Parent Responses to Religious Instruction

Photo of frowning mother and young daughterOn 7 November 2010, The Age published an article titled Thou shall not teach humanism: ALP.

Below are some of the comments sent in to the Humanist Society of Victoria in response to the article.  The comments give an insight into the experience of parents and children subjected to the system of teaching religious instruction.

For a while now, I am aggrieved at the fact that my 10 year old daughter has no choice during the teaching of Religious Education at school. Basically she either has to go for the mainstream RE class, or is put into a small separate class where she has almost nothing to do. Apart from being academically counter-productive, this can give her the feeling of isolation and that her belief system is somehow unusual and undervalued, as it is not mainstream.

I do believe that there are many other parents who believe in ‘humanism’ at her school, and are frustrated at the lack of choice and the discriminatory treatment that is meted out in a so-called secular system. However they do not know how to pursue this further.

Out of sheer lack of choice, and so as not to feel ‘excluded’ we have reluctantly agreed for our daughter to learn RE, with the result that she appears to know more about Jesus than her own faith. We are happy that she becomes aware of another religion or several religions, but unhappy that she has no choice, in a learning environment where freedom of choice should be considered paramount.

I am member of my local primary School’s council and are in a little battle re the teaching of religious education in the school. Just like the Age article states my two children do not attend these Christian only based sessions, rather they play on computers or do unsupervised worksheets in another room. This offends me and on several occasions feel my children have been discriminated against on the basis of their (non)religious beliefs.

I strongly argue that state based schools should only teach religious studies where all mainstream religions are examined on an equal basis and made available for all student – it would not take much to convince me that religion should not be on the curriculum at all however it is a major feature of our Australian and world culture that it probably should be discussed in some non biased factual manner.

So glad to see an article in today’s Age about your movement’s push to allow the teaching of secular ethics to children who do not take part in religious instruction at public schools.  I am writing to tell you of my own experience and frustration I have felt in not getting my wishes met at my children’s public school.  When my first child started Prep three years ago I specifically saw the Principal with a book about teaching children philosophy in tow, to ask that something like this be implemented for my child while the others were receiving religious instruction.  Basically, nothing happened, and my child has not had the benefit of the kind of ethics and philosophy education I would like her to receive in lieu of religious brainwashing.  I find it extremely frustrating that religion is allowed to be taught in public schools, and to deny my children a suitable non-religious ethical education while such religious education is going on compounds my disgust and anger.

I would much prefer to have my children taught Humanism than the Christian Religious Education currently being taught in primary schools throughout Victoria.

Last year I requested that my son be excused from Christian Religious Education (CRE) classes at his primary school. At the beginning of the prep year, I was given information about the religious instruction that was to occur during those classes. I was led to believe that the classes would be non-denominational and discuss many different religious viewpoints and talk about the people who practise those beliefs. I was hoping that comparative religion would be taught from a cultural perspective in a secular school.

I now know that the classes are being taught, not by primary school teachers, but by Christian religious volunteers, wholly selected by the Council for Christian Education in Schools. From what my son has been bringing home and saying about the classes, it appears that the aim is not to teach the children about god/s and religion/s but to teach the children to believe in the Christian God and faith.

My son’s prep class attended a Christmas service at a local church. I was happy for my son to attend the service even though I could not attend myself. Several parent helpers and prep teachers also attended. I was disturbed when told about what sort of service it was. One of the parent helpers described it as something out of an American evangelical television show. The minister preached to the children saying such things as (or words to the effect)

You want a Jesus kind of Christmas not a Santa kind of Christmas, because Santa only loves you if you are good, whereas Jesus loves you whether you are good or bad.

In CRE classes in grade one, my son along with the rest of the class, were given a range of pictures depicting various emotions. They were then asked to colour or circle only those good emotions (such as happy and kind) and to cross out the bad emotions (such as angry or nasty). Emotions are not bad or good. They are what make us all human and the controlled expression of those emotions must be learnt. Is a child to feel he/she is bad for feeling angry if someone hurts them?

I would be happy to send my son back to religious education classes should the curriculum include information about all religions as part of human culture, such as Greek and Roman mythology, Hinduism, Judaism etc. To quote Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion

… the main reason the English Bible needs to be part of our education is that it is a major source book for literary culture. The same applies to the legends of the Greek and Roman gods, and we learn about them without being asked to believe in them [p. 383].

Wouldn’t it be better if, instead of learning to believe in a fictional god, the Victorian Humanist Society achieved their aim and all children learnt ‘ethical decision-making and responsibility for one’s actions based on respect for individual autonomy, peaceful co-existence between peoples of differing ways of life and maintenance of a sustainable environment.’

I have been trying since 1997 (two sons, with a 9-year age gap between them) to defend the right of my children to get a secular education in a government school without being discriminated, unsuccessfully. Very frequently, given that the school has no resources to provide activities for children who do not attend any of the two classes (Christian and Jewish RE), my son had to sit silently at the back of any of these two classes. This arrangement violates our choice of secular education, since the brain-washing messages given by the RE instructor are still penetrating the brain of my son, who sits silently (and bored to death) at the back of the classroom.

I saw the article in the Age today and was greatly concerned.

Frankly I’m horrified.  I’ve been careful not to influence my child’s spiritual beliefs, cherishing her independent thought, and now find I either enable her to be heavily influenced by the RE sector, or “defend” her by heavily influencing with my beliefs. Both approaches are wrong to me.

Anecdotal questioning of other parents suggests they permit their children to attend RE classes predominately because they do not want their children to be excluded, not because they seek religious education.  Is there any real research as to why parent’s tick “yes” or don’t opt out of religious education in state schools?

I find it mind boggling in this day and age that religious education is taught in our state school system. I also find it offensive that the default position of schools in relation to religious education is that a student will participate unless those parents opt out by writing a letter at the beginning of each school year.

At my daughters school the children who participate in religious education have occasionally been given treats such as bags of lollies. I find this flabbergasting. Even though I am not religious at all I would feel much more comfortable if all children were taught comparative religion by an independent, qualified teacher.

An independent state school is not a place for religious indoctrination. If I wanted my child to be taught religion I would send her to a primary school that was subsidized by the church. What alternative is there for us? A humanist curriculum seems like a fair way to go for all children of all families of all faiths. Good on you and good luck.

  1. Project Overview
  2. Special Religious Instruction Campaign Chronology
  3. Parent Responses to Religious Instruction
  4. Religious Instruction in State Schools Promotes Prejudice
  5. Religious Instruction by Australian State
  6. Victorian Education Act – 1950 Amendment
Share/Like this page: