I reported a while back that ten public schools in New South Wales, a state where by law the students have a weekly hour of “special religious education” (SRE), were trying out classes in secular ethics as an opt-in alternative. I noted, many Christians didn’t like this at all—they claimed the classes drew people away from Jesus. Too bad, because the government has just deemed the experiment a success. You can download the 101-page government-commissioned report at the site (check out Appendix 2).
Reading the report, the education minister concluded that “The independent evaluation found high levels of engagement among students when discussing ethical issues and that it enabled them to discuss and understand the principles of ethical decision-making. It also found that the course met the aim of introducing students to the language and nature of ethics and ethical issues.”
In response to “criticisms from religious groups” (p. 14), the report notes dryly:
In evaluating the course materials an effort has been made to consider the philosophical background and the pedagogical approach on which the course is based. The field of Moral Philosophy has a two and a half thousand- year history and a logically rigorous methodology; the ethical inquiry approach has been employed widely for three decades by philosophers concerned to introduce philosophy (including ethics and logic) to the broader community. These are philosophers who decry relativism.
The report concludes:
The call for a secular ethics-based complement to SRE in NSW schools is not without precedent, and there is evidence here that secular ethics and SRE can exist respectfully side by side. In this evaluation an attempt has been made to assess the extent to which the ten week ethics pilot provides an appropriate model for an ethics-based complement to Scripture, and to do so on the basis of rational argument and empirical evidence. Further decisions rest with the Minister.
Go Minister! One small step for Australia, one great leap for mankind.
h/t: Russell Blackford at Metamagician