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Religious Education in New Zealand part 2

Religious Education

Yesterday I wrote a post on the controversy in New Zealand about religious instruction in state/public primary schools in Aotearoa New Zealand. The situation is different for secondary schools. Legally, if a school board wishes to allow someone from the Churches Education Commission to take a lesson the school is “closed” and parents may withdraw children from this activity. In my thread I argue that having religious education as an academic subject in the New Zealand Curriculum for all levels in the same manner as history or mathematics would not only solve most of the problems encountered currently, but that our neglecting to do so diminishes the quality of the education provided in this country.

The Secular Education Network (NZ), spearheading this controversy, publicly has on one of its sites about me in response to my post:

For some reason I would not want this man anywhere near my child. His answers are completely patronizing and devious. The Anglican Church has been losing numbers as the population has been greying. Of course he wants RE in schools. Trojan horse anyone?

What is interesting about this libellous public statement on The Secular Education Network’s site is that no room is allowed for Religious Education whatsoever. Religious Education is merely seen as a Trojan horse for future pew fodder for the Anglican Church.

I will not bore you with all the other things said about me on The Secular Education Network’s site, but they are generally in the same vein.

On my site Jeff McClintock replied to Anne Nordhaus criticising an article for being deceptive by switching between Religious Instruction and Religious Education. As Anne had pointed to an article which talks about the SEN and its collective goals I presumed Jeff was criticising that article. I’m now clearer he was not (both being supporters on the SEN page), but that he had not noticed that in criticising my approach he was also undermining Anne’s.

So, it is time for The Secular Education Network to get its house in order. The current NZ approach is the filling of a vacuum in our education curriculum. Is The Secular Education Network’s goal merely to make a better, stronger vacuum, or is it prepared to work collaboratively with others like me who think that dividing religious education away from the rest of our education is a sad mistake?

Arguing about the subtle differences between Religious Instruction, Religious Education, and Religious Study may be interesting but on the whole distracting. Some of the SEN members prefer “Religious Indoctrination“, another “Pedotheistic Insemination“. I have been clear enough about what I refer to as Religious Education, and that whatever terms one uses there is not an hermetically sealed approach.

SEN supporter Tanya Jacob contends that “Religious education can take place as part of the school curriculum” and SEN supporter Susana Carryer makes a similar claim of “a phenomenological approach to the study of religion as promoted in the NZ curriculum”. I am still awaiting their responses of a single state/public primary school in this country where this is happening, and the location in the NZ Curriculum of this phenomenological approach to the study of religion.

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88 Responses to Religious Education in New Zealand part 2

  1. Bosco, I too am disappointed in the demeaning tone of some of the remarks about you on the SEN website. I know you to be a good and intelligent man who is making an excellent fist of RI within one of our major Anglican secondary schools, which has a high level of integrity as an integral part of that school’s curriculum. What you do in practice is the very thing some of these critics are asking for and I would be very glad to have my (now grand)children in your careful charge.
    In that context, as in the UK, “RI” has an established meaning fully equivalent to the “RE” term these critics seem to find more acceptable. I think you are on a hiding to nothing hanging out for its use in discussing the situation in NZ secular primary schools. Not devious or perverse however!

    Now to the substance of the issue at hand. After twenty years as a teacher in NZ secondary schools, both private and state, I was ordained as an Anglican priest and in my first parish was asked to take part in the CEC programme. It was a shock to my system. While the official aims and curriculum development had a high level of educational integrity, in practice this was severely compromised in its implementation of the ground due to two factors: the need to recruit instructors, most untrained as teachers, from a range of churches; and the need to placate the demands of some parents with decidedly evangelistic expectations. I eventually recommended our parish’s withdrawal from the programme. Subsequent involvement in other parishes did little to ease my disquiet.
    My settled opinion is that RE/RI can only work with fully trained teachers working as an integral part of the normal curriculum and accountable to the state and school community through exactly the same structures as govern other teachers. Specialist subject knowledge and interest would of course be necessary. I would not want someone teaching maths to my child if they hated the subject and knew very little about it, although with primary level maths that probably happens too often already. On the other hand, you and I know that some atheists have made exceptional contributions to some branches of academic theology. An atheist RE teacher at primary level though? Maybe not.
    Keep your spirits up – you may yet convince some of these critics that you are on the side of the angels, even if angels as such don’t figure in their worldview.

    • Thanks, Howard, for your encouragement and for sharing my surprise that when some say they want a rigorous academic Religious Education course in our curriculum they rapidly retract this when they find clergy supporting them and now RE becomes a Trojan horse to attempt to fill Anglican pews. My own CEC experience has been positive and nothing like yours; that does not negate the point that your experiences reinforce that some (many?) of the examples of the filling of our curriculum vacuum are often less helpful than the vacuum itself. Blessings.

  2. Bosco, you are assuming that people should automatically understand where you are coming from, but you have not explained yourself clearly. As I mentioned on your first article “I found [it] difficult to follow” and I find the second part just as difficult to follow, with most of your links not matching to anything that fits your descriptions.

    • Thanks, Lisa. You have been reading a blog post of about 500 words. What is difficult for you to understand in the first paragraph? Please indicate which links do not lead to the correct piece and I will try and fix them. Blessings.

  3. I find this situation very sad.
    My observations of commentary from members of the SEN group are varied. Some very angry; others more moderate, even tolerant.
    I have been on the receiving end of some of the ‘angry’ messages as well.
    Which, while we are seeking for greater tolerance does not give me hope that this group will be the leaders towards a solution.

    I like your analogy of the vacuum, and would personally like to see more acceptance of (proposals for) solutions that encourage building a better education system for our children, rather than only tearing down the system that is currently in place.

    I am a Christian. I have no argument with anyone solely because their faith or belief is different from mine. I respect individual belief. I ask that others respect mine.

    I believe that encouraging our children to explore a variety of educational ideas will provide them the opportunity to think for themselves. Children learn at school and at home, and at every other spectrum of their existence. I talk with my children every day about their learnings, and what it means to them. I would like them to have greater opportunity to learn, rather than try to limit this because it threatens what I personally believe. (I’m not saying this is easy).

    I am still optimistic. And more so from reading your posts. Blessings to you Bosco. You give me faith for a better solution.

    • Thanks, Carol. Certainly I am saddened that in this discussion the SEN group does not appear to be open, tolerant, or open to unprejudiced discussion. They totally misquote me, and call me a “fool“. All this publicly on the internet at a time when, I would have thought, they would be seeking public appreciation for their position. And they do this by publicly slandering one of NZ’s most-read bloggers. In their long thread finally (today’s last comment) one person cautiously suggests that maybe I am not the enemy!

      It is significant that one from their group sees these non-religious as a religious group. Like you, Carol, I abhor intolerance and fundamentalism. Sadly, intolerance and fundamentalism presents itself in the non-religious and the atheist.

