Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Ethics classes in schools

Polly Seidler gets a letter in the SMH:

I'm all for competition between SRE and a secularist alternative, but please let the competition be fair.

For each course, let there be the same level of advertising from the school, accurate labelling of the philosophical or religious framework (for example, humanist or secularist ethics), and penalties for misleading claims such as the St James Ethics Centre's (Simon Longstaff's) claim that the ethics pilot would be offered only to children who have opted out of SRE, when in fact it was offered to those on the SRE roll, which forms the crux of SRE providers' complaint.

Polly Seidler, Darlinghurst

(SRE = Special Religious Education, which by law needs to be allowed for in the timetables of public schools in NSW)


Anonymous said...

Gordon, can you explain why Polly and others are attempting to make that plea? Is it prudent? Is it scriptural?

1. I feel very uncomfortable with the possible inference that the churches wished the Ethics course to have been trialled secretly. (What do we suspect, that makes us fear an open comparison of Ethical Reasoning with SRE?)

2. The broader than expected response suggests that current SRE is not 'speaking the language' of some children (and parents). If we protest or ignore that interest, do we proclaim the Truth of the Gospel, or its irrelevance?

3. Opposition to the secular ethics course is not certain to promote faith development. The Ethics course may eventually engage kids who are currently avoiding church teaching, in moral challenge: why object? It may eventually attract disengaged kids away from SRE into a more personally challenging journey: how often will that be a bad thing?

In this very liberal society, the mandatory SRE period can feel not so much like a remarkable moment of freedom to proclaim the gospel, as a vestigial attempt at binding the (secular) State to do so. Is it still scripturally defensible?

Gordon Cheng said...

Hi anonymous,

I don't have access to the mind of Polly, but here are my thoughts:

1. the possible inference that the churches wished the Ethics course to have been trialled secretly

My understanding is that the churches were simply taking the government at its stated word, which were that the trial classes were not going to be advertised as an alternative. The government reneged. Speaking as a volunteer parent who has taught Scripture; watching a large section of a class disappear because someone in authority hasn't kept their word is disappointing. That's exactly what happened at some of these schools.

2. I don't think it's wise to jump to any conclusion about why Ethics classes saw a big response until more work has been done and more time has gone by. I wouldn't at all be surprised if the initial novelty of a trial course of *any* description was a big factor. Let's wait and see until the novelty wears off.

I agree however that it is a good challenge for local churches to lift their game in quality of lessons. At our school, we have had a popular atheist teacher from the school recommending his own kids go to our Scripture, as he is so happy with the quality of what he's seen.

3. Might. Might not.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Lots of jargon or theological mumbo jumbo.

For me this debate has plumetted into an angry Anglican church's reaction against a state breaking away (ever so lightly) from convention and Humanists limiting ethics to some kind of postmodern nihilistic sludge. Surely ther's more to morality than this?

Outside the Box