Here is a new article that features Cathy Byrne, the seemingly often misquoted scholar of religious education working in NSW.
The article positions Cathy as a full throated champion of the policy paved by Simon Longstaff in NSW to offer “Ethics” as an alternative to “Scripture” … what Cathy actually said in her testimony of the Nile Ethics probe was reported by FIRIS in full here, and it a little less clearly supportive.
To be fair, it is often hard to know exactly how to summarize Byrne’s position, as you can see from this snippet of her dialog with the ethics inquiry.
The whole thing is worth reading … if only because she really goes in loaded for bear, at one point calling for the committee to disband itself and start over with the correct terms of reference.
The Hon. SARAH MITCHELL: You said also on page 5 that some parents are confused because
they are not quite sure what is involved in either SRE or SEE, and other witnesses have raised the possibility of
having the curriculum or the syllabus for both classes released on a more public level so that parents can make a
more informed decision based on what is happening currently. Do you support that?
Ms BYRNE: As I mentioned, this is such an important area for children’s education that I do not think
volunteers should be running it and that the curriculum should be developed in an unprofessional manner by
interested third parties. I think any curriculum should be incorporated into a professionally developed and
delivered curriculum that covers both ethics and religion and, in deference to Professor Cam, philosophy as
well. This entire voluntary curriculum development, some of which in religious instruction comes directly out of
the evangelical churches in the United States of America into New South Wales public primary schools I think
is a sham.
The Hon. SARAH MITCHELL: In a sense you are not happy with the current curriculum provided in
ethics classes? Is that what you are saying?
Ms BYRNE: I did not say that. I would not support the current curriculum that is provided in some
SRE classes. As far as I am aware the current ethics course is a suitable thing, given the very limited nature of
the process for delivering an alternative.
The Hon. DAVID CLARKE: I see that you have a forthcoming article entitled “Compulsory free and
not secular: the failed idea in Australian education.” Keeping in mind our time limits, would you tell the
Committee what you believe is the failed idea in Australian education?
Ms BYRNE: The term “secular” describes a kind of governance in which the State and the church is
separate and in which the State controls the delivery mechanism. That has never really occurred in New South
Wales public schools in the area of religion. A general religious and ethics education is what is required by a
secular approach but that approach has never been taken and it is high time that it was. That is a short and sweet
summary of my article.
CHAIR: Do you have any recommendations that you wish to put to this inquiry?
Ms BYRNE: This inquiry should be immediately abolished and a new inquiry that explores the entire
access privilege should be begun immediately. In addition, a general religious and ethics education should be a
high priority for public schools and should be taken as probably the most important aspect of public education in
CHAIR: Do you think many educationalists share your viewpoint or are you a lone rider?
Ms BYRNE: I would say I have many allies. I think many of them are frightened. Some school
principals feel that they cannot change the system. Some schools feel that they are being manipulated into
continuing their support for RI. I know there are a lot of issues related to the provision of RI that make it
difficult for change but other countries, the most developed nations in the world, are delivering a combined nonsegregated
general religious and ethics—some call it belief and some call it philosophies—program from
kindergarten through to senior high school and they have been doing this for decades. I do not know why
Australia has its head in the sand and continues to support Christian privileging and segregated instruction on
ethics or religion.
The Hon. DAVID CLARKE: You said some people are frightened. Does that include academic
authorities who you believe are frightened and who do not wish to speak up in support of the general thesis that
you are putting?
Ms BYRNE: I am not aware of any academic who is frightened. I know that there are many minority
faith groups that feel they would like to support a general approach to religions and education but who feel that
their voice will be lost and that they have to play the game that is currently provided. I know definitely there are
many, parents, some teachers and some school principals who are fearful to let the information out that they