Despite the pleas from Jewish families to reform SRI, the Chairman of UJEB today chose to repeat the unsupportable claim that SRI to smaller religious groups is a critical cornerstone for a multicultural Victoria.
Read it and weep:
If you are Jewish or have Jewish friends you can ask to push back against this narrow view of the issue, please help the Jewish FIRIS parents and get active – UJEB’s position is that it must defend SRI, rather than expand the concept of “Jewish Education” to emphasize “language and culture” in a way that conforms to the “secular principle”. The mistake in this view is that learning Hebrew, Jewish History, Jewish traditions, are all things that parents can rightfully pursue in a government school, just as they might bring “French” immersion to a school – if that is what the council and local parent groups wanted.
Instructing children in “tenets and belief” of Jewish religion can easily be done in a “religious community” outside of the compulsory school day. The USA has approx the same number of Jews as Israel, and there isn’t a Jewish family among them who would demand that the local school make policy to provide time during the school to segregate their children in “single faith instruction”.
The same could be said of Canada, France and most other democracies where Jewish families are free to worship and enjoy strong protections and freedom under the protection of a secular state.
Jewish thinkers around the world would find UJEB’s position demanding a policy that segregates children according to their families religious identities – baffling.
The claim that SRI is the “corner stone of multicultural Victoria”, is strongly rejected by evidence and research, and given that no other country which benefits from the strong cultural contributions of the Jewish people (Jews comprise less that 2% of the US population, but people of Jewish heritage but have won 36% of the Nobel prizes awarded to citizens of that country!) – given the evidence, and data from other countries where Jewish culture finds vibrant acceptance, it is hard to see what if any benefit actually accrues from SRI to the Jewish community. How have Jewish families in the USA managed to keep their Jewish identity without SRI? It is not a hard question to answer?
Jackson, R. (2004) Rethinking Religious Education and Plurality: Issues in Diversity and Pedagogy (London, RoutledgeFalmer), found that the policy advocated by FIRIS increases tolerance for cultural differences and more secure and cohesive societies. Research shows that ‘children with education about different world views tend to be more tolerant and show more respect for different opinions’, that ‘children want peaceful coexistence’ and ‘want to know about each other’s religions and worldviews’ and that children ‘see the classroom as a rare potential ‘safe space’ for dialogue’ (Jackson 2011).
The world’s most highly respected scholars of religion, (for example, Professor Stephen Prothero of Boston University) support the FIRIS position. Even one of the world’s most vocal atheists supports FIRIS’s stated position to educate for religious literacy (Dawkins 2012).
In Australia, recent studies have highlighted the need for a more inclusive model of religions education (Cahill, Bouma, Dellal, & Leahy, 2004; Erebus International, 2006; Bouma, Pickering, Halafoff & Dellal, 2007; Byrne 2007, 2009; Bouma and Halafoff 2009; Lentini, Halafoff and Ogru, 2009) and the benefits to student and teacher wellbeing that can be derived from constructively addressing issues of religious and philosophical differences through the school curriculum (Lovat et al., 2010).
The 2008 Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians made a clear commitment ‘to nurture an appreciation of and respect for religious diversity’. FIRIS thinks it is time public education clearly stepped up to that commitment.
Unfortunately, in many Australian public schools, students are participating in an out-dated model of segregated, unaccountable and unprofessional religious instruction, which presents them with a singular, and in many cases, an exclusivist faith perspective. This unenlightened model is at odds with Australia’s commitment to developing a socially inclusive society.
Still worse – organizations such as UJEB, rather than working toward a better model are defending a system that was never created to support inclusion or educated non Jews about Jews.
Please write to UJEB and register your dissent from this short term and outdated thinking.