Keeping the Faith

The Case For Religious Education in Schools

To Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff,

I write in response to the Tasmanian Government’s discussion paper on the Education Act. Question 29 asks, “Should we make any changes around how religious education in government schools is implemented?”

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As you know, the parameters for religious education in public schools are:

  1. Inclusion at the principal’s discretion and with parent/carer permission.
  2. Maximum of one hour per week.
  3. No religion is given preference over another.
  4. No proselytising.

Straight up, these staunch directives send off alarm bells, not to mention a gut feeling that this review is being used as a means to eliminate religious education entirely. The reality is that very few public schools actually include religious education in the diversity of their curriculums, and that’s a pity.

I’m going to be straight: let’s scratch out that word religion and change it to Christianity because Australia’s culture has been undeniably shaped by the Christian faith – its tenets remain relevant and beneficial in encouraging strong communities of people who are outward-focused.

Every Australian deserves a basic grasp of the Christian teachings in order to understand Australia’s history and the way that Jesus’ birth and death influenced cultures across the world to value characteristics like love, humility and compassion. Don’t forget, more than 170,000 Tasmanians identified themselves as Christian at the last census.

I hope you will also take into account the findings of the Australian Curriculum Report. To jog your memory, it recommended that the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, “revise the Australian Curriculum to place more emphasis on morals, values and spirituality as outlined in the Melbourne Declaration, and to better recognise the contribution of Western civilisation, our Judeo-Christian heritage, the role of economic development and industry and the democratic underpinning of the British system of government to Australia’s development.” (recommendation 15)

You will receive submissions from others who believe that state-funded schools should be free of religion. I hope your response will be to point out that Christianity is this country’s very foundation – look to our legal system, aid organisations like the Red Cross and Compassion, charities like The Salvation Army and City Mission, hospitals, schools – indeed one of the founders of this newspaper, Rev John West, was a Christian minister instrumental in abolishing convict transportation to Tasmania. I think the 60 per cent of Australian tax-payers who claim to be Christians will thank you for acknowledging the pivotal role of the Christian faith in shaping our culture.

Can religious education be improved? I think so, Mr Rockliff.

Jesus was a world-changer. Whether you believe he was the Son of God or simply an inspired teacher, his story is immensely important.

“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” Jesus said – a saying we still use today (John 8:7).

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44). “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mark 12:31).

“Forgive and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37).

There are many more quotes from Jesus that have become part of our modern vernacular because they are still relevant, still addressing topics like respect, acceptance, compassion and humility. Surely these are qualities we would like to see in our children.

Ultimately it is each person’s decision to connect with God, but it’s important that everyone is given the opportunity to address their spiritual make-up. I would go so far as to suggest that many young adults today are emerging from their education ‘spiritually illiterate’, with little to no understanding of the impact their decision-making has on the core of their being – what Christians and other religious-types refer to as the ‘soul’.

I hope you will take this opportunity to bolster the place of religious education in public schools, and to acknowledge that spiritual awareness and our Christian heritage are community assets.

Where would we be without them?

Claire.

(Add your voice. Submissions to comments@education.tas.gov.au and close this Wednesday)

First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday December 29, 2014.

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