From the Melbourne Grammar School, Chaplain, Ron Noone
Number 12 — 12 May 2011
Special Religious Instruction
There is a debate currently going on about the teaching of religion in state schools. By law, religious organisations can go into state primary schools for an hour a week. Parents have the right to ‗opt out‘ their child if they wish. Christian volunteers, under the direction of a group called Access Ministries, do the majority of the teaching. This organisation has come under fire for some of its material and teachers, parents and politicians have called for a review of the program that receives large amounts of money from the government.
The situation was highlighted last week when a comic produced by Access Ministries was used in classes which depicted bullying, an uncaring teacher and a very simplistic theology. Naturally, teachers were deeply offended and so were many of us who don‘t share a simplistic view of God. The problem begins at the basic philosophy of education. Serious Religious Educators have recognised that the context for religious ‖instruction‖ is the church and not school classrooms. The classroom is a place for reasoned, open and honest debate about religious ideas and an examination of how the spiritual dimension can affect human existence. The state school classroom is not the place for conversion or proselytising, and while Access Ministries would claim that‘s not what they do, I‘m afraid that is their default position and, when challenged, they will revert to that stance.
Ironically, Church schools have more of a brief to instruct‘ students in the faith considering they were founded and established by churches. However, these are the schools that have kept abreast of the changes and directions in the field of Religious Education and are more likely to take the enlightened approach to the subject. At MGS Philosophy and Religious Studies is taught as a serious academic discipline that includes world religions, ethics, philosophy, spirituality and the importance of sacred texts. Naturally, we have very qualified teachers who all share a similar worldview and keep up to date with contemporary approaches. The review of the current arrangements for Special Religious Instruction is necessary as the good will and the kind hearts of the volunteers who visit state schools may not be enough. Improved curriculum materials and better trained teachers is the only way forward.