      Thanks again for posting, Carol.

      Blessings.

      • Bosco Peters says:
        March 21, 2014 at 7:47 am
        Thanks, Carol. Certainly I am saddened that in this discussion the SEN group does not appear to be open, tolerant, or open to unprejudiced discussion. They totally misquote me, and call me a “fool“. All this publicly on the internet at a time when, I would have thought, they would be seeking public appreciation for their position. And they do this by publicly slandering one of NZ’s most-read bloggers. In their long thread finally (today’s last comment) one person cautiously suggests that maybe I am not the enemy!

        It is significant that one from their group sees these non-religious as a religious group. Like you, Carol, I abhor intolerance and fundamentalism. Sadly, intolerance and fundamentalism presents itself in the non-religious and the atheist.

        My Reply:
        Bosco, this interpretation of “non-religious as religious” that you take from Lisa’s point “largest religious group in NZ is the non-religious” is a somewhat patronizing and misleading.
        Lisa was simply pointing out that in terms of classification by Religious Affiliation (as in the census) that the group “no religion” is close to being the largest group.
        Also, the contempt for the SEN position, as if it is slander, betrays your own lack of moral compass.
        When you point the finger, and incite others to hold SEN members in contempt, or portray atheists as contemptible, you yourself, commit the very crime you accuse others of.

        You know full well that teaching religion, as if it is true, is quite reasonably regarded as a form of child abuse, and is well established in public discourse.
        http://www.stuff.co.nz/…/Dawkins-Teaching-religion-is…

        The public castigation you suffer derives directly from the fact that you refuse to acknowledge the harm done to children, by “christian” educators who have contempt for, and stigmatize non-belief, humanism and atheism.

        You do look like a fool when you argue tolerance from a patronizing and demeaning position.
        The true contempt that you hold for atheism, is evident in your comments, and I personally, feel that the criticism that you have experienced does not go far enough.

        John Murphy
        President, NZARH

        • Please, John, where do I “portray atheists as contemptible”? Where is your evidence “in [my] comments” of “The true contempt that [I] hold for atheism”?

          Where is the “fact” of my “refusing to acknowledge harm done”? I explicitly affirmed Howard’s perspective.

          If there is a weakness in a specific argument for atheism I am as willing to examine it as I am weakness in a specific argument for theism, or for agnosticism. I am comfortable in the presence of atheistic Humanists, atheistic Buddhists, “atheistic” Jews, or “atheistic” Christians, as I am with Sikhs, Muslims, and Hindus.

    • Carol,

      Who do you think would do a better job in teaching your kids what YOU believe?

      Yourself, or a complete stranger in a 20 minute religious class taught at a public school?

      How is it that you are limiting your own children in not teaching them what you believe, and instead feel it necessary to have someone ELSE teach your kids what you believe?

      makes no sense…. unless really, you want to teach OTHER children what you believe…. and frankly, that should never be the purview of a public school system now, should it?

      if you want your personal, private beliefs to be respected, don’t you think it best that you make that YOUR responsibility?

      • Ichthyic, please use the ordinary name you are normally known by in comments on this site. Please let us know your ordinary name before posting any future comments.

        Carol never said she is “limiting [her] own children in not teaching them what you believe”. Carol said quite the opposite, “I believe that encouraging our children to explore a variety of educational ideas will provide them the opportunity to think for themselves. Children learn at school and at home, and at every other spectrum of their existence….”

        In responding, please do not fabricate another’s position. You may give your own perspective – it does not need the misconstruing of another’s position to do so.

        Blessings.

  4. As a supporter of the SEN (although not speaking for it), I see a clear distinction between ‘Religious Education’ and ‘Religious Instruction’. One is comparative, the other proselytizing. I think it’s important for both sides to understand the difference. As an atheist I fully support the former while abhorring the latter.

    • Thanks, Michael.

      Whilst I respect your primary point, I would press you to think this through further a bit as it seems to be part of the problem for “supporters of SEN”. [I'm not sure why you see the clear distinction "as a supporter of the SEN" but that is another matter].

      Religious Education does have a background in Religious Studies and its origins in “Comparative Religion”, but I would hold that Religious Education can still occur even if it is not comparative [Let me be clear, as my position is totally distorted on the SEN site - my own practice includes the comparative approach of six world religions, and philosophy of religion, and ethics]. Furthermore, I would also hold that Religious Instruction can occur in a group that has already been proselytised, and hence proselytising is not the defining feature of Religious Instruction. I have already suggested terms I prefer that do not lead to the confusion. And pointed to SEN terms (“Religious Indoctrination“ and “Pedotheistic Insemination“) that others have seen as avoiding the confusion.

      I had understood SEN as pressing for Religious Education, as you are in your comment. But when I as a priest support this I am called, by supporters of SEN, a fool, entrenched in my mythology, advocating RE as a Trojan Horse in order to fill the greying pews of Anglican churches.

      • Bosco, The ‘background’ of which you speak has its roots in a time when to challenge the Church was tantamount to a death sentence or imprisonment (a little bit OTT perhaps, but I hope you get my point :) ).

        It is vital that we use phrases that correctly and accurately articulate our positions in discussions such as this. I work in an environment that is riddled with ‘political speak’, where one can never really be sure of what is meant.

        I have learned that speaking clearly with an agreed language is paramount to understanding. Using inflammatory language like that which has been used against you is not conducive to a good discussion.

        An all-round ‘education’ is what we need for our children, and in my mind this includes a grounding in Religion as it plays such a large role in our society (rightly or wrongly). The word ‘Instruction’ carries with it overtones of being told what to do – how to fly an aircraft, how to solve an equation, but NOT how to compare one thing with another – that’s where the word ‘education’ comes into its own. I would also be quite happy to use the phrase ‘Religious Studies’, as that also suggests a comparative approach.

        • Thanks, Michael, for your eirenic approach. To be honest, prior to this, my first encounter with the SEN, I had understood that my position (advocating strongly for Religious Education in the NZ Curriculum, as I’m hearing you supporting also) would have been the agreed position of the SEN. It appeared to be for some, but once a priest started to advocate that position, suddenly it became my Trojan Horse.

          I struggle with fundamentalism and disrespectful intolerance wherever I encounter it, be it in Christians, atheists, antitheists, or whatever… My surprise was deepened, at a time when I thought this was growing in public consciousness, that SEN members would so publicly take on a blogger who is read by thousands of Kiwis, and for SEN to go on to fabricate my position (where the original and SEN’s falsehood is there for all to compare), etc. Finally, from this morning, one or two voices from SEN are actually looking beyond my clerical collar to what I am actually writing.

          It really doesn’t bear on our discussion, but I have to disagree about “background”. Comparative Religious Studies began in the nineteenth century with growing scientific, critical approach to the Bible (I hope those listening in understand what I mean by “critical” here), and the translation of texts from other world religions, making them more readily available. So not in the death-sentence era.

