In the face of the threat of falling attendance figures for Special Religious Education (SRE aka ‘scripture’) and opposition from peak bodies representing professional educators in NSW, the scripture lobby are desperately trying to market their damaged and out-of-date product in 21st Century multi-cultural and multi-belief NSW society.
With the marketing campaign for SRE have come misleading and dubious statements in all forms of media. In many cases, FIRIS ignores them as indications of the desperation of SRE apologists and lobbyists.
However, every now and then an article is published or statements are made which are so easily seen as gross misrepresentations of the facts that FIRIS has to respond. One classic example is the SRE lobby’s proclamation of their respect for ‘choice’.
More recent examples are articles in the Catholic Weekly and J-Wire (the digital Jewish news daily for Australia and New Zealand). These articles were written in response to the announcement by the NSW Teachers Federation of their new policy position regarding the removal of SRE from NSW public schools.
In the article ‘Religion classes under fire’ the following statements were made to justify SRE –
However, the NSW government’s Independent Review of SRE, from which recommendations were released in 2017, found SRE contributed to students’ wellbeing and was “an important part of the rich tapestry of contemporary Australian life.”
The Review stated that SRE provided, “an effective values education that empowers student decision making, fosters student action and assigns real student responsibility.”
It also found SRE strengthened the “multicultural fabric” of Australian schools, provided “important psychological benefits to students’ health and wellbeing,” and created “safe places for students to explore deeper questions of identity.” [emphasis added]
The only ‘NSW government Independent Review of SRE’ conducted in the last 39 years was carried out by ARTD Consultants in 2015. The final report was given to the Department in March 2016 but was not released to the public until April 2017.
Therefore, when the author was unable to locate any of the statements in bold above in this report, he wrote to the Catholic Weekly and asked for the references. The Catholic Weekly responded –
…thanks for pointing out this error. The study quoted was actually the Study of Special Religious Education and its Value to Contemporary Society co-authored by Associate Professor Zehavit Gross at Bar-Ilan University in Israel and Sydney University’s Professor Emerita, Suzanne Rutland. It was presented to the NSW Premier at the Parliamentary Celebration of SRE in 2018. The article has been amended. We apologise for the error.
The article was then amended to read –
However, a study of SRE released at the 2018 Parliamentary Celebration of SRE, found that SRE contributed to students’ wellbeing and was “an important part of the rich tapestry of contemporary Australian life.”
The Study of SRE and its Value to Contemporary Society was co-authored by Associate Professor Zehavit Gross at Bar-Ilan University in Israel and Sydney University’s Professor Emerita, Suzanne Rutland.
The review stated that SRE provided, “an effective values education that empowers student decision making, fosters student action and assigns real student responsibility.”
There is a huge difference between this ‘study’ and the review commissioned by the Department. Therefore, to mistake the two may be seen by a reasonable member of the NSW public as pretty sloppy journalism.
Whatever, the case may be, it seems that getting their facts straight is a hard thing to do for SRE apologists and those with vested interests.
In a second article published by the Catholic Weekly, ‘Bishop slams Teachers Federation‘, Bishop Brian Mascord of Wollongong “questioned why the Federation sought to have the classes removed despite the many benefits for students, which have been affirmed by the NSW government’s independent review…” In both the Catholic Weekly article and J-Wire’s article ‘Bishop joins push to retain religious education in NSW schools‘, the Bishop is reported as stating –
“It is difficult to comprehend why the federation would wish to jettison the positive developmental, educational and cultural impacts that SRE has on young people—a view that was confirmed by the NSW Government’s Independent Review of SRE released in 2017.”
However, as in the case of the first article discussed above, FIRIS is not sure what other ‘NSW Government’s Independent Review of SRE released in 2017′ the Bishop could be referring to. It could not be the 2015 Review of SRE and SEE conducted by ARTD Consultants because an investigation into the benefits of SRE and SEE was not within the scope of the Terms of Reference.
Even when the reviewers went outside the Terms of Reference and included sections on the perceived benefits of SRE and SEE, these benefits were not the conclusions of the reviewers, but were rather ‘the benefits…as perceived by many of those who made a contribution to the Review.’ [p. 160] The reviewers wrote –
Although not one of the Terms of Reference for the Review, perceptions of the benefits of SRE are pertinent to the assessment of the implementation of SRE. The Reviewers have briefly documented the common views about the benefits of SRE, as expressed in contributions to the Review. However, there is no objective data about the benefits and nor was systematic data on beliefs about benefits collected, because the structure of surveys and submissions closely reflected the Terms of Reference. (emphasis added) [p. 76]
Unfortunately, the reviewers did not regard the contributions of those who documented existing and foreseeable risks related to the presence of SRE in our public schools, or those who perceive SRE as unbeneficial and potentially harmful to students, as being pertinent to their assessment of the implementation of SRE.
Nonetheless, in consideration of –
- the absence of any other Government review of SRE conducted since 1980 leading to the conclusion that he is referring to the ARTD review
- the inability of FIRIS to find evidence to confirm the statement from the Bishop that the ARTD reviewers confirmed that SRE has ‘positive developmental, educational and cultural impacts’ on young people
- the Bishop’s statement seeming to be the second instance of the Catholic Weekly publishing questionable references to the 2015 Review of SRE and SEE in NSW Government Schools –
– a reasonable member of the NSW public might be justified in starting to regard the attribution of the limited study’s findings to the ARTD review, and the questionable references to the Review, as far too convenient ‘mistakes’ made in order to serve the desperate interests of the scripture lobby.
ChristianSRE were quick to share the article and even when asked by a supporter to provide references for the statements in question included in the first article above, they continued to link the references to the ARTD Independent Review rather than identify the error in the journalist’s statements.
Poor quality control from an organisation whose motto is ‘Question. Explore. Discover.’
So why is all of this a problem?
All of the above demonstrates that SRE providers and apologists are far too often, at best, ignorant of information that they should not be ignorant of but are nevertheless unwise enough to comment on, or, at worst, they intentionally provide misleading information in an attempt to make SRE appear to the uncritical and unquestioning eye as that which it is not.
Either way, it is no wonder that the peak bodies representing professional educators, including the NSW Teachers Federation and the Secondary Principals’ Council, have had enough oand want SRE removed from NSW public schools.