Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Every year, just before the school year commences, I get the job of going down to the school, signing the kids in, collecting all the books, paying for everything in sight, and making sure we're all duly accoutred for another wonderful year of education. And every year, after I've gone through all the other tables with books on them and signed stuff, and agreed that my kids will be doing this, that or the other, I'm shepherded towards a table with a cheerful, hopeful chap who says something like:

"And are you going to sign the kids into C.R.E?"

And every year, I smile. And I say: "C.R.E? Does that stand for Comparitive Religious Education?"

And the cheerful, hopeful chap duly smiles back and says, with a note of surprise, "Why, no! It's Christian Religious Education."

And then I say something like "Oh, what a pity. I would dearly like the kids to be able to study a range of religious beliefs. Well, never mind. No, they won't be taking part this year, thanks."

Now, I would in fact be extremely happy if the kids got an introduction to the world's major religions, placed on an equal footing, as belief-systems to study. Religions have played a huge influence on the history and on the cultural development of the world, and it's valuable to learn the basics. Especially if you live in a world shared with many different cultures and religions, yes indeed. But that opportunity seems to be lost on the education system.

However, I'm very pleased to note that in NSW, at least, they're doing something progressive:

Labor to defy churches: ethics classes likely to start next year

I think this is brilliant. I'm very tired of hearing all about how atheism cannot possibly offer a moral or ethical basis for behaviour, and I'm delighted to see that finally, finally, someone has had the courage to follow through on this. Ethics and religious beliefs are not the same thing, nor ever have been. If this programme comes to Tasmania, I will be very happy indeed to finally change the tired dialogue at that last table.

"You'll be signing the kids up for C.R.E, right?"

"Is that still Christian Religious Education?"

"Uhhh... yes."

"In that case, no. My children are going to study ethics instead. But if you do decide to teach a comparitive course, please let me know."


  1. I approve of this. At the moment I'm reading a book that Jenny gave me, "The Life of Pi" which is about an Indian boy who discovered religion through Hinduism, Christianity AND Muslim beliefs. He holds them dearly and one day when he and his family were out, they were approached by a priest of each of the sects and they ended up in an argument about which religion is right.

    I laughed a little at the thought of these three guys bickering about it, although the character Pi (ie: Pi = 3.14) was really embarrassed that it broke to his parents in that way.

  2. I was quite impressed with the state primary school my sister's eldest daughter goes to in Sydney. They do something very much like Comparative Religious Education, where they study a different religion each term. Last I remember, she was telling me all about the beliefs of the Baha'i faith.

  3. I am always astonished when they attempt to shoehorn Christian lessons into our all ready stretched school curricular. Some primary schools showing they "..spend less than 40 minutes a week on science education by teachers with no significant background in science relying on a recitation of facts and minutia rather than exploring concepts and developing children's natural curiosity"... Dr Cathy Foley, president of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies.

  4. Not that I mind them offering ethics, its more that they have time to offer Christian ideology.

    Now hopefully they can pull those damn sky-pilots out of the schools.

  5. The Christian spokesperson was funny on The World Today. "This is bad because some children will want to do both and that could cause stress"

    Oh man are they on the decline.

  6. Yeah... I have to agree I'd prioritise science, or a language other than English, over Christian theology as a school-time subject. I mean - parents at home don't have the resources to teach science. And they may not speak another language. But if they are themselves religious, you have to suspect they've got the basic knowledge to indoctrinate their children appropriately. And of course, there are churches for the same thing. So -- why do we give up valuable school time?

  7. Beeso - I missed that one. Wish I'd seen it!

  8. I'm thinking learning how different religions work would be absolutely invaluable for (a) teaching kids about the stuff that underpins other cultures and (b) pointing out the similarities from a cultural evolution perspective - ie the memes and myths that earlier humans came up with to explain the universe and life (and obviously death, as that was one of the first things to have a sense of religious ritual to it).

  9. I was also delighted by this news.I thought it would have been a bit more of a struggle to get the government to adopt the ethics classes.But I guess Labor are struggling a bit up there.

    I have just recently moved to Launceston from NSW and have been curious as to the situation down here with RE. It sounds more like it's an opt-in thing rather than opt-out. What do the kids who don't do RE do during that time?

    All the complaints by the religious groups are very conflicting and irrational (who would've thunk it?!). On the one hand they complain that kids should be doing RE because "morals are covered there" (another topic all together) then also complain that those who do RE will be missing out as the ethics class should be excluding them. And they are right. The solution is to get rid of RE all together. If parents want to indoctrinate their kids they can do it in their own time. If they all do the ethics classes they might bring home some interesting questions for their parents and clergy-people. Anyway, I apologise for the ramble but it's a deep interest of mine. Really love your blog, by the way. I have been reading it for quite some time

  10. Have to say i was gobsmacked to see that headline, & was for the first time impressed in the state premier esp as she is as much a Catholic god botherer as the mad monk.

    Unfortunately I think it's just another of her desperate attempts to stop her Guvmnt being wiped out at the enxt election. But she at least deserves a 'well done' on her report card for this.

  11. @chazfh: I'm with you on that one, although this isn't the first surprise she has produced: she also really pushed for the gay adoption rights changes there a couple of months ago too

  12. Xavier: at the local school here, the kids who aren't in CRE just catch up on their leftover work. I only thought to ask about it this week, and I'm a bit peeved. I'm going to ask if I can run a Big Science class for the non-God sorts next year: volcanoes, explosions, liquid nitrogen ice cream... all sorts of stuff.

    Dunno whether they'll let me, nor whether I can shoe-horn it into my weekly time-sheet, but I'll try.