Last week, the Insight program on SBS One, included an in-studio forum discussion on the teaching of Religion and Ethics in school classrooms in New South Wales.
At the moment, some schools are trailing Ethics classes in place of Religion. There were many interesting viewpoints aired during the course of the segment.
In the forum that took place, were representatives of Christian and Islamic Schools, someone from the St James Ethics Centre, and school students.
Bishop Glenn Davies, the Anglican Bishop of Sydney, argued that the kind of ethics taught and discussed in the Ethics classes, was just a Philosophy of Ethics. Pros and cons of certain choices in regard to issues like bullying or lying were discussed.
Glenn Davies said that the Ethics class had no moral framework over arching it, for example, ‘Why is it wrong to lie?’ Glenn Davies said that the class is more of an ethical inquiry instead of instruction in ethics.
One of the criticisms leveled at teaching children religion, is that it is a form of indoctrination. Davies says that he likes an inquiring mind. The curriculum for the Christian Religious Education is not any way indoctrinating.
Can values be taught apart from the framework of Religious Education?
Others, like Simon Longstaff of the St James Ethics Centre, disagreed. He said that in the study of Ethics, there is a long tradition of considering the implications of choices, and weighing up the alternatives. This, he said, is a solid basis on which people come to make decisions on what is good and bad, and right and wrong.
In contrast, Barbara Gleeson, who has been an RE teacher for eight years, says that values and ethics cannot be taught separately from scripture.
Anne Marie Whenman, the chair of an Inter Church Christian group opposing the ethics class trial, accepts that there should be a class for children whose parents do not wish for them to have religious classes. However, the group she represents does not agree that this be an Ethics class.
Mazen Fahme, a representative from the Islamic Council of New South Wales, said that the proposed ethics course “lacks the substance in that with religion.”
Young people participating in the forum, gave their views.
One said that they were just not interested in Religious Education, but did not really give proper answers why.
“Do you believe in God, a God, any kind of God”
“:Why not? “
“I don’t really know.”
Another student, said that he believed in God and Vishnu.
At this point of the program, a clip was shown of a Scripture class. The story of the Prodigal Son from the New Testament of the Bible was used as the basis for a discussion about forgiveness. The students, when asked what they had learned from this story, said that it made them think about not being greedy, sharing, and helping the poor.
The question of whether values can be taught outside of an RE class, raised a variety of opinions.
Barbara Gleeson, an RE teacher for eight years, gave the view that values and ethics cannot be separated from Scripture.
Mazen Fahme, a representative from the Islamic Council of New South Wales, argues that the proposed ethics course “lacks the substance in that with religion.”
Doctor Phil Cam, the Associate Professor of History and Philosophy at the University of New South Wales, stated that, children are capable of critical thinking if given the tools to do so.
Simon Longstaff, from the St James Ethics Centre says that values such as the right way to treat others, and other values are already incorporated into curriculum.
Then, the week after this program aired, various forms of feedback have appeared. One letter writer to The Age ‘Green Guide, wrote that the young people involved in the discussion seemed to have more intelligent opinions that the adults.
She then asked when Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion would become part of school curriculum? Whether she asked this from an atheist standpoint, or as someone who values education, I do not know.
Would students read critiques of this book, too, just as they might read criticisms of films or fiction novels?