27 April 2010

A Recount of What Happened in a SRE Lesson at a Primary School in NSW

When you read this just remember that this happened roughly a year ago on my third year prac. It was in a kindergarten class and material as aimed for a kindergarten student. I'm not sure which church runs the scripture classes at the public schools in town but I know it isn't the Catholic Church as they have a pretty strong presence in the region (4 primary schools and a high school). I think it might be the Anglican judging by the version of the Lord's Prayer used.

The lady running this class used to be a primary school teacher so she knew what she was about and kept the class focused or would switch to a new activity when she knew when the current activity wasn't maintaining the students' attention.

It started much like any kindergarten lesson, with a story from a picture book. It was based on the Cast Your Net on the Other Side sermon (John 21:1-21:9). The fishermen can't seem to catch a thing and the bearded guy in a loin cloth tells them to try fishing on the other side. Lo and behold they are up to their eyeballs in fish and ye it was all good.

Each of the students had a scripture work book that has activities based upon the various sermons and for the next twenty minutes the kids worked on the Cast Your Nets pages.
She also had this song she would occasionally sing that was based on "The Farmer in the Dell". I really wish I could remember the words. She had at least a dozen different versions based on main points of the sermons but each ended with "Like only Jesus can" or "Like only God could do".
The lesson wrapped up with a small Q & A on the meaning of the lesson and the Lord's Prayer.

As I said at the beginning this is based on memories from a year ago and so there are a few holes but that is the general gist.

About six of the students went to another classroom during the lesson due to notes from their parents. According to the teachers the number of notes coming in was increasing and there was concern on what was going to happen to the scripture lessons.

Now I am all for students' learning about religion in primary school. It easily fits into the HSIE syallabus. Not many teachers get around to teaching the various cultures of the world but that is due to the increasing requirement to teach Australian history.

Obviously it should be noted that church groups feel different. That only Christianity is to be taught in NSW schools. Again I wouldn't be against this if they only taught about the history and facts of the Christian church. However they feel they need to have this weekly half an hour in state schools so they can pass on their morality so that the kids will grow up being well adjusted.

Just to show that the debate on should religion in schools has been around for quite some time here is an excerpt from The NSW Public Instruction Act of 1880.

Essential Features of the Act of 1880. The most important provisions of the Public Instruction Act are:

(1) Primary school education is placed under the sole direction and control of a responsible Minister;

(2) Teachers are made civil servants, and are paid exclusively from the public funds;

(3) The system is wholly non-denominational: all aid to denominational schools ceased on 31st December, 1882; 

(4) Attendance at school is made obligatory upon children between the ages of six and fourteen years, who reside within two miles of the school, for seventy days in each half-year, unless just cause of exemption can be shown;

(5) The teaching is strictly secular, but the words "secular instruction" are held to include general religious teaching as distinguished from dogmatic and polemical theology: the History of England and Australia must form part of the course of secular instruction;

(6) High schools for boys and girls maybe established, in which the instruction shall be of such a character as to complete the public school curriculum and prepare the pupils for the University;
(7) Provision is made for constituting Public School Districts and for the appointment of School Boards with defined powers and duties;

(8) School children are allowed to travel free by rail to the nearest public school;

(9) Four hours during each day must be devoted to secular instruction, and one hour set apart for special religious instruction to be given in a separate class-room, if procurable, or in a separate part of the school-room, by a clergyman or religious teacher of any denomination to children of the same denomination whose parents have no objection to their receiving such religious instruction; if no religious teacher attends the full five hours must be devoted to the ordinary secular instruction.

Here are some reactions from the Catholic Church (the largest provider of education in the colony at the time). They are taken from Government Schools of New South Wales 1848 to 1993 by Jim Fletcher.

They accused the government schools of being "seed plots of future immorality, infidelity, and lawlessness". It was also a subtle means of "squeezing ... the Catholic faith out of Catholic People". The Catholic Church wanted to encourage their people to support the denominational schools. They were successful but at the same time their criticism created a bitter reaction against the continuation of State aid for denominational schools. Subsequently the bill was passed.

So you see none of this is new. Hopefully the current groundswell will force them out.

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