The recent debate in between American celebrity science educator Bill Nye and Kentucky-based "creationist" Ken Ham drew world attention, once again, on the United States as the home of whacky Christianity. But Ham is a Queenslander, whose Answers in Genesis curriculum materials are used in Australian schools to promote the idea that God created the world in six days a mere 6,000 years ago. According to historians of creationism's world-wide spread, Australia rivals the United States as source of such ideas.
Probably few Australian taxpayers realise, for example, that they contribute $800 million a year, plus even more for capital works, to schools that insist on their right to teach anti-evolutionary, "Biblical" theories. My new book >Taking God to School: The End of Australia's Egalitarian Education? pays particular attention to this fast-growing network - calling itself "Christian schools" - over and above the public, elite independent and Catholic school sectors. The sort of schools wanting the right to teach creationism include 91 affiliated to the Australian Association of Christian Schools (AACS), 130-plus members of Christian Schools Australia (CSA) and 48 Adventist Education Australia schools. Together, they teach over 130,000 students.
The AACS alone received nearly $400 million from state and federal governments for recurrent (non-capital) costs in 2010, the most recent year for which figures are available. AACS schools must agree to a Statement of Faith declaring "the supreme authority of the Bible," meaning that "the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are God's infallible and inerrant revelation to man" and "the supreme standard by which all things are to be judged." Schools must agree to employ only teachers and non-teaching staff who share the same belief.
In 2010, the AACS joined CSA and Adventist Education to persuade the South Australian Non-government Schools Registration Board to drop a policy statement rejecting any "science curriculum in a nongovernment school which is based on, espouses or reflects the literal interpretation of a religious text in its treatment of either creationism or intelligent design." CSA chief executive Stephen O'Doherty objected that the statement removed the right to teach "biblical perspectives" as part of science, while Adventist Education's spokesperson explained that the policy "greatly limited the freedom of classroom teachers to share an Adventist worldview."
Implementation varies. Bible Baptist Christian Academy in the Perth suburb of Mount Helena (which receives a taxpayer boost of $8732 per student) states that its "science curriculum teaches that God made the world in six, literal days." Others teach evolution "for the sake of understanding and refuting it," while others again teach both evolution and creationism as alternate "theories."
Other divisive ideas promoted in such schools include the conviction that their own students comprise a "kingdom of light" who need to be schooled away from everyone else in the "kingdom of darkness," that schools should be a Christian "hothouse" and that God calls Christians to "rule" and "have dominion over the earth."
"A shrewdly quiet game"
Australian schools have been upended during the forty-something years since I began primary school. First, in 1973, the Whitlam government's Schools Commission opened the door, closed since before Federation, to large-scale public funding of private schools. With each tweak, the biggest increases have gone to the wealthiest schools. Today, some richly-endowed private schools charge senior fees equivalent to at least one-third of Australian median household income, then top up lavish facilities with thousands more per student courtesy of the taxpayer.
Then the Howard government, on taking office in 1996, eased the mechanism for approving new schools. The fastest-growing sector in the Australian school market is now small, lower-fee schools. Their selling point is less heated Olympic pools or baroque musical instruments than a "Bible-based" and "Christ-centred" curriculum, and every aspect of school governance infused with their particular take on Christian teaching.
Where once Australia boasted one of the developed world's more egalitarian education systems, today we send our students to schools increasingly segregated by income, class and religion. Some 35% of students (much higher at senior secondary) now go private - which, in Australia, overwhelmingly means Christian - schools.
In one sense, few matters of public policy can have received more discussion: during school pickup; at sausage sizzles; in footpath huddles during ballet class or on the sidelines of kids' sport (wherever parents gather). Details might vary, but anxiety is constant: "Where are you enrolling yours?" "Where are you looking for high school?" "Maybe if I went back to work full-time we could afford the fees ..." "What do you think about coaching for the selectives test?" "What scholarships will she be trying for?" "We're not Catholic, would that matter?" "This one says it's 'nondemoninational', so why do we have to sign their 'statement of faith'?"
More formally, however, the shifts that produced these anxieties have received very little public discussion. The abandonment of Australia's "free, secular" education system (in the catch-cry of nineteenth-century public school campaigners) crept in largely unannounced: here a subsidy, there a regulatory easing. Those critical of secular schooling have been playing a "shrewdly quiet game", according to one of them. David Hastie recently observed in the Bible Society's >Eternity magazine:
"There has been little sensible discussion about the recent radical rise of religiously-oriented school education in Australia, probably because the educational mainstream simply couldn't believe what was happening. Meanwhile, Australian religious education advocates of all types have been playing a shrewdly quiet game of politics and funding, building a massive irreversible presence in Australian society."
Hastie is a senior teacher at elite Sydney girls' school PLC Croydon, an articulate advocate for private schools and writing a PhD thesis on Christian schooling.
Meanwhile, a similarly shrewd game extended into public schools, through such innovations as the National School Chaplaincy Program (NSCP), which places chaplains - overwhelmingly, evangelical Christians - mainly into public schools. The program was introduced by John Howard in 2006 and extended to a further 1000 public schools by Julia Gillard in 2012. In addition, with churches lacking the resources to offer religious instruction (variously called SRI, CRE, CE or Scripture, depending on your state), those programs became increasingly centralised and uniform, also toward the conservative, evangelical end of the spectrum. In Victoria, the main provider of such classes, Access Ministries, received over $700,000 from the state government in 2013 (providers of Catholic, Orthodox and non-Christian alternative classes were unfunded).
Over the period when Australia, like almost all Western nations, went through its most dramatic loss of faith, with fewer people belonging to a religious community or professing belief in God than at any time since Federation, governments from both sides of politics invested in making our schools more religious. The coincidence of rising religiosity in government schools policy, and fading faith nearly everywhere else, might seem paradoxical, but only until we examine why state aid to religious schools ended in the first place.
The "religious difficulty"
The nineteenth-century founders of Australia's public education systems were not, for the most part, atheists or sceptics wanting to shield children from religion. Instead, most were church-going Christians - Protestant, Catholic, Unitarian - and some were synagogue-going Jews. They disagreed on plenty. But they agreed that education was so important it would have to be compulsory; and that if compulsory, parents would need to encounter as few impediments as possible.
With schooling previously provided by religious organisations, at a price, two particular obstacles to school attendance loomed. One was cost: why would parents pay to send to school children who could be productively employed at home? Schools had to be free. The other big obstacle was religion. Catholics would not send their children for suspected covert Protestant indoctrination. Protestants would not send their children where a Catholic teacher might instil "Popery." And why should Jewish or Unitarian parents submit children to texts hailing Jesus as God?
This problem hung so heavily that it acquired its own name: newspapers, pamphleteers and parliamentary speakers referred simply to "the religious difficulty." The "religious difficulty" scuppered attempts to establish public school systems in most colonies until the 1870s, as cautious Members of Parliament feared that the obvious solution - taking religion out of the schools altogether - would either upset voters or endanger the souls and morals of scholars. "Education without religion is mere instruction" was a common refrain.
Eventually, however, policymakers and curriculum shapers concluded that any religion in schools would offend someone. The difficulty could not be solved with separate schools for each religion. Queensland's Treasurer, William Hemmant (an Anglican), argued that the "children of all religious denominations should be taught together," because "keeping them apart, and making distinctions when young" would only teach them "to think that other children are either better or worse than themselves."
Like many nineteenth-century advocates of secular education, Victorian Attorney-General George Higinbotham was intensely pious; a lifelong Anglican, he slowly worked through the inevitable issues. He began his career convinced that "education without religion was mere instruction," so supported a public education bill incorporating "non-sectarian" Christian education; he advocated the end of "state aid" to religious schools; and spent his last day in parliament, in 1876, arguing that all remaining Christian references should be expunged from public school textbooks because they made Victorian classrooms unwelcoming to Jewish families.
That move was adopted so enthusiastically that later commentators complained that even literary works - like Longfellow's poem "The Wreck of the Hesperus" - were edited (or, as an irritated Anglican historian put it in 1908, "mutilated") for Victorian schools, removing any reference to characters' prayers or pious reflections.
The path to secular education was particularly long and bitter in NSW. Often perceived as a Protestant plot, it nevertheless had strong Catholic advocates. One, Michael Fitzpatrick, the Member for Yass Plains, introduced the 1880 Public Instruction Act that abolished state aid to religious schools. He argued that "the tendency of all modern legislation - I do not hesitate to say of all modern enlightenment - is towards the separation of the functions of the Church or the priest from those of the ruler or the State."
