One is tempted to say, “Diddums.”

Now that pupils have an alternative to scripture classes, half of of them are choosing the alternative.

Scripture classes lose half of students to ethics, say Anglicans

Some schools in New South Wales are part of a trial in which students who opt out of Special Religious Education can elect to attend ethics classes instead. The ethics classes are taught using a curriculum put together by the St James Ethics Centre, which despite its name, is a secular institution, and the ethics curriculum is secular too.

Oh noes, say the Anglicans. How tewwible.

Instead of drawing the obvious inference, that people are not interested in compulsory Christianity, the various Anglican bishops in New South Wales would prefer to have a captive audience for their beliefs. Far better to make children who opt out of scripture classes sit twiddling their thumbs, being bored senseless because they have nothing to do, than to offer them an interesting alternative.

Think about it this way, Archbishop Peter Jenson. Do you really want children to choose Christianity out of boredom?

Then there’s the claim that, ”If we lose religious education, we risk losing true, fundamental ‘ethics’ that have underpinned Australia’s moral framework for hundreds of years.” That’s the line being touted by Special Religious Education on Trial. Hundreds of years? I suppose if you work from the date of the First Fleet’s arrival in Australia, January 26 1788, then you could make the “hundreds of years” claim work – it is, after all, two hundred and twenty two years, and about four months. But it’s hardly a tradition stretching back to time immemorial, and in any case, nothing says that tradition is sacred.

Here are the scripts that are playing on the Special Religious Education on Trial site.

Scripture is the only chance some kids have to hear about the love of Jesus.

Scripture is something that I love going to and I look forward to it every week. When I come to scripture I feel like I’m special and I’m loved more and more every day.

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount remains the most succinct and positive ethical lesson yet delivered; and so I am deeply saddened that people can’t see the merit in teaching Bible based ethics.

Scripture is so important! It’s life-changing and effects eternity! One child coming to Christ in Scripture class can affect others for generations to come for God’s Kingdom.

Children are so easily influenced and we want to influence them for good! We need to protect the space of SRE in state schools so that children can know God. Please don’t deprive our next generation of much needed scripture.

Shorter Special Religious Education on Trial: The only way we can convince people to join our cult is to get them while they’re young.

Apparently, teaching children to think, teaching them to examine their beliefs, to work out what is right and what is wrong, without reference to fairy stories, undercuts religious belief.

At its core, the curriculum is founded on the works of secular humanist philosophers. While not overtly expressed as ‘secular humanism’, it is the basis of what is taught: a teaching built on the specific philosophy that is anti-God and therefore anti-Jesus Christ.

Well… yes! Of course it undermines belief in some almighty law-giver. Standard ethics courses get people to think for themselves, to work through what claims are plausible and what are not, to test claims against evidence and reason. There is no space in ethical thinking for relying on some external lawgiver to pronounce from on high.

Of course, this is why teaching ethics in schools is so dangerous. It encourages children to think for themselves. And clearly, the Anglican bishops and Special Religious Education on Trial think that this is a bad thing.

I’m very happy for children to be taught about religion in schools. I really don’t even mind if at times, schools create space so that children who have particular religious beliefs can have instruction in those beliefs. But I mind very much indeed if some group claims that it has the right to impose its beliefs on children. And that it is precisely what the bishops and their cohorts are trying to do.

Update: Mim has some inside information about the ethics classes – A few words from an Ethics trial class student.

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18 responses to “One is tempted to say, “Diddums.”

  1. What did they expect? I’m tossing up between diddums and sniggering. I may do both.

  2. Love the headline! I just wish we had the course at my boys’ school. Unfortunately the relevant P&C meeting was stacked with the congregation of the local church, unable to understand why we didn’t think it was acceptable that they got to dictate what our children (not theirs) learned during religious education.

  3. What I actually said when I read the article was “Well, derrrrr!”

  4. Our school starts at more than 50% in thumb twiddling class, even without the ethics option. This policy is so far past its use-by date it’s farcical.

