Being involved, even at arm’s length, with the schools of one’s children is challenging. We would not encroach upon the professional role of teachers. Then, to modify what is taught would be a systemic matter; a central educational authority would need to be involved. Therefore, what would be the responsibilities of a parent-involved school Board? Were we only advisory? Did we have right to govern; if so, in what areas? What if the parents on the Board, representing the needs of our community, had a concern about the way some of our children were being educated? What if some new educational fad was being adopted without any community consultation? Did the community have a right to be consulted? Well, we were now free to ask, without being considered anxious or difficult.
The foundation school boards in the national capital of Australia attracted high-quality parent involvement. Canberra, set in a desert, was nevertheless well-endowed. It was primarily a public service (head offices) and university city, supported by necessary private sector services. Senior lecturers, colonels, and public sector directors made a great contribution, including dampening unrealistic community expectations of what is achievable. Many of us had management and/or policy experience.
The Board at my school was successful, because the parents on it made a substantial contribution in our own right. (We were not a glee club, as developed some years later.) We re-wrote the school’s manifesto, extolling our educational objectives, using the knowledge of the 2 qualified psychologists on board (one of whom was a practising Quaker); the third parent, an accountant, helped with budgeting. We also wrote the outline of a program to educate our children about religion. Lesson 7 – lead when given the opportunity.
When I was the chairman of a primary school board, the priests representing the Christian churches which held religious classes at the school collectively withdrew their services. Bluntly, they told the Board that they preferred the parents to bring their children to church. Some of the parents and teachers objected to this decision. At a Parents & Citizens meeting, they argued that the priests must return, since Australia, as they said, is a Christian country. It was apparently their right to have their children exposed to the teachings of Christianity at a State school in a secular nation. Of course, Australia is a country of great expectations; ‘they must provide’ is part of our ethos.
Not in this case. A survey of our (multi-ethnic) parents endorsed the suggestion by the Board that we teach our children about religion, but not to uphold any single faith or sect; that is, to educate. Unlike, say, comparative religion in a high school curriculum, our school would discuss such broad matters as what is religion; how did it arise; why people are inclined to be religious; and so on.
After consulting appropriate academic and church authorities involved in education and religious studies, I drew up an outline of a possible approach. This was based on a framework published by Sussex University of the UK. To my delight, our Schools Authority liked the outline. The parent members of the Board then expanded it and had the teachers finally accept it. The community of parents were so informed. Yet, nothing came of it, reflecting a certain resistance by the teachers. To what? By then, the parents on the Board had gone, as our offspring had moved on.
When I set out this borrowed framework for the way one could look at religions in my first book Destiny Will Out (which will be re-published soon), it passed muster by the eminent reviewers of the book, some of whom had the necessary competence.