Friday, August 21, 2015

The end of SRE? Good.

The news this morning is alive with the announcement that the Victorian Government will scrap Special Religious Instruction / Education in class time in Victorian public schools. If SRE is offered, it will be available in lunchtimes or before / after school. 

My reaction to this announcement? I agree with it completely and think it's long overdue.

I also give serious respect to Premier Andrews, himself a devout Catholic , for once again demonstrating that unlike our Prime Minister, he understands the principle of the separation of church and state, and really does seem committed to governing for all Victorians, not just the ones like him. (I'm reminded of his remarks during the passage of the Abortion Reform Act in 2008, when he was the Minister for Health: upon being advised by the church that the reforms were antithetical to Catholic teaching, he replied that he was going to act as the Victorian health minister, not the Catholic Church health minister).

My views on this issue are straightforward. Public schools are secular and should be places that are inclusive of all children from any (and no) faith tradition. I have always thought it was dubious and unfair that Special Religious Education equals "a particular kind of Christian education". The idea that this is equivalent to "values / ethics education" (which I support) is insulting, reinforcing the notion that all good values in the world derive from a particular brand of muscular Protestant Christianity. (Hint: They don't.)

If parents want their children to have religious instruction in a particular faith tradition, they are free to attend to this out of school time, or indeed by choosing a religious school. If you choose to send your child to a Catholic school, or an Islamic school, then I feel it is not reasonable to then complain that they are being taught the doctrines of that faith as part of their education. If you don't make that choice, if you choose a public or independent-non-religious school, then you should be able to do so in the knowledge that your child will not be either subjected to particular religious dogma or excluded from an activity in which their peers take part - and lose valuable class time as a result.

One of the attractions for us of our kids' primary school was the fact that no SRE has been on offer there - it promotes a much less divisive spirit within the diverse school population, which has a sizeable Muslim component. Our children are baptised into the Uniting Church and we discuss our own beliefs regularly with them, but this does not mean that I think our beliefs are (or should be) universal or raised above the beliefs of others. As a UC person myself, I find much of the teachings that Access Ministries has promoted in SRE to be risible, and I wouldn't have wanted my young children to take part.

So I think replacing SRE in public schools with ethics and world history / history of religions education, which is inclusive of everyone and (hopefully) not doctrinaire in any direction, is a brilliant idea. Another good move from what is shaping up to be an extremely solid and competent Victorian Labor government.

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