There’s a quiet war being waged in NSW schools. SRE (regligious education) classes are offered to children. If parents choose to opt out of these classes, government policy says the children must not be taught anything else and instead spend that time in idle activities. Concerned about this, parent groups approached the St James Centre for Ethics about developing a course as a viable alternative. SRE has traditionally been seen as providing a moral foundation for children. This is why these parents suggested ethics classes – to give their children a secular alternative.
Of course, church groups immediately opposed any alternative being provided – apparantly, they would rather have the children sitting there twiddling their thumbs. They’ve waged a war against all forms of secular ethics for years. Even so, a highly successful pilot program has been running in 10 schools, due to finish at the end of June – but now, with the Catholic church on board, the arguments against an ethics class alternative have taken a different turn.
Now relgious groups are saying that all children should have ethics classes – they don’t want children attending SRE to miss out on ethics. Apparantly, the irony of this statement is completely lost on them. Of course, the real point here is that separate ethics classes for all children means there is still no competition to the SRE classes.
And it’s the competition that’s the real issue here. According to the ‘Save our Scripture’ website, competition against SRE classes must be prevented at all costs. Why? Tradition. Because SRE has been offered in schools for more than a century and there’s no reason to change it.
Except that there is a reason: people want something else now – evidenced by the groups that are driving the ethics classes. And the world today is very different to that of a century ago. For a start, the number of people in Australia who profess a belief in a god, or who attend church is a mere fraction of what it was. People are no longer looking just towards religion to provide moral guidance – and that’s a good thing. No single church (or person, for that matter) has a monopoly on morality.
But I have another question. If it’s so important for children to have SRE classes – why can’t they do that at church, were such things belong? Isn’t that what churches are for?
I do agree about one thing – all children need to be taught ethics. In SRE classes, morality comes from relgious texts written centuries ago, and, in many cases, horribly outdated. In some cases, it’s just wrong entirely.
So here’s my suggestion. Get rid of the SRE classes altogether, and just teach ethics and critical thinking. Kids will learn to trust their own sense of right and wrong – but best of all, they’ll learn the technique of evaluation, rather than just the set of immutable rules they should live by, unquestioning.
There could be a very strong case made that SRE education is hopelessly outdated and unnecessary in this day and age. I suspect this is what the churches really fear. They’ll fight very hard to win this war.