          You will notice that I use the term “Religious Education” in preference to other terms. And the distinctions I stressed are the terms used by the majority of Religious Educators in NZ schools.

          “Instruction” is not a term regularly used in NZ educational circles. It is a term I would be surprised to find in many church circles also. I see that people at SEN, as I have noted, are also unhappy about it being used.

          Certainly I am 100% in agreement with you: An all-round ‘education’ is what we need for our children, and in my mind this includes a grounding in Religion as it plays such a large role in our society (rightly or wrongly).

      • Bosco,
        when it comes to the difference between terms, or whether you are misunderstood, “The Bosco doth protest too much, Methinks”.
        When it comes to treating people with contempt and disdain, the finger points straight back at yourself, take a look at your own obstinate and arrogant stance, before accusing others of doing so.

        The SEN is a network of people who are from varied backgrounds, from Atheist to Religious, therefore the postings on the site are mainly individual opinions.

        A core objection to the current system is that it permits classes that subject young children to religious indoctrination, that is, classes that are designed to instill belief, and instructors that overtly treat non-belief with contempt.
        This can, and has, directly stigmatized children from non-religious backgrounds (whether opted-out or not) and creates real harm, in terms of bullying, harassment, and ostracism.

        I think it is fair, and not at all confusing, to call that type of class “Religious Instruction”, while classes that each about religions in a neutral setting, can be termed Religious Education, without confusion.

        Furthermore, I think that your continued insistence on blurring the distinctions, does make you look disingenuous, and arrogant, and that the responses you have received are fair comment.

        SEN are campaigning for a system that treats all types of “faith” in a positive and affirming manner, that includes atheism, humanism and the very positive contribution that those ways of dealing with faith and spirituality have contributed to our society.

        • I take seriously, John, your contention that I am treating SEN member comments in the same unfair manner that SEN members are treating me.

          On the SEN site it contends that my “definition of Religious Education involves promoting morals as needing a ‘religious foundation’” when I have explicitly said exactly the opposite in this discussion: I believe students should be exposed to the philosophical debate in our education system whether or not morals can be deduced without religious foundations. Students in this country are perfectly able to have this discussion, and qualified teachers should be able to enable this discussion to happen respectfully and allow students to arrive at their own position and conclusion.

          Just because I think that the term Religious Instruction is not as hermetically distinguishable from Religious Education as you do does not make me disingenuous and arrogant – it just means you and I disagree. I have already offered terms used by the majority of professional Religious Educators in this country; I certainly respect if you do not find them useful.

          You and I will have to disagree that responses such as “I would not want this man anywhere near my child”, he is a “fool, entrenched in his mythology” are “fair comment”.

          The current NZ legal position for state/public primary schools does not “permit classes that subject young children to religious indoctrination, that is, classes that are designed to instill belief”. If there are breaches of the law the police should be informed.

          SEN is patently NOT “campaigning for a system that treats all types of “faith” in a positive and affirming manner, that includes atheism, humanism and the very positive contribution that those ways of dealing with faith and spirituality have contributed to our society.” That is what I am advocating in my post. And it has been made clear more than once (here and here just as two examples) that this is not SEN’s campaign.

        • “Furthermore, I think that your continued insistence on blurring the distinctions, does make you look disingenuous, and arrogant, and that the responses you have received are fair comment.”

          I disagree with you John. The distinction you see is not shared by everyone.

          Despite claims to ownership of it, the debate has always been conducted in a wider sphere than just that group. I have been a part of it for over thirty years now. The claims made by Stephen Minhinnick on Facebook (“This current debate was started by us! The complaints about RI are defined by us! Bosco Peters can’t come wading in at this late stage and try redefining the terms of our debate, and then act all offended when we object.”) are indicative of part of the real problem here – a perceived ownership of the debate, its parameters and lexography.

          Rather than “disingenuous, and arrogant”, what Bosco Peters has written has been consistent, considered and void of personalized attack.

          If the issue remains ownership, we can surely miss the opportunity to gain significant positive change in the way religion is taught and learned in NZ public education. What is important here?

          • Mike Oldfield,
            As David Hines, points out, we are forced to work with definitions of words set out in the law, and by the human rights commission.
            It is Bosco, who parades his arrogance by claiming that we cannot distinguish, and refuses to acknowledge that there is a difference between classes that teach about religion, being distinct enough from classes that instruct, inculcate, and indoctrinate, by teaching the supernatural claims of religion are fact.
            I do not “claim ownership” it is plain that the term “religious instruction” is being used by evangelists as giving them full permission to engage in proselytisation.
            The CEC has, in the past referred to schools as “mission fields”. The intention is plain.
            The reason I engage in this debate is because there has been direct and significant harm to children,and families, from atheist, and minority religious backgrounds as a result of the “religious education” that you so support.
            That harm includes bullying, stigmatization, and ostracism.
            Some of that harm is being dealt with through the human rights commission, and other activities of this group.
            By raising the fallacious “straw man” of issue of “Ownership” as if it obstructs debate, you continue the fine church tradition of stonewalling, and patronizing arrogance, in the face of the appalling manner in which the “religious”, handle evidence of wrongdoing, great job!

  5. The terms “religious education” and “religious instruction” are often used by secular education campaigners because they come from Human Rights Commission guidelines to the Education Act 2009. They say: “Religious instruction means teaching
    aspects of a faith in its own right.
    Religious instruction carries an implicit or
    explicit endorsement of a particular faith
    and/or encourages students to engage
    with and make decisions about accepting
    it on a personal level. An example is
    optional classes run by voluntary groups.”
    So that is what we are opposing, and that is why we use those words.
    The guideline goes on to describe religious instruction, and equates it with religious studies.
    SEN members sometimes comment on RE, but they have varied views on it, and don’t see any need to fill the gap if RI should be removed. Those schools wouldn’t suddenly fall into chaos; they would be left with the NZ Curriculum, already taught in all state primary schools, and already including the possibility of teaching about religius affairs in history or social studies.
    The fact that there may be no actual schools in NZ with religious studies is not a big issue for me. I know there are religious studies courses available, since some religious schools use them.
    If these were introduced to state schools as well, some of us would welcome them; others might see them as a trojan horse.
    I would have few objections to them provided thy included appreciation of non-religiuos beliefs as well, and were sensitive to the age of the pupils. I woldn’t want young children to bepressured into making a commitment to religions, even if a variety of religions were presented . that would in my view contravene the current act.

    • Thanks, David. Your position makes perfect sense to me. [I presume you mean "contrasted" where you wrote "equates"].

      My approach seeks a well-rounded education of our young people, with understanding religion being integral to so much else. We will just have to agree to disagree what makes for a better adult in the global village of today’s world, one who understands major religious, ethical, and philosophical positions and can engage with them because of an education system that has enabled that, or one who does not. Whether chaos ensues may be longer term than the “suddenly” that you and I can agree on.

