To the Editor of Parents Voice
“I wish to congratulate Scott Hedges for his perceptive article on religious instruction inVictorian schools. (Parents Voice, issue 1, February 2011.) A historical perspective may be useful. Almost from the time (1872) when the Education Act with its secular clause was passed,there was agitation from the various churches for religious teaching in schools. Indeed therewas much opposition to the secular clause being included, as many believed that’godlessness’ would lead to all sorts of moral depravity.
There were groups such as the Bible in State School League, which wanted scriptures read before, during and after school hours.In the early years, religious instruction was confined to the first or last half hour of the school day once or twice a week, parents indicated consent or otherwise, secular instruction could not take place at the same time, children not participating had to stay outside and if it was raining the morning class had to be abandoned. *(Vision andRealisation).
In 1950, the Education (Religious Instruction) Act was passed, which allowed for more flexible timing. It is worthy of note that in 1947, the then Minister of Education, Colonel Wilfred Kent Hughes commented ‘thatafter more than seventy years of experience with secular education, the State system must be regarded toa certain extent responsible for a great deal of materialistic outlook in our community today.
‘In the mid 1970s the Russell Report recommended that religious education should be part of the school curriculum pand taught by classroom teachers. A further committee was established to assess this report and the then VictorianFederation of State School Parents’ Clubs was represented on this committee, as were VICSSO, teacher unionsand the Council for Christian Education in schools. It was a very contentious issue and hotly debated by committeemembers, and a legal opinion was sought which ruled that religion could not be taught by classroom teacherswithout repealing the secular clause of the Education Act.
in a democratic pluralist society,
if we are going to teach children about religion,
it must be part of cultural and social inquiry, not indoctrination
I went to school in the nineteen forties and fifties and even though I attended both Sunday School and Church at the time, nobody ever took Religious Instruction seriously. As Scott says, in a democratic pluralist society, if we are going to teach children about religion, it must be part of cultural and social inquiry, not indoctrination. If we aregoing to teach about religion it should be with the same rigour and scholarship as the rest of the curriculum. Our society is proud that we offer religious freedom to all. We believe in the separation of church and state.
The legislators of 1872 thought that secular was one of the three important planks on which to base State education. It still is, and it is about time those of us who value our government school system took it seriously.”
Heather Murray (Hon Secretary, VFSSMC, 1973-1980, Life Member of Parents Victoria Inc)*
(Note: Vision and Realisation is the history of the first 100 years of Victorian Government Education)
We appreciate Heather and other contributors taking time to give feedback and comment on this issue. Ed.