Educating primary school children about religion

Early in the next year the representatives of the local churches who conducted religious classes during school hours for the children of their faith pulled out of the arrangement. The school board met with them and we reached agreement that what the school ought to be doing is to educate the children about what it is like to be religious, and about religions, but not to indoctrinate them in any one faith. Any parent who wanted a Christian education might attend church with their children, and then take them to religious classes. This was not generally happening.

We conducted a formal survey of parents and, in spite of the large non-English-speaking population, obtained a response from a large majority. The response supported a broad-based educational programme. Over the Easter holiday I drafted an outline of a programme based on a three-fold categorisation of all religions. My parent colleagues on the board agreed with it, then the school board agreed with it in outline, and the school authority was reported to like it too.

I then consulted the South Australian school system, the local Protestant and Catholic teachers, and a senior academic in the Graduate Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University, before drawing up a detailed outline. The three parents worked on it and finally presented it to the board as a draft where it stayed without any conclusion, while the teachers were ostensibly examining it.

All that year there had been tensions at board level. It seemed to me that the new principal, and those teachers who saw the parent role as more quiescent, were trying to contain us by using the catch-cry of education being the responsibility of the professionals. Unfortunately, they were picking on the wrong team; we were the “A team.” The parallel was not too far off. Our programme was opposed allegedly because the teachers were fully occupied and could not fit in any more work.

They were, I was told, not willing to consider changing the current curriculum covering the so-called Social Studies, which could include anything to everything, in order to provide an underpinning for the suggested new religious educated programme. Whether the teachers wished to talk to us, we would not know. The bottom line was that a few of their ‘top dogs’ were not willing to accept a parent initiative. I was personally accused of denying the presentation of Christian teachings to a Christian community because of my “foreign faith” (I know who started that story).

At the last board meeting I threatened to inform the community in my end-of-year address in the school hall that the parents’ proposal for a broad-based religious education programme had been held up for half a year by the teachers for political reasons. The programme was then accepted as board policy. It may have then remained in the files thereafter, because the three of us had no reason to stand again.

I took the precaution of informing those attending the end-of-year community meeting (we usually filled the large hall) that the programme had been accepted by the board in principle; that, as a card-carrying Christian, I had no reason to delay my own initiative; and that the education of their children now lay in their own hands.

(These extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out’ identify a number of core issues in the education of children. One is the claim by some teachers that only they should decide what is being taught at school, in addition to the normal practice of the teachers deciding how the children are taught. This is like defence personnel claiming the right to decide which wars the country should join.

The second issue is whether parents in each school are capable of deciding the direction of educational objectives from a national and generational perspective; is this not the role of elected parliamentary representatives, and their professional advisers?

A third issue is why non-religious schools in a multicultural nation should support any single faith. Is this to counter a falling-off of attendance at church? Indoctrination instead of education?

Finally, I borrowed a framework for examining religions from a massive tome published by Sussex University, and which was supported by an eminent professor of sociology, a Christian.)