An ethical choice

  (08 May 10)
  by Greg Spearritt

The ethics classes being trialed in ten NSW state schools are apparently proving popular; so much so that the Sydney Anglicans are squealing again.


The classes are being offered for those who don’t attend Scripture lessons, but it’s claimed there’s been a drain on Scripture classes of almost 50%.


Many of those protesting the ethics classes trial would be amongst the first to join the Howard-era chant of personal choice in any other sphere: indeed, in education itself, where they argue for government funding of wealthy private schools that have no obligation to take all comers.


When it comes to learning about the Church-version of Jesus, however, parents apparently should have no right to choose.


Clearly, parents want that right.


This doesn’t necessarily mean that interest would be sustained at high levels if ethics classes became an ongoing weekly event: as Neil Ormerod points out, over time there would repetition and recycling of material and the novelty element would fade.


Nonetheless, it’s the principle of the thing: by all means have Scripture classes as an option, but in secular 21st-century Australia how can it be the only real option?





I resigned from the Victorian Education Dept in 1981 because I hated teaching social studies to 14 year olds, but I reckon I'd go back on a volunteer basis to teach secular ethics. Forget any high-minded motivation though, it's the squeals from the Sydney diocese I want to hear. But I guess that's not too ethical really, is it? Ho hum.

Posted by Cordelia Hull

Over time there would repetition and recycling of material and the novelty element would fade - as I expect occurred for many attending religion.

Posted by Anthony Muscio

'Godless ethics classes are pointless' by Angela Shanahan was published in the Weekend Australian on 1-2 May. She wants Catholic schools to lift their game to counteract the possible success of ethics classes by including the teaching of ethics in religious classes. She says that complex ideas of justice and natural law are already taught and these concepts derive from very ancient traditions which pre-date Christianity, which in turn have evolved from philosophy. She says that religion, philosophy and ethics have been interrelated from time immemorial.

Peter Vardy works in the area of religious education in England, and visits Australia regularly. He wants religion and values education, properly taught, to be part of the curriculum of every Australian school. He says that young people's questions about matters such as why we're here and the purpose of life are not being answered. Apparently there has been little hostility towards his ideas except from conservative religious people who do not want young people to ask questions.

The head of the top performing high school in the literacy and numeracy tests was interviewed for the 8-9 May Weekend Australain. She promotes a holistic education which includes global citizenship as an integral part of a well-being programme, and I expect this programme deals with ethical questions. This school has topped the HSC for the past 14 years, and in looking for reasons for the success of the school according to this measure the first to be considered would be that the school is exclusively selective. Another suggestion was the ideas of Confucius, because 98% of the students come from a non-English speaking background. The holistic education provided by the school should also be considered a reason for the academic success of the school.

These people have plenty of suggestions about teaching material for religion, ethics, values and philosophy classes.

Posted by Helen Mason

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