Here we have something new
(albeit less so than when I came across the news).
In short, the Victoria State Government has indicated an intention to approve a curriculum of secular humanist lessons for primary school students. These would run as an alternative to the existing religious education in schools. When I was in primary school, we were to choose a scripture class to attend or else go to non-scripture where we would sit quietly and perhaps draw until it was over. I think this is a good thing - a few years ago I actually considered doing something similar until I realised the school would probably not approve of an untrained, unaccredited person attempting to teach stuff to the non-scripture students. It would be a vast improvement to have people who actually know what they are doing and who have a coherent education plan offering education in humanist principles.
There seem to be two separate bodies in Victoria responsible for accrediting volunteer religious teachers. Access Ministries, which handles the Christian educators, and another handling everything else, World Conference of Religions for Peace. Access Ministries appears to be objecting to this move while World Conference of Religions for Peace appears to be in favour. Not especially pleased there was seen a need to defend humanism as a legitimate perspective to hold but ah well.
What has been interesting me is the claim from Access Ministries that this course should be denied approval because humanism is not a religion. I have seen numerous times religious persons insisting that any atheistic position or philosophy is a religion regardless of what its proponents say (with the apparent meaning religion is a bad thing). In this case both Access Ministries and the Victorian Humanist Society agree humanism is not a religion. I am inclined to say the course should be approved even so. Even if not actually a religion, humanism tends to fill the same sort of space in people's minds - a broad worldview informing and / or offering perspectives, principles and morals which can be used as a basis for individuals and / or communities to function.
Am also, by the way, pleased Muslim volunteers will be approved to teach their religion too, and surprised they were not already approved. Perhaps my faint memory of their being such classes available in primary school was not real, although this is in a different state.
Now, a chunk from the article:
Humanist Society education director Harry Gardner said he had designed a course to be taught from prep to year 6 called "Applied Ethical Education — Humanism for Schools". It covers subjects such as the art of living, the environment, philosophy, science and world citizenship. The curriculum is likely to be submitted for approval next year.
Dr Gardner, a former CSIRO research scientist, said his course adopted the "honesty ethic of science (that is, not fudging results)" with the intention that children would be inspired to think for themselves.
"If accredited for use in schools, the Humanist Society of Victoria envisages that the volunteer teachers would develop a comradely relationship to the regular religious instructors in adjacent rooms," he said.
But Access Ministries chief executive Evonne Paddison said while it was not her decision as to who should or should not have access to state schools, she did not think humanism fell under "the relevant legislation to be classified as a faith-based religion in religious instruction in the way that Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism" did.
Ms Stokes said humanists could not expect to have it both ways. "It doesn't make sense because they proclaim themselves not to be a religion," she said.
Religious instruction in state schools should be Christian because "basically we are a Christian nation", she said.
The course appears to cover or at least brush against material I have been saying for a while now should be incorporated as foundational in primary education - although my stated focus would be on information literacy, skepticism & critical thinking, propaganda / persuasion techniques and recognition of same as well as a secular education in principles of ethics, morality and reasoning. I tend to think these should be considered as fundamental in education as things like literacy and mathematics since they concern the ability to find and evaluate information.
If Ms Paddison is right about the relevant legislation then I think it should be changed so as not to be restricted to "faith-based religion" - if the only reason to teach children a Buddhist perspective on the world but not a humanist one is that the law makes no provision for the latter, well, I do not not see what distinguishes them so sufficiently that such a distinction should be made.
I would also like to draw attention to something which confused me the first few times I read this article and which seems excessively unclear. That being, the Ms Stokes quoted at the end is not so far as I am aware affiliated with Access Ministries. Rather, she is quoted speaking on behalf of an organisation called Salt Shakers
, a socially conservative theocratic organisation whose primary concerns seem to be denying sexual, reproductive and religious freedom and making from the state an official instrument of Christianity.
There was another quote from them earlier in the article which I also at first misinterpreted to be from Access Ministries:
Research director Jenny Stokes said: "If you go there, where do you stop? What about witchcraft or Satanism?
"If you accredit humanism, then those things would have an equal claim to be taught in schools."
I've yet to find out anything about witchcraft (is this refering to Wicca or some other religion? I would not be surprised if there were a lot of conflation going on here) or Satanism that would make me think they are any less suitable to be taught to children than Christianity. Possibly more suitable.
What's going on is that witchcraft and Satanism are being held up as emblems of evil and depravity even though this does not reflect their nature, then comparing humanism with them to cast it in a similar light, much like when people hold up the spectre of polyamoury as an argument for denying the right to same-gender marriage. Hopefully as more classes like this take hold fewer people will give such rubbish credence.
As for the claim of Australia being a Christian nation, I just went and nervously checked our constitution. It has not the word 'Christ' or 'Christian' anywhere in it. What I did find was this:
116 Commonwealth not to legislate in respect of religion
The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any
religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for
prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test
shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust
under the Commonwealth.
It seems Australia is not a Christian nation after all; merely one composed of a largely Christian population.