The bill was backed by Henry Cohen, Member for West Maitland and a board member of Sydney's York Street Synagogue. Cohen welcomed the end of state aid: "The assembling of all children side by side" in public schools "cannot fail to establish mutual sympathy and respect, and it will lead them to meet together independently of their creed," just as legislators did "in the counsels of the nation."
Cohen wanted the bill to go further than just abolishing state aid: he argued that, once assembled in public schools, students could hardly be required to absorb compulsory Christian doctrine. Cohen underlined that he was not speaking only for "those who have the same religious opinions as myself" - on the contrary, "there are a large number of persons who do not believe in the divinity of Christ," and "clearly these persons must object to the dogmatic principle" in the schoolbooks then in use, whose use in public schools he found "remarkably inconsistent with the policy of this Bill."
NSW, Western Australia and Tasmania left room for clergy or their delegates to teach children of their own denominations in public schools during school hours; while Queensland and South Australia followed the Victorian path of keeping religion out of public classtime altogether. All, however, definitively ended "state aid" to denominational schools: if families wanted religious schooling, the mostly devout Christians and Jews in our colonial parliaments decided, then parents would have to arrange it themselves.
A "Judeo-Christian ethic"?
Today, we often hear calls for our schools to instil more of a Judeo-Christian ethic. A particularly keen proponent of this idea is Dr Kevin Donnelly, the former teacher and Liberal staffer appointed by Education Minister Christopher Pyne in January to review the national curriculum. Dr Donnelly has repeatedly called for the curriculum to emphasise "Judeo-Christian values" and that we are a "Christian nation."
None of the devout Christians and Jews who founded Australia's public school system would have called themselves "Judeo-Christian." They were too aware of their theological differences for that artificial term, which only gained currency in late-twentieth-century conservative ideology. Yet they shared values sufficiently to conceive systems where all their children could learn side by side.
Announcing the review, Pyne said that he wanted students "to know where we've come from as a nation," in order to "know why we are the kind of country we are today." That included needing a curriculum that would "celebrate Australia." Celebrating our achievements should surely include how the Australian colonies led the world in in the 1870s and 1880s in providing secular public education.
In today's ever more multicultural society, with children of many religions and none, William Hemmant's caution about the importance of educating students together remains at least as pertinent.
"Duplication and waste"
As well as separating children on the basis of money and religion, religious schools created another big problem, according to the nineteenth-century education reformers: they duplicated services and wasted resources.
Queensland's former premier (and later chief justice) Charles Lilley summed up the common view. He told the parliament in 1873 that, if Members wanted to fund religious schools, then either the government would have to endorse a single state religion (he hypothetically proposed Buddhism) or else fairness required that "there must be established in every portion of the State endowed schools of every denomination; at the expense of the State, schools must be built, and teachers employed, for each and all of the religions professed in the community." Obviously, the state could afford nothing of the sort, and the Queensland parliament legislated an end to public funding of religious schools in 1875.
Since Whitlam's policy reversal almost a century later, the duplication that Lilley foresaw has gone bezerk - at least for some religions. Taxpayers effectively replicate the public offering by running parallel systems, called "private" or "non-government" but sometimes subsidised to a comparable percentage of running costs. In the nineteenth century, the duplication was denominational, with Anglican, Catholic, perhaps Methodist and Jewish schools competing for students in the same suburb. Today, the duplication is often more to benefit groups that want their children protected from mainstream science, and from worldviews other than their own.
An example is Riverland Christian School in the South Australian town of Glossop. Its mission is "to honour God by educating children under the Lordship of Christ." It is "private" in the sense that it is "owned and run by a local association of interested Christians," whose members must agree with the school's "Statement of Faith" and produce "a favourable reference from your pastor/church leader."
On the other hand, its funding is almost entirely public. In 2009, 2010 and 2011, it drew 89, 90 and 93% of its income from government sources. Its website states that most of its students progress to either Glossop High or Loxton High. Both are "public" but their funding profile is almost identical to that of Riverland Christian School: in 2011, Glossop High received 95% of its income from government, while Loxton High received exactly the same proportion as Riverland Christian - namely, 93%. Some better-endowed public schools in fact receive public funds for only around 75 to 85% of their costs, putting them well behind many so-called "private" schools.
So what does Riverland Christian offer its 55 students, at a day-to-day cost to government of $11,543 per student in 2011 and $961,190 of capital works 2009-2011, that its immediate competition, Glossop Primary, cannot do for a day-to-day cost to governments of $11,629 per student in 2011, plus $761,357 for capital works over the three years? (The Christian school's higher capital works funding does not reflect a new school setting up: it was founded in 1986.)
