Catherine Byrne* examines the situation around Special Religious Education in NSW. “Scripture” volunteers are armed with booklets Anglican Youthworks Christian Education Publications produce for this purpose. A visit to the site informs us;

“Connect is CEP’s Christian Religious Education resource for Infants, Lower Primary, and Upper Primary students. Based on a three year cycle, Connect teaches students the key components and themes of the Bible and Christian belief while encouraging them to apply the learning to their own lives.”

Developments across the nation suggest problems continue to arise from what seems to be a funneling of childrens awe and wonder into a constricted creed and archaic notions. Notions we’ve taken centuries to break away from. Perhaps most disturbing is that Christianity itself – once so capable of separating the wheat from the whacky – now appears to be a brand name that motivates devotees to greater and greater heights of intellectual dishonesty.

An excellent opportunity for relevant education exists here, but is simply not being met.

Why tolerate racism, discrimination and segregation in schools?

By Catherine Byrne © ABC Religion and Ethics, April 12th, 2011:

Many Australian parents would be shocked at what happens in some public school Special Religious Education (SRE) or “Scripture” classes.

In a culture that expounds the benefits of diverse, values-based education, children are being told that “God gets angry at men who marry foreign women,” that foreign nations have “disgusting customs” and that worshipping “fake gods” – that is, gods other than “the God of Israel” is a sin worse than “both adultery and murder.”

Connect: Connecting children with Christ is a series of booklets produced for “Scripture” volunteers by Anglican Youthworks’ Christian Education Publications and in turn presented to NSW primary students. But Connect lessons exhibit a disturbing underlying racism.

For instance, one lesson recounts the Old Testament story in which King Ahab marries an “evil, foreign woman,” Jezebel. As a consequence of allowing her freedom to worship what God she wills, Ahab is brutally killed. During one particular class in which this lesson was delivered, the instructor asked a South Asian girl to role-play Jezebel.

In another instance, children were given handouts containing gory details from the biblical story, that “prostitutes washed themselves in the murdered [Ahab’s] blood … and dogs licked [it] off the ground.”

Surely there is no question that this material is inappropriate for 9 and 10 year olds. Nonetheless, Kenton Webb, a representative of Anglican Youthworks, has said, “Whether you like it or not, whether it’s brutal or not, it’s in the Bible.”

The sad fact is that “Scripture” lessons containing racist and homophobic sentiments, overt proselytising and the truly bizarre are delivered in many schools. I know this because parents, teachers and principals who are desperate to change the status quo tell me. Some have even sent me copies of complaints they have lodged with the Education Departments of various states.

Parents tell me that they often feel unable to express their concern, because they don’t want to risk their relationship with the school. The schools in turn don’t want to express their concern because doing so could jeopardise the donations of money and equipment they receive from local churches.

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* – Cathy Byrne is a PhD scholar at Macquarie University’s Centre for Research on Social Inclusion, where her research focuses on religious instruction in Australian public primary schools. [Source – ABC Religion and Ethics]