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.