Here's a clue: the application form for prospective teachers at the Christian school asks a total of five questions about teaching experience and qualifications, but fourteen about conversion experience, Christian doctrine and church attendance, including, "What do you think about the theory of evolution and its relationship to what the Bible teaches?"
Anyone unsure of the approved answer need look only as far as the school website's Links page. It directs readers to the Brisbane-based anti-evolution Creation Ministries International (CMI), whose missions in New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, Europe and the United States promote the idea that God created the world in six literal days. Here in Australia, CMI's "Rod Walsh the Ark Man" takes his Ark Van, along with its various scale models of Noah's Ark, around churches and schools (currently touring Western Victoria, Adelaide and rural South Australia) to share "real evidence that supports the true historical account of the biblical flood."
The government's election mantra included a lot about "ending duplication and waste between different levels of government." But Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne appear curiously unconcerned about duplication in education. They launched their education policy at Penrith Christian College, making famous its requirement that parents sign a statement of faith declaring homosexuality "an abomination unto God."
After the outcry, the school removed the statement from the web, and said it was updating the wording, which had reflected "an older translation of the Bible" and that students "struggling with issues of sexuality" received "great ... compassion" and "lots of pastoral care ... at a very difficult time in their lives." However, the online enrolment policy still reserves the right to exclude those with conflicting beliefs: "In particular, families actively involved in ... Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, New Age Movement will not be enrolled."
The price to taxpayers of a special school for people who don't want their children to meet a Mormon? $8,388 for each of its 621 students, compared to $9,868 at Penrith Public. And Penrith Christian (founded 1981) got over $4.1 million for capital works in the three years to 2011, compared to Penrith Public's $3.4 million.
Meanwhile, the public system moves nearer to the private schools with which it supposedly competes. Creationism is a case in point. In 2011, the government-funded chaplain of Gympie State High School arranged a creationist lecture by John Mackay, who was co-founder, with Ken Ham, of the Brisbane-based Creation Science Foundation. The school newsletter advertised the lecture as a "science presentation examining the evidence for the Biblical account of Creation." Mackay's institute offers 19 presentations of 30 minutes each, specifically tailored for public schools.
In research conducted through Macquarie University, Cathy Byrne found Special Religious Instruction volunteers in NSW distributing "Creation for Kids" kits at several schools. The kits included DVDs, colouring books and calendars deriding evolution and arguing that the world is only 6,000 years old. Such freebies are just one instance of activities offered by church or parachurch volunteers in public schools. "School Exo Days" with lunchtime concerts and dance performances (plus evangelistic message) are another. Grooming classes and heavily-subsidised camps for girls were described by one church's youth outreach leader described with disarming candour:
"Getting into the schools is really important. It's such a great opportunity to have contact with so many girls and teach them the truth about who they really are ... This gives us a chance to input into their lives for a whole weekend and just pour out love and acceptance."
When asked enthusiastically by an interviewer from Presbyterian newspaper New Directions, "How easy or difficult is it to move from 'loving' [sic] the girls to sharing the gospel with them?" the leader replied, "Very easy ... The girls are looking for hope. So if we can offer it, they will accept."
Not only are we (as taxpayers) heavily subsidising parallel "private" (but substantially publicly-funded) alternative school systems for people who don't like the public version, but the public version itself has lost many of its once-cherished secular attributes.
Marion Maddox is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow and Professor of Politics at Macquarie University, Sydney. She holds PhDs in Theology and Political Philosophy, and is the author of three books and numerous articles on religion and politics. Her most recent book is Taking God to School: The End of Australia's Egalitarian Education? You can listen to Professor Maddox in conversation with Andrew West on RN's Religion and Ethics Report , and participating in the recent IQ2 debate on religious education in public schools .
is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow and Professor of Politics at Macquarie University, Sydney. She holds PhDs in Theology and Political Philosophy, and is the author of three books and numerous articles on religion and politics. Her most recent book is>
Taking God to School: The End of Australia's Egalitarian Education?
You can listen to Professor Maddox in conversation with Andrew West on RN's>
Religion and Ethics Report
, and participating in the recent IQ2
religious education in public schools
Source : http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2014/03/20/3968199.htm