Let’s Put It Another Way

10 April 2009

Well I certainly woke you all up talking about the teaching of religion in schools.  But I apparently didn’t state my views very clearly as there seems to be a bit of confusion about what I was actually saying.

So let’s start again:

1.     I believe that all children should be taught about religion – as many religions as possible – their history and culture.

2.    They should be taught ABOUT religion – not taught to BE religious.  That is not the place of schools in society.  Religious faith is being taught in churches, mosques, temples and family homes across the country and that’s where it should stay.

3.    They should be taught ABOUT religion by properly qualified professionals, ie teachers (that’s what they’re there for).    Not by amateurs, however well-intentioned, who have a particular story to sell. 

4.    Any teacher who can’t teach a subject without personal prejudices affecting their classes shouldn’t be teaching.

5.    There ARE other subjects on which people are passionate but we don’t insist that because we’re, for instance, socialists that politics classes can only be taught by paid-up members of the Labor party.  In history classes covering the Second World War, do we insist that a member of the Nazi party be brought in so that the children don’t get a lop-sided view?  We rely on qualified, experienced teachers to give our children the facts, from all angles.

6.    As has been discussed many times in the Sydney Morning Herald, it is actually ILLEGAL  in NSW to offer children alternative classes if they’re excluded from the religious classes on offer, though I believe some schools do it.  So, for instance, if you don’t want your child to attend the Christianity classes that are the only ones available to the children in that school, you can’t ask the school to provide alternative religious education to those excluded children.  All the children can do while this lesson is taking place is play, or do private study/homework.

7.    I HAVE  been on both sides of the fence here.  I converted to atheism (from Christianity) when I was in my 20’s – the road to Damascus isn’t a one-way street.  I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover (and have a certificate to prove it!)   Like most converts, I’m probably more vehement about my beliefs than those brought up in that culture. I do feel very strongly that atheists should be accorded the same respect that we’re constantly being told to give to those with religious beliefs. 

8    I don’t think that my beliefs are more valid than others, although I obviously believe they’re right, otherwise I’d change them. 



  1. When my children were at primary school, I asked that I be allowed to give them comparative religion classes while the rest of the school went to scripture. BIG NO! Because I wasn’t a trained teacher, I couldn’t teach my children about all religions, but other equally unqualified teachers could happily indoctrinate them into a particular religious point of view. They spent their scripture classes in the library. I agree with everything you’ve said (I haven’t read the bible right through though – and I don’t have a certificate to prove it ;D )

  2. Great post, Sally – as was your previous one on this subject. Like you, I converted to atheism (not agnosticism) in my 20s. However, as my ex-husband (similarly atheist) did his anthropology PhD and some subsequent work on the link between power and religion, I’ve attended many and varied religious services – most of which I find fascinating as an observer. My kids meandered their way through religious instruction periods in state schools, mostly pleased that they didn’t have to attend, but occasionally attending classes to accompany friends. I am philosophically opposed to any teaching of religion in state schools, but in practice I never found it worth bothering about.

  3. I will start by pointing put that Emily does attend a Catholic High School. As part of the enrolment requirement at a Catholic School, all of the students are required to undertake at least 1 unit of religious studies for their HSC. I personally have no problem with that. Emily has chosen to study “1 Unit Studies of Religion I”. However, I was pleased to see that they weren’t just studying Catholicism. She’s only been doing it for one term so far, but they’ve been studying “The Nature of Religion” and the current topic is “Aboriginal Spiritualism”. They went to the Buddhist Temple a few weeks back and learned a little bit about Buddhism (a lot more to come later, I believe), which Emily expressed a great deal if interest in. I just asked her about it, and she thinks the different religious beliefs are being presented in a fair and balanced way.

  4. And a great deal depends on the quality of the Scripture teacher.

    Back in the early 1950’s our local Presbyterian minister took the Scripture classes at the local primary schools. A highly educated Scot, with the wickedest twinkle, and the kindliest heart for children.

    Except in the lead up to the Church festivals, there was actually very little ‘religion’ in his classes, instead ethics, current affairs, discussion. Sometimes he would come with a topic ready, sometimes he would trigger off a free ranging conference. No opinion was ever ridiculed, but the giver of the opinion was alway encouraged to think all the way around the question.

    When I got to High School and encountered the ‘normal’ condescending religiosity of the normal scripture class I suddenly understood why most children hated scripture class, and I am forever grateful to Dr Thom. But I still turned out atheist.

    Gae, in Callala Bay

  5. Deborah at In a Strange Land has been talking about this too. She is a kiwi living in Sth Australia, and her children were sent round to pick up rubbish from the playground after she asked that they not be included in the RE classes.

  6. Oh yes, the age-old choice between religious instruction or emu-bobbin’.

    Which, of course is why most of us put up with scripture class – which is where we learned to look reasonably alert and interested, while happily daydreaming.

    Gae, in Callala Bay

  7. Sometimes people say, “You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian”. I think the other way round – you don’t necessarily have to be a Christian to go to church. I think our old English churches are sometimes very beautiful and I like the idea of sitting where thousands of others have for hundreds of years. And they’re peaceful places to go for respite from the hurly burly.

  8. Hi Sally,

    Could you provide reasons for your point 2. You’ve clearly expalined what your point is but I’m just wondering what your reasons/justification for saying that are?

    Also, regarding point 6, just to point it out from the other angle. Prior to 1990, SRE could be taught in competition with another subject. I was only in Kindergarten then, but I remember the Catholic kids leaving for 30 minutes in the middle of one lesson and then on another day, the C of E (why they never call that class Anglican or Protestant or something I’ll never know) kids would go out (including me) for 30 minutes. Now it was Kindergarten, so I can’t imagine it really mattered much then but it must have been really disruptive for the teacher that kids kept leaving and I can imagine if it kept going it would have been really disruptive for my education longer term to miss 3 days of school each year (on average) because of it. I think the fact that it isn’t in competition with normal classes is actually beneficial.

  9. Anna, Sally doesn’t have to explain to anyone, This is her blog, and she can say what she likes. If you don’t like what she says, you can stop reading. That’s how blogs work.

  10. Hi M-H,

    I wasn’t meaning to be antagonistic towards Sally (and I apologise if I was). I was more just wondering what her reasons were for that. It is very true that she doesn’t have to reply as its her blog and she can choose to write or not write about what she chooses. However, I would be interested to hear what her reasons are.


  11. Frankly, Anna, Sally has explained her reasons many times over. You are the only person commenting here who doesn’t seem to ‘get’ that Sally’s reasons are her own and should be respected, not dissected.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: