We tend to think that, among English-speaking nations, the U.S. is the worst in cramming religion down the throats of its kids. And because Australia is so far away, and the U.S. so politically insular, we Americans are largely ignorant of religious doings in the antipodes. Well, from the land that brought us Mel Gibson and Ken Ham, I submit for your approval a particularly noxious specimen of religious tomfoolery.
New South Wales (NSW) is Australia’s most populous state; it sits at the southeast corner of the continent and contains Canberra, the nation’s capital, and Sydney. And it’s home to a really bizarre incursion of faith into the schools. By law, all public schools provide up to one hour per week of “special religious education” (SRE) to the children. This is not outside of school hours: SRE happens during regular school time.
And this is not education in the tenets of the world’s faiths: representative of a single “approved” faith (most of them Christian, of course), come into the classroom and simply proselytize the kids. The churches regard it as a golden opportunity to get their hooks into young and impressionable meat—in the schools.
About 85% of the kids take advantage—if you can call it that—of this in-school preaching. What do the other 15% do? Also by law, they are not allowed to receive any other instruction, presumably because that would give them an “unfair” advantage over the faithful. They are supposed to do “homework, reading, and private study.”
In response to parental complaints, the NSW minister of education recently approved an alternative activity for the students opting out of SRE: an “ethics complement”. Students are supposed to learn critical thinking, hash out matters of right and wrong, and engage in junior-grade philosophy. Classes explicitly avoid inculcating specific moral precepts in the kids. This was just given a trial in ten NSW schools. Here’s a 5-minute video showing one of the ethics classes.
Sounds great to me, and although it’s early days, the program certainly deserves support, especially because the majority of other kids are having religiously-based morality drilled into their heads.
As you might expect, the churches are furious about these classes. A consortium of Christian churches, including the Anglicans, Catholics, and Baptists, have published a document giving all kinds of reasons why ethics classes are a bad idea: the kids in religion classes don’t get to take ethics (though they contend that “competent teaching of Christian SRE . . contributes to the development of ethical thinking”), and—get this—they don’t sufficiently brainwash kids into taking particular moral stands:
The lessons in ethical thinking, as most likely a component of the Philosophy in Schools curriculum, are not a ‘complement’ to SRE, as advocated in the SJEC proposal, in the sense that they are antithetical to both the Christian faith and all faiths that have a “higher court of appeal.”
They even manage to drag the spectre of Darwin into the picture:
Dr Lipman himself says that Philosophy for Children (P4C) is heavily dependent on American pragmatism and a sociocultural theory in cognitive development “Philosophy for Children (PMC) didn’t just emerge out of nowhere. It built upon the recommendations of John Dewey and the Russian educator, Lev Vygotsky, who emphasized the necessity to teach for thinking, not just for memorizing.” . .
John Dewey’s total rejection of Christian faith is well documented. In its place, he proposed a theory of mental evolution heavily dependent on Darwin’s theory of biological evolution. Teachers are not instructors but ‘facilitators’ guiding students through problems they pose to try out various pragmatic solutions to discover what works for them.
O noes! Darwin! But the real reason the churches don’t like ethical education is patently clear in this extremely scary 2.5 minute video, where advocates of SRE discuss their opposition to ethics classes (YouTube has forbidden embedding, but do watch it—it’s very short):
By the way, a miracle happened when I viewed this video (see lower right):
Have you ever seen a more blatant and naked grab for the minds of children? Here’s the statement by Murray Norman, Presbyterian Youth general manager:
The value of SRE in our local schools is that we get to go in and share with young people about Jesus. We get to share from the Bible, and they get to meet Jesus personally there. The threat that the ethics program creates is it’s actually providing competition with SRE, and that has a massive potential to reduce the effectiveness of us telling young people about Jesus throughout the state.
And pay attention to this statement from Peter Adamson, Presbyterian Youth SRE and “camping director” (would you put your kids in a tent with this guy?):
In the case of this particular program [the ethics program], what we know from the outline which we’ve been given—and we’ve only been given an outline—is that in actual fact it comes from a particular background. It comes from an evolutionary background. Just as some scientists believe that animals evolved, so many social scientists think that our morals and our values have evolved as well.
Secular Aussies: rise up against this stupidity! The religious loons are in ur schools, warping ur children!
There’s a website devoted to this issue, Statereligionvic’s posterous.