      I presume that you are referring to Religion in Schools, which of course, as a Religious Educator, I am well aware of.

  6. There seems confusion over religious education and religious instruction here and you seem to think the difference is unimportant. Just to clarify, the difference is very important. Religious education is teaching children about religion and usually includes the worlds most popular religions and is usually taught to older children to teach them about different world cultures. As far as I am aware the SEN has no problem with this.
    Religious instruction is instructing children into the ways of a particular religion, rather like Sunday school, bible classes and so on. As CEC only teaches about Christianity and many of its volunteers teach it to children as fact, this is what SEN is against as children from families with conflicting beliefs are not always being catered for adequately when opting out of Christian based lessons as the schools have to close while the lessons are being held because they break the rule about government schools having to be secular. Schools are allowed to remain open for religious education about all religions as this treats all religions the same so stays secular. CEC lessons are not secular as no other religion is included and it’s often taught as fact so breaks the law about schools being secular and treating all religions equally. To avoid breaking this law schools need to close, becoming more like a church during this time as often children sing religious songs and pray.
    So you see, there is quite a big difference and to some people with none Christian beliefs, it is a big difference.

    • Thanks, Emily.

      There is a distinction in the Human Rights Commission’s document Religion in New Zealand Schools between what it calls religious education and religious instruction. It is a very helpful distinction for those familiar with that document. It is not the only way to distinguish different approaches. The word “instruction” would be little used by educators in this country. The majority of professional religious educators in this country would distinguish evangelism, catechesis, and religious education. I hope that clarifies that I certainly do not think these differences are unimportant, and I am unclear why you think I seem to approach this otherwise.

      • I’m just explaining that I don’t consider the present system here in NZ where CEC volunteers go into primary schools as, religious education but rather religious instruction, or putting it bluntly, evangelising as it’s taught to young children in such a way that implies their beliefs are factual and following Jesus would be in the child’s best interest. This is a far cry from proper, unbiased religious education, taught by a qualified teacher.
        I’m not sure all parents are aware of the difference. I certainly wasn’t until my children were at primary school and I found out that The religious instruction they were receiving wasn’t the teaching about different religions that I thought it was but rather like a church Sunday school program with only bible lessons, singing hymns and praying to God.

        • Ah, I see, Emily. When you said confusion “here” you meant in New Zealand. Thanks for clarifying. The whole point of my post was to advocate for “religious education taught, by a qualified teacher”.

  7. John Murphy @ 10:38 am
    Thanks for your response John. I understand some of what you are saying, and agree with some of it too.

    You seem to have assumed some things about me that are incorrect. I don’t know how or why, but I hope to engage in fair debate without resorting to presumptions about each other. I have never been a member of CEC, and have been a long time critic of some aspects of its work. I had assumed that the stance taken by SEN was in many ways parallel to my own. I have engaged in teaching comparative religion in the state school system, and assisted in developing curriculum documents that reflect a non-partisan approach to understanding religious belief, practice and experience.

    You make note of specific harm done by CEC. I am not aware of the evidence of your claims. If it is a matter of public record, please share it.

    There are processes for dealing with inappropriate teaching in NZ. Rather than ditching a valuable subject, I prefer to work towards improving the educational outcomes for students.

    I agree that the issue of ‘ownership’ is a straw man, and that it obstructs debate. That was why I was so surprised to see it raised on the SEN facebook page.

    The use of terminology is an interesting side issue. There is not an agreed lexicon for this debate. The terms used by the HRC are useful, but arguably very limited. There is no constraint on public debate limiting itself to their terms. Indeed, if one party tried to construct the parameters of language used, we should all be concerned.

    One of the main concerns I have regarding the teaching and learning of Religion, is that there be a growing understanding of human difference and perspective. With good education, we can learn to converse rather than talking past each other. The comments about Bosco on this site and also more explicitly on SEN’s facebook page do not reflect a shared hope of this. That does concern me.

    Your contention that I “continue the fine church tradition of stonewalling, and patronizing arrogance, in the face of the appalling manner in which the “religious”, handle evidence of wrongdoing” is one I take exception to, and request a retraction. I have very occasionally encountered such claims before, but in the past it has only been from fundamentalists of a religious kind.

  8. Greetings Mr Peters,

    I write this comment in ‘good faith’ and hope that you will reply in kind as I am genuinely interested in your answers. Broadly, I support the goals of SEN.

    “In responding, please do not fabricate another’s position. You may give your own perspective – it does not need the misconstruing of another’s position to do so.”
    - Bosco Peters

    Saying that ‘the SEN site’ carries the message you quoted to in this post without clarifying that it was made by “a person who aligns themselves with SEN on an open Facebook group” is disengenous and implies that the quoted message is the position of SEN when it demonstrably isnt. It is the position of one of the Facebook groups members. You also quote members of the FB group when talking about what is and isnt an intention of the SEN. Why? Just because someone who affiliates themselves with the SEN facebook page hates religion say, or doesnt want anything to do with it, it doesn’t mean that SENs position is automatically the same.

    You continue to refer to the public, open, forum-like Facebook group of SEN as being “the SEN site”.

    The SEN site is actually http://religioninschools.co.nz/

    So the above site contains the aims, intentions and goals of SEN – not individual comments from members of the SEN Facebook page.

    Surely you could understand the frustration here. It would be like me attacking an organisation like the Anglican Church by pointing at comments on a Facebook group of Anglican Church members.

    Another side point before I continue: Why do you put so much effort into trying to make the SEN group look so divided rather than addressing the points that it raises? SEN is a diverse group so of course there will be differences of opinion, but even if there are differences then how does attacking a perceived dis-unity actually refute the core arguments put forward by the group (on their actual website)? The fact that all of your quotes to highlight such dis-unity come from the FB page again raises the question of why you would think that individual comments would reflect the overall goals and intentions of SEN anyway.

    I understand why you would be frustrated about people making unfavourable comments about you on a social media page, but surely that is separate from SEN and separate from the debate that SEN (and yourself) are trying to advance.

    I am interested to know what what you mean when you advocate for “religious education taught, by a qualified teacher” and an approach that “seeks a well-rounded education of our young people, with understanding religion being integral to so much else.”

    Do you mean a comparative study of religions side by side looking at their cultural/social impacts on history? I personally think this is very important and was exposed to a great deal of this throughout the time I spent at high school in subjects such as History, Art History, Social Studies etc. Although I would perhaps question the need for an entire subject on the matter in primary schools when it could be part of ‘Topic’ studies or woven into other subjects.

    Or do you mean a Christian person coming into a classroom and talking about Jesus and the Bible?

    Or do you mean something else entirely? What do you mean by “qualified teacher”? Do you mean a school teacher, or someone who has been trained to teach religion?