  5. When I started High School (in 1957!) it was not a choice between Scripture and thumb-twiddling, it was a choice between Scripture and Emu-bobbin’.
    And we were ‘blessed’ with a particularly self-righteous, sanctimonious, condescending bigot. Which meant I at least got some entertainment.
    Gae, in Callala Bay

  6. It’s great that people should be getting other options. I’m an atheist, though I don’t care if my kids went go to scripture (i’ve always found the bible fascinating).

    But I have some doubts over these ethics classes. I don’t really like the idea of the board of education and the government teaching young children directly about ethics – that’s the parent’s job.

    also, ethics will then fall into whatever the most fashionable version of it is. I am an omnivore – do I want my kids being potentially taught that meat and milk is evil should the greenies have a say in the curriculum?

  7. @goldnsilver The ethics classes aren’t being taught by the board of education or the government, they’re being taught by volunteers, who are trained and organised by the St James Ethics Centre, in an arrangement not unlike that which exists for churches to provide scripture teachers.

    Also there will still be the option to not attend either SRE or Ethics classes.

  8. I like the idea of ethics classes, provided their purpose is to make you think for yourself, rather than to learn dogma. Cos then you may as well go to religious instruction.

  9. @violet Yep, that’s very much the focus of the course that’s being trialed at the moment.

  10. @mimbles

    Thanks for letting me know some more information and correcting me. I’ll have to do some research on St James Ethics Centre.

  11. I can see why you’re concerned, goldnsilver. Ethics badly taught would be no better than Special Religion classes. My hope is that the children who opt in will be taught to analyse ethical claims, and to realise that if they make an ethical commitment in one context, then they might be required to make the same ethical commitment in other contexts.

    As for ‘green’ thinking – I think there’s good moral reason not to eat meat (even though I do), but a lot of ‘green’ thinking annoys me. Often it seems to be about small cute furry creatures, rather than a hard edged analysis of whether such creatures matter, and in what context, and whether the needs of small cute furry creatures outweigh the needs of human beings.

  12. Lynsey James March

    Children need to choose Christianity not out of boredom, I completely agree with that comment.

  13. a lot of ‘green’ thinking annoys me. Often it seems to be about small cute furry creatures, rather than a hard edged analysis of whether such creatures matter, and in what context, and whether the needs of small cute furry creatures outweigh the needs of human beings.

    Cites? I know this is a trope much loved by the pro-development lobby, but the VNPA etc just love their grasslands and fungi and bogs.

  14. OK back on topic – I liked this Spinoza quote which was next to the blogroll on Hoyden

    a lot of ‘green’ thinking annoys me. Often it seems to be about small cute furry creatures, rather than a hard edged analysis of whether such creatures matter, and in what context, and whether the needs of small cute furry creatures outweigh the needs of human beings.

  15. Hahaha! That was funny! Sorry Deborah you can see what I did there. Thought I had the Spinoza quote on the clipboard when of course I’d replaced it with the other quote.
    Should have read…
    “Philosophy has no end in view save truth; faith looks for nothing but obedience and piety.”
    Spinoza’s thoughts on cute furry animals are not known to me.

  16. Amen. Couldn’t agree more. I loathed religious education when I was at school but then I went to a very strict Anglican school so it wouldn’t make sense for them NOT to have R.E. – thankfully I was expelled for smoking and no other private school would take me so for the last three years of school I didn’t have R.E. Yay for public schools!

  17. Definitely snigger. And diddums. I grew up in NSW. My mother is now an Anglican priest. Not, obviously, in Sydney! She was so horrified by the effect that “Scripture” classes had on me as a child she refused to let me go. Probably just as well, given how much trouble an educated, opinioned young women can be in such circumstances. As a result I think I retained both my dignity as well as the ability to critically examine the basis of religious beliefs.
    It’s the narrow mindedness of it all that is so disturbing – especially in a State institution.