WHEN I was a girl, my family went to church every Sunday and sometimes, as a teen getting into the social scene at its “youth group”, I went twice.

READ THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE HERE (28 February 2014 by Wendy Tuohy)

Sunday school and church were pillars of the weekly routine and my adored father is still an active Christian and long-term servant of his local church.

Our local vicar is a delightful man who seems an open-minded humanist, a living example of the values I hope I came away with after almost two decades of participation in our local church community. I have nothing but respect for the beliefs Dad holds dear — his goodness lights up our lives.

Even so, I believe there is no place for religious instruction — as distinct from religious education — in our state school system. It no more deserves to be there than instruction in how to achieve the “psychic”, angel-speaking skills of Real Housewife Jackie Gillies or how to master doing your own vaccinations with homoeopathy.

Public schools are not arms of any faith and, while I would love my children to get a factual grounding in the beliefs and practices of the world’s main religions (which Special Religious Instruction, or SRI, isn’t), I believe if a family want a child to be dosed with religious dogma, they should arrange for that themselves.

The issue of routine religion classes in our schools is on the agenda again as Education Minister Martin Dixon prepares a ministerial directive to clarify the rights and responsibilities of schools. As it stands, they are bound to schedule SRI when accredited and approved instructors are available.

And as many principals resist that, the main provider of the classes, Access Ministries, has reportedly emailed schools asking them to “adhere to the legislation”.

It feels like a struggle for the minds and souls of kids who go to school to learn, expand their minds through creative arts and maintain their fitness and connection through sport, not be taught about miracles, resurrections and angels.

Whatever your take on religion, it is hard to argue with principals such as Cranbourne South Primary’s Joe Kelly, who has pointed out the obvious: religious instruction should not be confused with core, factual “education”.

He asked Access Ministries to stay away after examining the material its volunteers were using: “It is not education … it is hollow and empty rhetoric. My schoolteachers are committed to teaching children, not indoctrinating them.”

Mr Kelly said on radio that, like me, he has no problem with qualified teachers providing information about religions, but objects to volunteers with “maybe up to six hours of training coming in and instructing pupils in the dogma of religion”.

He is not alone. Education Department figures show that since 2011, the number of Victorian schools using Access Ministries has dropped from 940 in 2011 to 666 last year. That is a good thing, because even putting aside the question of the appropriateness of Bible teaching in schools, the quality of what is being dished up has been seriously questioned.

A Monash University lecturer in curriculum, David Zyngier, says of the Access material: “It is low-order, unintelligent, busy work … It horrified me. There’s nothing educational about it. It’s all about becoming a disciple of Jesus.”

The son of a friend reported his SRI teacher had the class take a deep breath then say “Jesus Loves Me” as many times as they could.

A parent wrote last week of how her child said dinosaurs had never existed and God had put their footprints on the Earth. Such rubbish contradicts anything resembling quality, state-sponsored education.

Worse, it emerged this week Access Ministries-distributed “Biblezines” given to Torquay College students as a graduation gift suggested that if a girl wore boob tubes or went braless, she was inviting sexual assault and that condoms condone promiscuity. That is a disgrace.

As Martin Dixon writes his directive, I hope he acknowledges that the place for faith is in churches, not government classrooms.

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