    It’s difficult to understand what you mean because you don’t subscribe to the definitions put forward by the Human Rights Commission but rather you accept definitions that “the majority of Religious Educators in NZ schools” use.

    Can you see that it may be problematic to subscribe to definitions put forward to describe terms by a party which is inherently invested in how those terms are understood? It would be the same criticism if SEN or another group opposed to ‘RI’ attempted to try and define the terms being discussed. Surely the HRC is as neutral a party as possible in this, which would make it easier for both sides of the debate to actually start to accept some definitions and move the debate past semantics.

    I have tried to read all the comments on each blog post so as not to ask questions you have already provided sufficient answers for so I apologise if this is the case. I also apologise for the rambling-like structure of this post and hope that you can reply to all of the points I have raised here. I have tried to put emotion to one side here because I realise that offending you (or anyone else in a debate) is ultimately pointless.

    Kind Regards
    Tom

    • Thanks, Tom, for your generally eirenic comment. To try and keep things clear, I will put your words in italics and mine not. Like you, prior to this I would have thought that I too broadly supported the goals of SEN. Clearly I was profoundly mistaken.

      Firstly let’s just clear the air between us.

      1) You wrote that my “insistence to divert attention from the real issue onto that of semantics is pretty frustrating.” Can we please agree to disagree what the real issue is? I’m perfectly comfortable that something that is a real issue for me may not be for you. Please respect the same for you.

      2) It’s also odd that he refers to this public FB group that anyone can join as being the “Secular Education Networks Site” – its an open forum, not a mouthpiece for the organization. Actually the SEN facebook group itself (see “about”) describes the SEN facebook page as “the open forum” where people can “engage with SEN members” as distinct from this group. Once I was pointed to the comments in the group it was my decision that I was unwelcome in the general tone of that group and I decided, rather, to put my limited time and energy into trying as best I could to reply to comments on my site. [The about on the facebook page which in the group is where "critics can engage with SEN members" does not give that impression in its "about" - but that is another story]

      3) why doesn’t he make all of his communications concerning SEN public to match the transparency provided here?” I have no idea what this refers to? Which communications are you referring to?

      4) “Saying that ‘the SEN site’ carries the message you quoted to in this post without clarifying that it was made by “a person who aligns themselves with SEN on an open Facebook group” is disengenous and implies that the quoted message is the position of SEN when it demonstrably isnt….” To be frank, Tom, I think your attempt to put emotion to one side slips in your use of “disingenuous” about me. In my first quoting I write “has on one of its sites” (with a clear clickable link to help with any lack of clarity). In quoting people from that site I tend to begin “SEN supporter…” I had understood that anyone wishing to carefully follow the discussion could do so. Within my limits of time and energy I was trying to be clear, fair, and honest [my post here is about 500 words; your comment is nearly 800]. Where I have failed, I apologise.

      5) “Surely you could understand the frustration here. It would be like me attacking an organisation like the Anglican Church by pointing at comments on a Facebook group of Anglican Church members.” I am not sure where “here” is. Let’s put to one side the total misrepresentation of my position, and instead let’s just quote some samples from the group:

      I gather [Bosco] was overheard calling atheists a bunch of “aerosols”, and a “bar stewards”, which is an improvement… John Murphy
      President, New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists

      Another disingenuous statement from Mr Peters. Has he been taking lessons from his political namesake?

      I THINK Bosco is to education as Colin Craig is to democracy.

      I could go on. And on. And just to be crystal clear – John Murphy’s assertion is, of course, a total fabrication.

      I am not sure why you think “It would be like me attacking an organisation like the Anglican Church”. Please point to where I attack the SEN as an organisation. But, yes, if this was the regular tone of Anglicans on a site with connections to the Anglican Church I would be sorely concerned, would express that concern, and certainly would not be defending such comments but rather addressing them.

      6) Do you mean a comparative study of religions side by side looking at their cultural/social impacts on history? I think I have been repeatedly clear I would like to see religious education, philosophy, and ethics as integral within the NZ Curriculum.

      7) “It’s difficult to understand what you mean because you don’t subscribe to the definitions put forward by the Human Rights Commission but rather you accept definitions that “the majority of Religious Educators in NZ schools” use.” It is not a matter of “subscribing” to them or not. They are useful in as far as they go. I am just conscious of their limitations. I have presented the terms I prefer and why.

      8) “What do you mean by “qualified teacher”? Do you mean a school teacher, or someone who has been trained to teach religion?” I mean someone who is qualified to teach the NZ Curriculum. I mean someone who is registered to teach by the New Zealand Teachers Council with a current Practicing Certificate as set out in Education Act of 1989 [Please can we not go into the complexities of Charter Schools, or relatively recent changes to early childhood education...] Again I do not frame things in the way you do: I am a school teacher AND I am someone who has been trained to teach mathematics. Just because I do not frame the issues in the manner you do does not make my approach wrong.

      9) “…both sides of the debate…” I do not agree that there are only two sides to this “debate”. As I said at the start, I might have thought there were two a couple of days ago. I am cured of that now.

      Kind Regards

      • 1. It seems to me that the real issue is religion in schools (And when I say issue I don’t mean ‘problem’ but instead mean something like ‘matter of debate’). I feel that its reasonable to want to move past definitions so that we can actually talk about the role of religion in schools, how it is taught, how it relates to parents and their children etc. As you say “Arguing about the subtle differences between Religious Instruction, Religious Education, and Religious Study may be interesting but on the whole distracting.” So you too recognise that there are more important issues to talk about.

        2. Yes the SEN facebook group is “an open forum” where people can “enagge with SEN members”. Anyone can join and talk, anyone can express whatever views they have on the subject. So even if a member of SEN makes a comment on there about something, for example a comment about you, how does that imply that SEN as an organisation has a policy which matches exactly the contents of that comment? I disagree with some things people say on the FB group but I recognise that it is an open forum for people to talk and rant or whatever. I’m not a parent, I don’t have children that go to a state school with religion taught but I did once go to such a school. Accordingly, I don’t feel that I can criticise parents when they express frustration about the process they are having to go through when it affects their children and themselves because I cant relate fully, so I wont pass judgement on people who make comments on the FB page that appear aggressive or sarcastic or patronising. Regardless, comments on the FB page are obviously not SEN policy so when you quote such comments as “from the SEN site” and that the “SEN site has these statements on it about me” it seems to me to be rather dishonest. The SEN site is religioninschools.co.nz – that is where the policy and objectives are outlined, that is what people who call themselves “members” of “affiliates” or “supporters” of SEN are agreeing to.

        3. That comment relates to how you implied somewhere in either a comment or in one of your posts (the exact quote escapes me) that SEN was somehow ‘not open’ or transparent. All of the communications between people talking about SEN on the FB page so as an exaggeration I suggested you too should disclose all of your communications with people who agreed with you as a way to highlight that SEN was about as open as you could get. Not my finest argument but I’m glad you pulled me up on it!

