Sunday, June 2, 2013

Church and State Schools

I've just enrolled my little girl in Primary school for next year.  SO exciting!

It was tricky choosing the right school and when I finally dropped off her application I felt a wonderful sense of satisfaction at having made a good decision.

I feel very lucky to have had a choice at all and especially that our decision was very much based on the tiny details of wanting the best fit for our daughter.  I mean, chances are had we just sent her to the local school things would have been fine.

One thing I didn't get a choice in though was RE.  Religious Education.

Across the country religious education in state schools is administered in the same way.  And it baffles me.

To be honest I don't understand why it is there at all.  I am a firm believer in the separation of Church and State.  So of course I am not a fan of religious instruction in state schools.

This does not mean I am anti-religion.  Just anti-proselytising to our children.

In my view there are plenty of options out there if you are an observer of faith to educate your children.  The best of which, as true of any instruction of children is by parental example.  

Live your faith, teach it to your children, by all means.  Just don't try and teach it to mine.

Three things really rile me about the current inclusion of religious education in our state schools.

The first is that it is in fact religious instruction, and not comparative religion.  There is an argument to be made that religion is an appropriate inclusion in schools because it does after all underpin so many public debates in broader society.

And in a society where multiculturalism is promoted comparative religion would be a wonderful way of broadening the minds of young children, opening them up to cultures and beliefs that may be as yet unknown to them.  The potential is enormous.

But to present religious teachings as fact in a school environment to me is akin to teaching our children that the world is flat.  It's mythology dressed up as science and it has no place in our state schools.

The other mind addling issue is that religious education is "taught" by volunteers.  These are not teachers and they subscribe to no set curriculum.  What is presented to the students can vary widely from school to school and even within a campus from year to year as people come and go, bringing with them their own set of bias and interpretation.

This seems vastly inconsistent to me.  If religious education is going to be sanctioned within our state schools then shouldn't it be subject to the same rigors as every other subject on the curriculum?  Taught by teachers and with some sort of plan?

But by far the most frustrating aspect of religious instruction in state schools is, for me the opt out system.  If religious education is going to be offered in our state schools, then it should be opt in.  And students who do not "opt in" should be allowed to continue in the classroom unimpeded.

In the current system if you opt out of RE you are not allowed to participate in any "active learning" while the RE sessions are conducted.  Students essentially have to sit on their hands.  Colouring in, reading that sort of thing.  But I have heard of some schools in which those children who opt out must spend a half hour sitting in the Principal's office.

I'm sorry.  What?  When I was at school being sent to the Principal's office was a punishment.

This idea of suspending learning so as not to disadvantage those children taking RE to me is ludicrous.  In fact the very school I have chosen to send my daughter to offers other specialised programs, but if you choose to take part in these you miss out on whatever is happening in the classroom for that hour - you can't expect the rest of the class to wait for you.

The inconsistencies in the system are vexing.

At the very least religious education, if it is going to be offered in state schools should be an opt in system, so that the children who choose not to practice their faith on school time are not disadvantaged. 

Never mind.  I'm going to try and breathe through this one, to suppress the activist in me and to focus on what is really important - my daughters (hopefully joyful!) transition to primary school.

I'm sure her education won't be stifled by a half an hour of colouring in a week.  

And I'll still be proud as punch to send her off to school on her very first day next year.

How do you feel about Religious Education in State Schools?

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  1. Wow! My friends and I thought we were the only people going through this! We have kids in Kinder & Year 1 at a small country NSW school and we are facing the exact same situation. The "volunteers" teaching the class are VERY religious Anglican/Catholic/Presbyterian representatives. My argument is that they are not in any way teaching from an unbiased, impartial point of view. They are in fact teaching my children that the Christian religion IS religion. Full stop. There is no mention of Buddhism, Hinduism, Muslim teachings etc etc. Or atheism for that matter. They do not teach from the point of view "Some people believe..."
    I went along with it for the my son's first year of school because I was told the alternative was for him to sit in the Principal's Year 6 class by himself while RE was being taught. He is a very shy boy and I knew this would be torture for him. However I attended a school Easter Service this year and heard the speaker say to the children "You were all born sinners" and "the only way to become pure like God is for Jesus to die for your sins and his blood wash your sins away" etc etc. Then when I spoke to the Principal he admitted he had no idea that was going to be read out to the children, and that he does not have to see lesson plans from the RE volunteers before they teach my children about religion each week. So I immediately pulled my children out of RE, and along with 3 others, they sit in the back of the Year 6 class and draw pictures.
    I am happy with this as a temporary solution, but am not happy that this may be their lot in life for the next 6 years. I am gobsmacked and astounded that RE teachers do not have to have a set curriculum, or any teaching training. Why not let them teach our kids their ABC's as well????
    I completely agree that it should be an opt in class, not opt out.
    How is this still the acceptable norm in our multicultural country???

    1. Hi Anonymous and thanks for your comment.

      Your story sounds very similar to others I have heard so please know you are definitely not alone!

      In fact one of the things I find puzzling about this whole issue is that while so few kids are opted out of RE, most parents I talk to are not in favour of the current RE system. Yet still a lot of these parents allow there kids to attend RE for fear that their child will be treated unfairly if they do not. And who can blame them - no-one wants there child segregated from the rest of their class and made to feel different because of what they believe. It's appalling that children as young as 5 would be put in this position.

      The whole system beggars belief.

      If you would like some more support on this issue you can visit the Fairness In Religion in Schools page on their Facebook (link below).

      I find some of the comments there to be a bit....zealous sometimes. But the administrators of the site are very helpful in providing information about the organisations running the RE sessions in our schools and they can also provide resources for you to agitate for change on your school council, if that's what you choose to do. You can message them directly and they will reply.

      It's good that you have found an adequate temporary solution, but as you say it's not going to be good enough for the duration of your childs school career. And why should any child miss out on roughly 120 hours of potential learning time simply because their religious beliefs are different from those limited faiths offered by the school.

      Very best of luck in what no doubt will be a frustrating journey.

      One Small Life

      (Fairness In Religion In Schools: