An interesting article in the smh, “Ethics classes hidden from parents, say supporters

 PROPOSED changes to the way parents are notified about the option of ethics classes in NSW schools have been criticised by supporters, who claim they are a deliberate attempt to stymie the classes’ take up.

A government-initiated inquiry into ethics classes was held this year following calls for their abolition by the Christian Democratic Party MP, Fred Nile, whose party shares the balance of power in the upper house.

It found the classes should be retained but recommended that parents should not be advised the classes are available until after they have decided to opt out of special religious education, or scripture.

The Greens MP John Kaye, who sat on the parliamentary committee that conducted the inquiry, said if adopted the change would result in ”artificial and illogical barriers” being thrown up between parents and ethics classes. ”Ethics education is to be treated as a second class option because the O’Farrell government needs the votes of Fred Nile’s Christian Democrats in the upper house,” he said.

David Hill, the spokesman for the group Parents 4 Ethics, which has supported the introduction of ethics classes into NSW schools, said the proposal was ”nonsense”. ”The committee in every other sense found that ethics should be treated like scripture,” Mr Hill said. ”They appear to have slipped in this discriminatory obstacle.”

Bruce Hogan, the chairman of Primary Ethics, which provides classes for schools, said it was unfair that the option of ethics would be ”hidden away” from some parents. ”Members of the school community are entitled to make informed choices, just as they have always been able to do whenever a new [special religious education] option becomes available within a school that is properly communicated to all parents,” he said.

I have some sympathy with their position, but only to a point. I’m sympathetic because, frankly, Fred Nile picks fights he simply doesn’t need to pick and this appears to be another one of those occasions. Presenting himself as a “Christian” legislator he makes Christians look petty and mean-spirited. Personally, I see no real problem with the open presentation of Primary Ethics as an option alongside SRE. It’s now legislated and it’s hardly as if parents don’t know it’s available.

But I’m unsympathetic because the assumptions lying behind the complaint is contrary to the argument made by of supporters of Primary Ethics during the campaign to have Primary Ethics introduced. At that time, in order to counter the suggestion by some supporters of Special Religious Education (SRE or “Scripture”) that there was an intent to somehow undermine SRE, they claimed that Ethics ought to be provided in order to give an option for those children whose parents had opted to not have them participate in SRE. How often did we hear the cry of,

Why should my child sit and do nothing?!

as a driving force to introduce the trial? It was unreasonable, we were told, that children who were not attending SRE should not have an alternative but, of course, they were not actually trying to replace SRE. So, for example,

Spokesman for parents4ethics, David Hill, says that the ethics trial has been an “outstanding and unqualified success, and it should be permanently added to the mix of learning offered at the time of Special Religious Education (SRE/Scripture), so that children “opting out” will having a meaningful alternative to pursue”.

“It is all about giving parents choice”.

The former ABC Managing Director, whose son Damian, 9, attends his local primary school, stresses that parents4ethics is not advocating for the removal of SRE classes, but is asking that the estimated 20-25% of children who don’t attend scripture on a weekly basis be allowed to learn something in this time slot, and ethics is the preferred option.

It won’t harm SRE numbers was another claim.

“What we are asking for will in no way alter what the children of faith are currently doing on a weekly basis, they will still attend their scripture classes.

And yet now the complaint is that Primary Ethics is being provided on exactly those terms. So make your mind up, supporters of Primary Ethics – either you were telling the truth when you ran your campaign, in which case why now complain, or it was just a lie to get the program in and as direct competition to SRE.

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4 comments on “Changing the Rules in the Playground – Are “Ethics” Classes being Stymied?

  1. David, like you, in the end, I think SRE providers should have nothing to fear from Ethics as an option in public schools and we should take our place in the competition of ideas on a genuinely level playing field.

    But interestingly at public schools where our children attend or where our church offers SRE, there have been repeated articles in the school newsletter trying to drum up interest for Ethics, getting parents to express interest in enrolling kids, in becoming volunteer teachers or coordinators for Ethics.

    There has never been any opportunity to promote SRE classes in the newsletter, and we have been refused when we have asked for a few minutes at orientation days for new parents to very briefly (i.e. just in 2-3 minutes) to explain what SRE offers.

    • similar thing here, Sandy. The school, it must be said, is very supportive of SRE but Ethics have been publicising their wares and asking for volunteers. As is often the case with secularists, the volunteerism just isn’t there.

  2. I tried to sign up for a training course for volunteers to teach ethics at our school, although I made clear that if I had time to volunteer my priority would always go to teaching SRE.

    In the course of my conversation it turned out that I was the only person in the entire school community to make any enquiry about doing the course!

    However, I would have had to commit to teaching ethics for 2 terms, so I said that although I was fully supportive of an ethics course, I couldn’t make such a commitment, since Scripture was something I considered a more important use of my time.

    I don’t see that shortage of volunteers improving any time soon.

    My prediction is that the push will now come to have teachers freed up to run these ethics classes. It won’t happen until Labor gets in again, which will be at least 2 or 3 terms, but it will happen.

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