        4. Yes it’s a highly emotive issue for me so there are slips which I apologise for. I lack the benefit of your philosophical training so my arguments may not be articulated as well as yours and may occasionally include emotive language. I feel that your emphasis on clarity here sacrifices an important distinction and could easily influence someone to think that these ‘libelous statements’ are being made by the SEN administration and are officially sanctioned by the whole group or even broadly agrred to by the whole group. They are personal opinions shared in the space of an open public forum discussing an emotive issue on the internet.

        5. By ‘here’ I meant in my comment. Quoting opinions from the SEN FB group in a way that makes it look like they are the official stance of SEN, and in doing so portraying SEN in a negative light because of it is what I’m frustrated about:

        “The Secular Education Network (NZ), spearheading this controversy, publicly has on one of its sites about me in response to my post:”

        “What is interesting about this libellous public statement on The Secular Education Network’s site is that no room is allowed for Religious Education whatsoever. Religious Education is merely seen as a Trojan horse for future pew fodder for the Anglican Church.”

        “So, it is time for The Secular Education Network to get its house in order.”

        6. How do I know what you mean by RE though? That was my point, I was wanting you to clarify your definitions so I understood what you were aiming for.

        7. What I meant is you don’t ‘accept’ them as ‘the’ definitions of RI and RE. They seem to make it clear what the difference is, and it seems useful to have terms for things that have clear distinctions.

        8. I was not presenting some sort of dichotomy here for you to choose between. I was just wanting you to explain what you meant by “qualified teacher” and provided some examples to let you know the nature of the descriptions I wanted. I realise that someone could be a trained teacher AND be a Christian who came in to talk about Jesus and the Bible, but what I was getting at is what would the minimum requirement be which you answered here as being a qualified teacher in the sense of the education act.

        9. Neither do I, there are of course many different perspectives and stances one could take but I was using two sides here to illustrate the fact that it is helpful for even diametrically opposed sides to agree on definitions. The whole statement that you were replying to here is:
        “Can you see that it may be problematic to subscribe to definitions put forward to describe terms by a party which is inherently invested in how those terms are understood? It would be the same criticism if SEN or another group opposed to ‘RI’ attempted to try and define the terms being discussed. Surely the HRC is as neutral a party as possible in this, which would make it easier for both sides of the debate to actually start to accept some definitions and move the debate past semantics.”

        What are your thoughts on the rest of what I have said there? You narrowed in on a percieved ‘false dichotomy’ but I’m interested in what you think about the rest.

        • I never said “that SEN as an organisation has a policy which matches exactly the contents of that comment”. Yes, after pointing to the facebook group with a clickable link so that people could see exactly what I was talking about, and adding a clickable link from time to time to help people stay clear, I may have shorthanded that to “the SEN site”, but if that was confusing and people confused that with THE one-and-only SEN site, a simple comment seeking that be adjusted would have sufficed.

          You will need to point me to where I state “that SEN was somehow ‘not open’ or transparent”, until then, I deny I said any such thing.

          I am responsible for and the owner of the comments on this site, just as I am responsible for what is on my facebook page. Comments were removed from the SEN facebook group by a moderator. That no one challenged the acceptability of the quotes and fabrications about me on the SEN facebook group does not IMO reflect well on what SEN is about. And remember I said I began with the (mis)understanding that SEN was broadly on the same playing field as I am.

          The sorts of things that I am advocating for in a RE/philosophy/ethics component in the NZ Curriculum include

          * Carefully listening
          * Taking care about reacting out of emotion
          * Accepting, respecting difference
          * Recognising we use different terms and the same terms differently, and learning to dialogue graciously across such differences
          * Not prejudging what another thinks or believes, but if there appears a lack of clarity, seeking clarification

          These are a world away from what I have experienced from members of SEN.

          • “Comments were removed from the SEN facebook group by a moderator. That no one challenged the acceptability of the quotes and fabrications about me on the SEN facebook group does not IMO reflect well on what SEN is about.”

            Its clear that you were upset about people talking about you but I don’t understand how you could make that connection, but oh well. You were trying to imply disunity in SEN, and also imply that the attitudes of people in the FB group were the attitudes of SEN as a whole. And now you are upset that your views were misrepresented and that no one stood up for you on the SEN page?

            “You will need to point me to where I state “that SEN was somehow ‘not open’ or transparent”, until then, I deny I said any such thing.”

            Thats not really an important point anyway, we can just agree that I was wrong there and I don’t mind.

            As for your list about what you advocate for, that is clearly just you being patronizing and sarcastic towards me without actually elaborating in a meaningful way – Especially disappointing after you pulled me up on using emotive language earlier. Coupled with you ignoring the most relevent points of my post, I’ve had to re-evaluate how sincere you actually are about this discussion. I’ll leave it here I think, its just disappointing because I really was keen to try and see things from your perspective and figure out what the real issues were between SEN and your own position. Take care.

          • How would I make the connection that comments were removed from the SEN facebook group, Tom? Because at least one commenter there talks about it, and because I can see comments I read are no longer there.

            I am sorely disappointed that you revert so quickly to the modus operandi that seems to be the culture of the SEN group. I thought here was a way to move forward, but instead we are back with the group’s well-word ad hominems of “patronizing” and “insincere”… If I missed what you thought were the most relevant points of your post you should have focused on those and saved me the extensive time of focusing on what you now say were not really important points anyway.

  9. Bosco, does this mean that you are in favour of religious education that teaches about the most popular religions of the world, in a neutral way, being taught by the normal classroom teacher rather than the present system of unqualified religious volunteers going into primary schools and preaching their beliefs to young children.

      • Ok, I guess it wouldn’t hurt for children to learn the philosophy behind most religions. Buddhism has a particularly good philosophy that some children might benefit from and it would be good for children to compare different religions and understand each other’s cultural backgrounds and differences.

        • No, Emily, that is not what I have been saying at all. Philosophy examines such things as: What is truth? Arguments for and against the existence of God or gods; the relationship between science and religion; whether religion is necessary for morals or not (a discussion I explicitly mentioned but was totally and mockingly misrepresented without correction by a SEN member on its facebook group page); different attitudes possible between different worldviews; and so on. That is a world away from “wouldn’t hurt for children to learn” – it is IMO integral to quality religious education.

