church bodies (sounds just like how allegations of child abuse are handled in the Catholic church), thus hiding the many instances of inappropriate messages delivered by (unqualified to teach) religious people.
There is also a school where Jewish religious people are demanding “donations” from children or else the kids are not allowed to return (several parents expressed concern over this.. with little action to immediately terminate any arrangement with those religious groups). This effectively turns our secular schools into a fund raising activity as well as an indoctrination opportunity.
Anti-discrimination policies violated by religious teachings
It appears to me to be a violation of the department’s policies to be allowing some of the teachings of religions which contain anti-gay, anti-other religions, anti-non believer content with a clear message that they will be tortured for eternity just for being themselves or thinking differently from a 1500, 2000 or 3000 year old set of stories.
One can find ample evidence that the reason we have to have a policy on homophobia is thanks to religious prejudices. Imagine the position of a child who is gay (or who has gay parents) sitting in on a lesson on what biblical sin is, or a child who does not believe in God and told that (contrary to our justice system) their punishment will be torture and hell fire. Or just any child presented with the Orwellian notion that they are under constant surveillance and constant evaluation of thoughts for “thought crime”.
That’s to say nothing of the incest, mass murder, slavery, genocide and other barbaric concepts contained within the bible making it unsuitable study material to be presented to young impressionable children as if it were fact or a source of good morals.
Church is the appropriate venue
It’s fairly obvious that if parents wish their children to be indoctrinated as Christians then they have an obvious avenue: Church. As Muslims: the Mosque. As Jews: the Synagogue. That scripture is opt-out (an option which only became available part way through my experiences) rather than opt-in (with no teaching time filling the gap) is particularly worrying. Parents are faced with having their children sitting idle or else in the company of people filling their heads with Christian mythology presented as facts. I can’t imagine other religions getting as easy a ride either (the recent outrage over Scientology in schools and certainly I haven’t heard of Islamic/Hindi content in scripture provided alongside Christianity in every school). I certainly haven’t heard of any attempts to introduce a humanist or ancient Greek philosophical moral lessons.
Of little educational value
When I was a child and subjected to the local “Churchies” attempting to convert us, there was no attempt whatsoever to take an impartial stand, consider other religions or provide reasonable answers to childishly simple questions. It was also never varied: always a Christian viewpoint presented as fact. It was merely an opportunity to force the kids to go through the motions of Christianity (making kids say prayers, recite verses etc).
Given the completely unsubstantiated claims made (that even I as a young child could see) it seems somewhat at odds with our secular, rational, fact based based curriculum.
The classes presented absurdities (“If only you had enough faith you could walk on water” which as a child I actually took as something plausible for a while) through to the most abhorrent immoral lessons imaginable (“A father prepared to slaughter his son for god was a noble thing”). They were there to make stone age arguments from authority and to instil a guilt at the “thought crime” of doubting the patently unbelievable stories presented as fact in a government school.
The strong message was that God absolutely exists, doubting that is a sin, accepting Jesus is the only way to heaven and that eternal torture awaits those who have heard of Christianity and rejected it. This is a very damaging concept to be polluting the minds of children with and unlike other material in the syllabus: absolutely no evidence to back it up. Might as well teach alchemy rather than chemistry, astrology rather than astronomy.
Qualifications of religious people to teach children
From the reports of the real teachers the educational abilities of the scripture “teachers” are often rather poor. Classroom behaviour is not maintained at any sort of acceptable level with the teachers having to step in to keep the peace (perhaps because the students realise the ridiculousness of the material presented).
There’s also absolutely no reason for religion to be taught by unqualified religious types (who as recent news stories have shown have a rather bad track record with respect to child molestation) rather than as a general topic on religion (not taught from the viewpoint of one within the religion). If a broad topic on religion is to be taught in school it MUST be from outside the religion and by those qualified to teach children. To allow anything else is pure religious indoctrination, not education. That teachers are currently unable to voice any opinion on religion even to console distressed students (“no, actually you aren’t evil because you don’t believe in Jesus”, “you shouldn’t worry about being constantly watched 24/7″ or perhaps later on “the pope is wrong on condoms and that position has increased the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa”) and the scripture “teachers” can say whatever they like.
Replace scripture with real education
I would urge you to immediately discontinue the teaching of scripture in all schools, to be replaced with a subject with a broad curriculum and taught by real teachers. A secular based course in philosophy and moral discussion would be far more beneficial to developing an awareness of right and wrong. This could be a part of the civics and citizenship subject to be introduced in coming years.