Ethics, Poles, Wires and the Dalai Lama
- Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 June 2015 11:36
- Jude Hennessy,
An Opinion Piece by Jude Hennessy (Director SRE, Diocese of Wollongong)
Ethics, Poles, Wires and the Dalai Lama
Will someone please tell the truth about Special Education in Ethics (SEE) and the NSW Public School enrolment form? It seems the only people getting any airplay, have a good public profile, but little knowledge about the topic.
Even the Dalai Lama got drawn into it last week. He’s a good man, a man of peace, poise, wisdom and love. As a Catholic, I’m a fan, just as many non-Catholics are fans of Pope Francis. But I wouldn’t ask either of them to fix my computer. No disrespect to them, I just doubt they’d have the knowledge to be able to do it.
In the same way, I’m not sure why the Dalai Lama was asked about the current furore about Ethics and the enrolment form. But then it dawned on me, the light bulb went off, well it got brighter anyhow! This isn’t about facts, or asking people who might actually have some knowledge or something sensible to say, it’s about world views, politics and a powerful little club in some mainstream print and electronic media who seem hell bent on doing away with religion in schools. If they can do that, then they can focus on getting rid of religion completely in the ugly little Orwellian world they are attempting to manufacture.
Soon after I saw the Dalai Lama hooked into the debate, I got an email from NSW Labor asking for donations to fight the good fight for ethics in NSW schools. Apparently they need funds to fight the great injustice being perpetrated on SEE by those nasty religions and the NSW Government. What a load of absolute rubbish, but no one else is saying so in this fantasy land.
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, such is the misinformation being thrown around at will. Probably the latter. Why? Because SRE, this wonderful strength of NSW public schools is being denigrated and used as a political and media football. Why else? Because in our multicultural, multi-faith (and non-faith) society, SRE and SEE both have a valuable and valid place. Who would want to undermine access to clear choice for parents to have their Children formed in the faith and ethics of their family? Hopefully no one, but in relation to SEE, a simple fact is getting left out, you shouldn’t offer something that isn’t available.
Some facts about SRE and SEE
No parent in NSW who wants their child to do SEE in NSW is being denied that choice for their children, if it is offered in their local school. SEE is well advertised as an option for those who opt out of SRE classes.
Nevertheless, it is pointless to offer something on the enrolment form which isn’t available. I’d be annoyed if I was for example offered woodwork and then was informed, no sorry, we don’t offer woodwork. My simple response would be, ‘well why did you offer it to me’?
Herein lies one of the problems with Ethics classes and why it needs to be removed as a tick option from the enrolment form.
In 2014, SEE was offered in 256 of the 2100 Public Schools in NSW. It is not offered at all in Secondary Schools. Around 800 SEE teachers saw 16,000 students. They are doing a good job for our community and public Education, and I for one am glad they have a presence in a growing number of schools. By comparison, SRE Providers have a presence in most schools and see around 240,000 students a week and that figure increases to over 300,000 when you include seminar style delivery of lessons.
The reality for SEE is that it is not in at least 1800 of the 2100 Public Schools. Parents whose sons and daughters go to those 1800 schools are nevertheless being offered it, only to find that it doesn’t exist. Now that’s just bizarre, and extremely misleading for parents, many of whom then need to negotiate a maze to get reoffered SRE.
What’s even more bizarre is that the DEC’s own consultative committee for SRE, made up of representatives of all the major faiths, were not consulted about the final changes to the enrolment form. Surely that’s what consultative committees are for! If it had been consulted, this debacle would never have ensued.
SRE providers quickly recognised that this was a very questionable change that ignored the Legislation, the 2012 SEE Parliamentary Inquiry Recommendations, the SRE Policy and the SRE Implementation guidelines. I assume that Primary Ethics would similarly be concerned that roughly 680,000 young people who they can’t cater for, are being offered SEE classes. I am unaware if Primary Ethics had any input into the enrolment form, but faith groups certainly were not given the opportunity to explain the consequences of the changes. Media commentators do not seem keen to ask questions about this lack of process, which is in itself very interesting.
Finally, this is not about poles and wires. To suggest so is an offensive lie. SRE providers have been talking to each other, the DEC, to the Minister, and Politicians across the political divide about this since the new form appeared last June. Agreement on the need for the confusion to end via a repaired enrolment form was reached in December 2014 with the Department.
Some non-facts about SRE and SEE
I won’t say lies, because perhaps those who are writing most of the rubbish about SRE and Ethics have simply fallen into the trap that some of my former History students used to, not doing any study! Sure they’re good at churning out articles expounding their personal views, but like some former students, their essays and reports are still ‘a fail’ when they have such little basis in fact.
Firstly, SEE doesn’t exist to compete with SRE. Primary Ethics was established to cater for students who opted out of SRE. Therefore, regardless of the fact that it simply isn’t offered in most schools, it should not be set up alongside SRE on a form. Once parents have opted out of SRE they are then given the choice of SEE if it is available at a local level where it is well advertised.
Secondly, SRE does not regard SEE as the enemy or a threat. SEE teachers are good people offering a valid and valuable alternative to non-scripture in a small but growing number of schools.
Finally, SRE is not struggling as per Dr John Kaye’s (Greens NSW) recent and ongoing venomous assertions and misinformation regarding SRE. The 12,000 multi faith, well trained, well-resourced volunteers across the State are doing a mighty job forming students in the teachings and ethics of their family’s faith tradition, seeing well over 240,000 students a week in the process.
So what are SRE providers asking for?
A return to an enrolment form that removes the misinformation and confusion.