  10. I think what you are suggesting sounds quite deep and complex and not really suitable for primary school. This is really more of an optional study for college or even uni as young children don’t have the critical thinking ability to fully cope with such a subject and parents probably wouldn’t want their young children to have their personal beliefs challenged in such a way and at such a young age. Plus it’s a question that no one has truly proven the answer to one way or another. Many are sure their beliefs are factual but there is no true way to prove 100% that a God does or does not exist and if so who’s God or Gods and which religion is closest to the truth. I, as an adult would probably find it quite interesting. But to do such a subject justice one would have to delve quite deeply into the origins of many religions and study who wrote their scripture, when, why, what was happening in the world around them at that time and how did they relate to it and what bearing did it have on what they believed. One would have to consider the way original scripture has been translated over the years and consider its meaning. Then as you say, scientific evidence has to be considered and compared with scripture. That in itself requires a certain level of knowledge and understanding and must be investigated properly to enable an educated opinion. Bringing into this the moral aspect of religion. Their beliefs, the influence it has had on people over the years, the way different beliefs have been interpreted over time, the good, the bad and the ugly, so to speak. It would be quite fascinating to study such a course but I do think as it would be quite controversial and not everyone’s cup of tea as many people are content with their personal beliefs and don’t want them challenged in such a way and it’s not a schools job to do so. We must remember that schools are multicultural and children must be respected and feel safe there. Being forced to challenge their personal beliefs in such a way could be quite upsetting for some.
    I think it far to deep and controversial for the school curriculum, more of an in depth study for a mature mind should one wish to take the plunge.

    • What you are suggesting, Emily, as beyond the abilities and inappropriate for children, is taught successfully in this manner in a number of schools in this country, and taken for granted overseas. I assure you children are far more capable of critical thinking than you are giving them credit for, and IMO these are skills sorely needed in our contemporary world.

      I also disagree with you that we should shape our curriculum to fit in with the beliefs and preconceptions of all. Your approach leads to agreement with the compulsory NZ Curriculum which does not require teaching and examination of evolution, for example. I do not agree with where your ideas lead.

  11. I should probably explain I’m just a parent with no strong beliefs but would like to know how all sides stand on this and exactly what is being proposed as it could very well affect my children. So please excuse any ignorance on my part.

  12. Bosco, I’m still not clear exactly what it is you want taught in schools. Could you be more specific and give me some examples of the lesson content and what age group you think should be taught and who by.
    I help out in my children’s classrooms from time to time and a few of the younger ones struggle with the concept of “if Johnny has 8 marbles and you take three away, how many marbles would Johnny have?” So I really don’t think they would be able to gather information, study scientific facts, debate wether or not they think God is real and discuss the morality of different religions. To be honest, as a parent, I don’t think these appropriate subjects for primary school children. I would much rather they concentrate on reading, writing and maths. I do think its good to encourage critical thinking but I think religion, like politics is a personal and private opinion that’s to controversial for mainstream debate so not really the best subject choice to be teaching it.
    What exactly do you mean when you disagree that we should shape the curriculum to fit in with the beliefs and preconceptions of all? Surely you agree that if religion is taught and discussed then it should include at least five of the most popular religions and beliefs of the world. Also, is evolution taught in primary schools? What year group do they teach it to.
    Sorry to be a pain but as the mother of primary school and pre-school children, any changes like this to the curriculum would affect my children so I want a clear view of what’s going on and what’s being proposed.

    • Emily,

      Just to clarify, it was you not me that did not want a curriculum that challenged anyone’s beliefs. You said:

      It would be quite fascinating to study such a course but I do think as it would be quite controversial and not everyone’s cup of tea as many people are content with their personal beliefs and don’t want them challenged in such a way and it’s not a schools job to do so. We must remember that schools are multicultural and children must be respected and feel safe there. Being forced to challenge their personal beliefs in such a way could be quite upsetting for some.

      I disagreed with your approach. So, yes, it is I who am advocating teaching about world religions. I have made this all repeatedly clear in two posts and several comments including to you. It was the primary point of my first post.

      I have already said evolution is not part of the compulsory NZ Curriculum. If schools choose to teach it, that is their choice. Your comment that you don’t want schools to teach controversial things fits in with that approach.

      Children progress beyond the “if Johnny has 8 marbles and you take three away, how many marbles would Johnny have?” stage. You thought what I suggest be taught, and see taught excellently, and be taken for granted beyond these shores, should be left for voluntary exploration beyond secondary school. You and I will have to agree to disagree.

    • All subjects can be taught at age appropriate levels. In any given classroom of 5 or 6 year old students, there is huge variety in prior knowledge, experience and understanding of all sorts of material encountered. The printed word is an obvious example.

      Just as these students learn about anything new, it is possible to prepare and teach about religion. There are fine examples internationally, and even some here in Aotearoa NZ. Good teachers, with a good curriculum, can provide. Most fine teachers integrate subject matter at primary school level. Students learn to read, do math and understand science at the same time as exploring cultural difference, belief systems, music, politics (especially in an election year), sports…. It is not ‘either/or’.

      A good example of very young students learning about religion was when a ‘mother help’ was a Sikh father. The children asked – and then learned about why he wore a turban, and some of the origins of Sikhism. They viewed video and pictures of the Golden Temple, and shared in a vegetarian meal. No proselytizing, no indoctrination, no-one upset. Good learning happened.

      • Bosco, you are confusing me. So is it teaching thins like, why Diwali is celebrated and the meaning of Honica, that sort of thing I’m fine with as it teaches about the different cultural beliefs of the children in schools so the children are learning general information about each other as Mike Greenslade just suggested, which I think is a good thing and it’s respectful of different people’s beliefs and appropriate for primary aged children. I would support this kind of proposal as I think it would be beneficial towards children understanding each other and the world they live in.

        I would however be against primary school children having to debate wether or not they think different Gods are real, religious ethics and the relationship between religion and science as part of the curriculum. As I have said before, grown adults cannot agree on these topics and I see no benefit to inciting conflict within the classroom according to who believes what. I say again, religious beliefs are a personal matter, I see no point in trying to prove any to be right or wrong and I would question the reasoning of anyone who wants a curriculum that does so.

        I ask again for a lesson example of exactly what it is you propose be taught and what age group. As a parent I want to know exactly what my children would be learning if there is a chance these lessons would ever be taught in their school.

        • Yes, I’ve been suggesting all you say in your first paragraph, as Mike does also, Emily.

          Since you seem to find the way I approach religion, philosophy, and ethics confusing, look instead at possible approaches to politics which you also see as “a personal and private opinion that’s to controversial for mainstream debate so not really the best subject choice to be teaching it”. Again, I respectfully disagree with you. Just because, as you say, “grown adults cannot agree on these topics” I do not conclude as you do that we should not have a safe environment where young people can explore these things. Especially as they vote at the end of their compulsory education.

          Like you, “I see no point in trying to prove any to be right or wrong” in the classroom about voting Labour, or National, or the Greens, etc. but I do not follow from that that we keep young people ignorant about the different political parties and their approaches.

          I hope you see the parallel with religion, philosophy, and ethics.

