Thursday is Scripture day at school

This afternoon Tom came home with a 1964 pre-metric Australian penny that he’d been given by his Scripture teacher for remembering the weekly Bible verse. I asked what the verse was and he quoted – Peter said “You are the messiah, son of the living God.” I asked if he thought that what the Bible claimed Peter had said was true and he looked at me like I was silly and said “No” with an undercurrent of “Duh!” So then I asked if he’d told his Scripture teacher that he didn’t believe it, and he answered “HELL NO!” Which struck me as rather amusing. It also made me go and print out Penny Sharpe’s petition in support of the St James Ethics Centre school ethics classes trial.

The provision by law of a period of time each week for Special Religious Education, taught by volunteer “scripture teachers” recruited by the churches, in NSW schools is a legacy of a deal made between the government and the churches back when public education was just being established. The Education Department ruling that students who opt out of SRE may not be given any useful instruction during that period is not codified in law, is unjust, and must be challenged.

My kids go to Scripture because they’d rather stay in their classrooms with their friends than go to the library and twiddle their thumbs. Approximately once a month I remind them that they have the option of not going, if the alternative was something other than thumb twiddling I’d haul them out of SRE so fast you wouldn’t see them for dust. I feel a vague guilt that I’m not making a point by having them opt out, but it doesn’t feel right to use my kids as pawns in a political or ideological exercise so I let the decision rest with them. No doubt if we lived in an area with a higher proportion of non-religious types there’d be a critical mass of kids opting out and my lot would be in the library watching dvds and colouring in along with half the school.

The St James Ethics Centre has developed a course designed to provide “an ethics-based complement to SRE” and which can be offered as a “meaningful secular alternative during the allocated time for SRE.” This ethics course is currently being trialled in 10 Primary Schools in NSW despite frantic efforts to stop the trial, in particular by the Anglican and Catholic churches. There is also an ongoing campaign being waged against the possibility of the Ethics course being favourably reviewed at the end of the trial and subsequently being rolled out to all schools.

I really, really hope that the trial is a huge success and that the decision makers in the Education Dept and in the NSW parliament do not allow themselves to be swayed by the loud voices of a well organised religious lobby and I’m not going to simply hold my breath and hope over this, I’m going to do what I can to make my voice heard and let the government know that there are many, many voters who disagree vehemently with the things being said by people like Peter Jensen. I’ll be writing emails and voting in polls and talking to people in my community and I think I’ll print out a few more copies of that petition and get to collecting signatures, if you live in NSW you might consider doing the same.

9 Responses to “Thursday is Scripture day at school”

  1. Deborah says:

    Fortunately, or unfortunately, our kids' school only has religious services a couple of times a year, at the behest of the local churches. This Easter, there was no service for the year 6 and 7 children, so Ms Eleven had a lucky escape. The elder Ms Eight elected to go to the library, but the younger Ms Eight decided to go. She came home saying that it was awful – boring, and poorly acted. So she is definitely not going next year. Apparently it was particularly dreadful; the principal was Not Impressed, and she's considering telling the churches that they need to lift their game if they want the school to host them again.

    I'd say we're heading towards a secular school…

  2. Julie says:

    I agree with you thoughts here. Are there religions other than Christianity at your school with organised classes? I went to a state school when young and I went to Scripture because we could convince him to argue with us! However, both my children went to religion-based schools and opting out was not logical, even though neither is religious.

    Did you discuss with your son the 'ethics' of accepting the penny? Does the principal know that this teacher uses 'bribery"?

  3. mimbles says:

    @Deborah I think there's quite a variation in how SRE manifests in different schools, not least because it relies on volunteers from local churches and some communities are more likely to produce those volunteers than others. We live in a bit of a bible-belt. I went to the end of year "Special Scripture Assembly" last year and had the unedifying experience of hearing the Principal instruct the kids to behave and "listen very carefully to the important messages" that would be delivered during the assembly.

    @Julie I have to confess I'm not sure what other SRE classes are offered, I really must find out. I've asked the kids but they have no idea. I did address the penny as bribe thing by saying "So you're bribed to learn this stuff," but I wouldn't call it a discussion. Bribery isn't unique to the scripture teachers though – there's many a stash of lollies and cheap toys tucked away in desk drawers and storerooms around the school 😉

  4. Kt says:

    They certainly *used* to offer Baha'i RE at the school, Mim. And I do believe Hindu RE as well. Not sure whether that's still the case.

  5. mimbles says:

    Ah! Yes, I do remember hearing something about Baha'i way back when. I might introduce the whole issue at the next P&C meeting and see what happens.

  6. Nat says:

    Miss Em used to go to Scripture. The nuns loved her generally and like Tom, she was able to change what she said depending on the situation. One day she came home and said that they were learning about Evolution in scripture – when asked where the earth came from she went into long spiels about the big bang. She was quickly told that no, God made the earth. Next question she was asked was where did humans come from? She'd learnt her lesson – God made Adam and Eve of course 🙂 She came home with a medallion thingy for that answer!

    Thankfully, she has two lovely friends now. One just doesn't do the religion thing – the other is a Hindu. Much to her pleasure she can now twiddle her thumbs with friends – so she now no longer does scripture! I, like you Mim, wish there was an alternative.

    Nat

  7. Ariane says:

    Our school is well and truly anchored in atheist territory – apparently more than half the kids don't go to scripture, and I regularly hear parents wondering why they are sending their kids to scripture at all.

    I wonder what would happen if we ended up with 80% of the kids colouring in for the SRE of only 20% of them.

    I originally dictated that Ben leave scripture, but I've given him the option of going back, and he has declined. He claims to believe in god, but doesn't like the way it's taught at school.

  8. Penthe says:

    ACT schools don't seem to have a scripture or RE element as part of the curriculum. There is an optional lunch time activity on campus, though. We were pleased that Ned didn't have to go to RE any more. He had opted in back in Queensland, but came home furious that he was not being taught comparative religion or even about the more interesting bits about Christianity but just had someone keep assertng that God loved him. Is it wrong to be pleased mostly because I don't have to be confronted with the issue any more? If only I had been taught ethics at school. Sigh.

  9. blue milk says:

    This is an element of school life I am not looking forward to. The public school Lauca will be attending has a good deal of impoverished families in its community and has been 'taken under the wing' by some churches that give the school all sorts of extra attention.

    Your experience has been very interesting to read about.

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