Published in the Courier Mail 23 Mar 05
C.S. LEWIS once famously asserted that “Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.” As the Queensland Government is currently undertaking a review of the Education (General Provisions) Act 1989, including a review of religious education in schools, we would do well to consider what type of education they are looking to fashion for our children.
The Peter Beattie Government has proposed that religious education be widened to include spiritual and philosophical programs, rather than just religious instruction. They suggest that this means state schools will reflect the “true make-up and nature of our diverse communities”.
Just why they are suggesting this and what extra philosophies our children are to be exposed to remains characteristically unclear.
A glance across the spiritual environment of our nation shows that while Australians may not be the most church-going group of people, we do have a God-consciousness.
Research indicates that between 74 per cent and 85 per cent of Australians believe in God. Furthermore, about 20 per cent of Australians attend church monthly and 33 per cent pray or meditate weekly.
We may all argue about what we think God is like, but the overwhelming majority of us believe that He exists.
The pluralistic approach of the existing religious education guidelines acknowledges this, and is consistent with our social framework. Many different religions are represented and unless you request exemption, your child is a part of the class.
The proposed guidelines would mean that much more than established religions could be served up to young and impressionable minds. There is no method of deciding which philosophies and what content are suitable to include.
Discussing the guidelines, the Faith Education and Formation group from the Catholic Diocese of Rockhampton says: “There is no criterion in this list that judges the content of the program offered. Malevolent belief systems are not precluded. Humanism might be just one of a list that could include groups representing philosophies such as communism, fascism, Satanism, nihilism, existentialism etc.”
IF THIS seems a bit far-fetched, and you don’t imagine the Communist Party of Australia ever being given classroom time, consider the recent official recognition of a Satanist in Britain’s Royal Navy. Unthinkable just a few years ago, Chris Cranmer, 24, can now perform satanic rituals on board his ship and have a satanic chaplain. Sometimes it is a short leap from far-fetched to commonplace.
The Queensland Humanist Society also would have class time to teach their philosophy. They believe that children should be free of religious or political indoctrination from their parents. While they promote indoctrination as something sinister, it simply means, “to instruct in a body of doctrine or principles”. Should our state schools really be giving classroom time to a philosophy that undermines the rights and responsibility of parents to instruct their children?
Our modern education system is largely afflicted by moral ambiguity and is often disproportionately influenced by a small cultural enclave that refuses us the right to discriminate — even to discriminate good from bad. G. M. Trevelyan, in the book English Social History, recognised this when he said “education . . . has produced a vast population able to read, but unable to distinguish what is worth reading”.
While the Queensland Government has given the impression in recent times that it is not too concerned with what the public thinks, we must still take this opportunity to determine what our state schools will look like in the future. Parents have the right to hold elected representatives accountable for how their children are educated.
Now is the time to distinguish what is worth teaching to our children, and what is not, or we will continue to see our state schools slide into uncertainty. If that happens, the current exodus of students and teachers from the state system may prove too difficult to arrest.