A form that doesn’t offer something to parents who then later find out that it is not available at most schools.
A form that gives the parents the option to choose Religious Education and, just as importantly, to opt out of that choice. SEE can then be offered at a local level if it is available.
This isn’t about poles and wires, this is about giving parents correct information and valid choices for their children. Whilst it is tough to get correct information out there via the media, thank goodness the NSW Government and DEC are at least now trying to get it right on the public school enrolment form.
Mr Jude Hennessy
Diocese of Wollongong
12 June 2015
Media Release - June 2 2015
- Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 June 2015 15:28
Important Media Release from ICCOREIS
(Inter-Church Commission on Religious Education in Schools (NSW) Inc
3 June 2015
Amendments to the Enrolment Form for Schools
The changes to the NSW DEC enrolment form that occurred in July 2014, have unfortunately caused confusion for parents with regard to Special Religious Education (SRE) and non SRE options in schools.
The Inter Church Commission on Religious Education in Schools (ICCOREIS) has always recognised that parental choice is critical in the selection of SRE or the non SRE options, being Special Ethics Education (SEE) or other supervised activities.
As such, ICCOREIS member Churches, along with representatives of the major faiths who provide SRE, have consulted with each other, the DEC, and all sides of politics to recommend modifications that provide real clarity and help parents to make informed choices.
We are grateful to the DEC for moving to rectify the issues with the enrolment form. This recognises the place of SRE as a strength of Public Education in our multi-faith and multi-cultural society, whilst continuing to provide clear choices and understanding for parents of non-SRE options available in schools at a local level.
The changes being proposed for the enrolment form and associated documents for schools and parents will ensure effective communication and implementation of SRE and non-SRE options.
SEE is only available in some primary schools; it is not available in high schools. Therefore, the removal of SEE from the enrolment form reflects the place of SEE as a non SRE option.
In schools where SEE might be available, parents will be easily able to make that choice after opting out of SRE.
Mr. Neville Cox
0416 294 742
link to original release - here
Have your say in the Review of SRE
- Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 May 2015 10:58
As featured in our latest CatechistNet magazine, if you would like to have your say in the Review of SRE you can follow the links below.
From this issue of CatechistNet:
As you are no doubt aware, the Special Religious Education (SRE) offered to the nearly 10,000 Catholic students in over 150 Government Schools is currently being reviewed by the Department of Education. My colleagues and I, in Dioceses around NSW-ACT have already commenced contributing to this review process and are confident of being able to accurately show what an amazing contribution that the Catholic Church via you, our incredible volunteers, make to Public Education through the delivery of SRE in New South Wales.
Special Religious Education is a marvellous feature of a robust, holistic education system. It offers formation in the chosen faith of the family for young people and in this way is a wonderful reflection of the cultural and religious diversity of our nation.
Some detractors of SRE would say that if people want formation in faith, they should receive it on weekends or after school. Such arguments are shallow and ignore the fact that this choice is one that truly contributes to a holistic education for students in NSW. Making similar assertions about the removal of sport from schools because it should be compartmentalised on weekends or for music or the creative arts, would quite rightly be regarded as nonsensical. All of these things contribute to a holistic education that benefits students, families and society more broadly.
Furthermore, as with sport, if a parent/guardian prefers their child not to attend, they can be exempted from the class. In these cases the school organises a productive activity such as private reading or a lesson in ethics.
As my colleague from Maitland-Newcastle Diocese, Mr John Donnelly wrote in a recent media article, ‘Could you imagine a school in Australia which did not have sport as part of the week for young students? Even though a multitude of sporting competitions and activities abound in the wider community, it appears that learning about and engaging in sport is highly valued in the education system.
Likewise, religious education has had a valued place in public education for over 100 years. Volunteers have been visiting state schools to deliver special religious education to the students of the various persuasions. The Catholic Church has been at the forefront of this community service for much of this time.’
It is for this reason that I would urge all of the Catechists in our Diocese, the parents and grandparents of the students we teach and other interested parties who value the contribution that the Church makes to Special Religious Education to ensure their voice is heard as part of the review process.
Currently there are over 4,500 catechists engaged in this service across NSW who see around 100,000 Catholic students each week. Like volunteers in so many different domains, such as Surf Life Saving, Sporting Fields, Charitable organisation and the like, Special Religious Education Volunteers are part of the character of our communities.
Obviously, it is not enough to just be well meaning and committed; a Special Religious Education (SRE) volunteer needs to be well trained and resourced. For decades, Catholic SRE volunteers have been formed via quality training and currently the NSW Bishops expectations for Catechists training far exceeds the minimum requirements of the Government and the Department of Education.
Furthermore, the curriculums have been developed in partnership with professional religious educators in Catholic schools and universities, to ensure we have highly effective curriculums, teacher manuals, student workbooks and resources, including now access to Electronic Whiteboard Resources.
There is so much to celebrate about what not only our Church, but other denominations and faiths contribute to Public Education through SRE. We hope the reviewers are given a very clear picture of what is being done well but also how this wonderful feature of Public Education can be enhanced. It is for this reason that I encourage Catechists, mums and dads, grandparents and anyone who wants to ensure that the review has a balanced picture of value of Special Religious
Education to have their say.
I encourage you to please take 10-15 minutes to answer some survey questions by going to one of the links ABOVE. Alternatively, fill in the form provided as an insert in this edition of Catechist Net and return it to Mrs Jennifer Raposio, Office of the Bishop, PO Box 1239 Wollongong NSW 2500.
Mr Jude Hennessy
Director of CCD
Diocese of Wollongong