  13. Bosco. Why on earth would you want religious lessons as part of the school curriculum that challenge the validity of different religious beliefs. I have no idea wether or not you have children but if you do, how do you think they would feel going to a school that challenges their religious beliefs and want them to prove them to be factual. Imagine if there were Jewish, JW’s, Catholic, Baptist, Sikh, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Agnostic, Atheist children in the same class all trying to prove theirs is the one true religion, their Gods are all real or there are no Gods at all.
    In NZ schools, all children are welcome, all beliefs are respected and tolerated equally, a persons beliefs are not an issue. What you are proposing is the opposite of that. I can imagine that forcing children to discuss wether or not Gods are real, how science relates to religion and the morals of different religions as part of the curriculum would encourage rivalry and division as children would all want to defend and prove their beliefs real and good, just as it provokes arguments and sometimes hatred among adults.
    Why do you want this in schools ?

    • So that, Emily, is what you took from my suggestion that we have a safe environment where young people can explore differences between different political parties (translate to religions). The only way you can imagine that happening is by people challenging children’s and young peoples’ choice to vote one party and “all trying to prove theirs is the one true [political party]“? You cannot visualise any way to respectfully inform and discuss in the safe environment of our NZ schools led by well-trained teachers? As I’ve said before, we will just have to agree to disagree. But it does echo a lot of the conversations on both threads on this here, and my surprise at the inability of some (many?) to look at another’s point of view respectfully.

  14. I think our replies crossed.

    Ok, so as I said at the beginning, I have no problem with children learning about different religions and what they all believe as this helps them to understand each other and different cultures. You confused me when you started talking about truths and arguments for and against Gods. I have to say that to me this sound as though you want children to decide wether or not they think God or Gods are real, therefore making it an issue. I’m still not clear what your intentions are regarding this, also the moral aspect. Do you want children to critique the morals of different religions?

    I agree that learning something about the structure of politics and how the system works is useful. Something that outlines what each party represents is ok. Individual policies and campaigns change and would probably be outdated by the time they come to vote so irrelevant. This would be useful for older college kids to know but irrelevant and unnecessary for children younger. It would also be wrong for them to feel pressured into deciding and or sharing with anyone who they might want to vote for. The same goes for any beliefs. It would be wrong for them to think they have to decide upon and, or reveal any beliefs they may or may not have. We all have the right for our personal beliefs be it political, religious or a simple opinion to remain anonymous if we wish.

    • I don’t see how I sound “as though [I] want children to decide wether or not they think God or Gods are real”, Emily. Do you want children to decide which political party to vote for? As they get older, many will decide which party to vote for, some will never vote, and some will change their vote as they go through life. Same with religion.

  15. Bosco,
    Children don’t have to decide whether or not they are going to vote and if so who to vote for so no need to worry them about it. Adults however do and are fully aware of the fact by the time they are eligible to vote and there is much information available to help them decide. In my opinion the same applies to religion. Children don’t need to decide if or not they want to follow any religious beliefs and if so which one, neither do adults for that matter but if they do there is plenty of information readily available as well as places to go to help them learn.
    You said earlier that you would like to see religious education, philosophy and ethics as integral within the NZ curriculum . You then went on to say: philosophy examines such things as, what is truth? Arguments for and against the existence of God or Gods, the relationship between science and religion; whether religion is necessary for morals or not.

    This goes way beyond why a Sikh man wears a turban so I ask what would be the lesson plan for the argument of the existence of God or Gods and what age group would it be aimed at ? How would it be respectfully discussed in the classroom? Because in your earlier reply this is what you said you wanted within the classroom.

    • Emily, you and I are working out of different educational models. (a) learn about things as, when, and after you encounter them (b) learn about things because the world is an amazing place and as part of a broad education. It is true, especially with the advent of the internet that there has been a shift towards the former, especially in NZ [But we still teach things like calculus at school - don't know the last time you used that :-) ]. But even in that approach: many students are voting in NZ before they leave school. So, once again, we will just have to agree to disagree – I would have our political system, its parties, history, and different approaches as part of quality education. You may be fully aware of the way that our political system works in this country, but I regularly encounter adults who do not and who have not had a helpful introduction in their education and may not even know where to look. At least we agree that what applies for politics applies for religion.

      As to lesson plans (probably a good hour’s work for a single lesson which would not help unless you were sitting in the class) and other information, have you looked at what is provided, for example in countries where such education is normal, or the five strands approach of Dialogue Australasia (an approach very popular both here and in Australia and drawn from best-practice in the UK)?

      • Hi Bosco,
        The world is indeed an amazing place, with many wonders still beyond human explanation. Which is one reason I am so in favour of encouraging young minds to stretch and explore.
        I’ve just had a look at the Dialogue Australasia Network website, and I’m so impressed! This is a very comprehensive resource site for educators, and anyone else who wants to view it. I had not heard of the five strands approach before your comment, and I like it.
        I also particularly enjoyed reading some of the blog items too. I love the Golden Rule poster. And I’ve been inspired to watch the movie WALL-E again soon with my family.
        Thank you for offering the suggestion to view the site. Although your comment wasn’t directed at me, I have certainly benefited.
        Kind regards,
        Carol

        • Thanks, Carol. As I said, the five strands approach is followed or adapted in a number of schools here and in Australia, and comes out of best practice in the UK. Thanks for your participation in this discussion.

  16. This is so frustrating…
    My children’s primary school taught what was labeled as “Religious Education” no problem I thought, it will be good for them to learn about the different religions of the world. I and other parents soon discovered that these lessons were nothing of the sort, they were bible lessons taught by volunteers teaching only their beliefs as fact to a school full of children with many different beliefs. When parents complained the school canceled the lessons and replaced them with ” Values Lessons”. Good we all thought until we found out it was the same volunteers using the bible to teach values. It seemed they were determined to come into school and preach their religion to our children.
    This has left me very dubious of anyone wanting to teach religion in schools and I’m determined not to be hoodwinked in the same way again. My children are not prizes to be won on behalf of someone’s God and I won’t allow them to be treated so. They are free to discover and choose their beliefs if and when they want to do so.

    So you see, I want to know exactly what is proposed with honest, typical, lesson examples and intent and also know who will be doing the teaching and what qualifies them to do so and what age group lessons are aimed at. It isn’t that I don’t want children to think and explore, quite the opposite. I want them to know all their options not be spoon fed the niceties of only one.

    • Sorry, Emily, that the UK Curriculum, the five strands approach, and the joint statement on the importance of Religious Education signed by leaders of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Sikh religions, that I quoted, didn’t help you, nor my explanation of teachers registered to teach by the New Zealand Teachers Council with a current Practicing Certificate as set out in Education Act of 1989. I don’t think I can help you further.

  17. I didn’t have time to google them to find out what you are talking about. I’m a mum, I don’t work in the education sector and not into any religious organisation so don’t have the faintest clue about any of them. When I’m not at work, running round with the kids, cooking, cleaning up, washing and taking the dog for a walk or doing the shopping, making packed lunches and doing a few errands, I night have time to research them if I’m not too exhausted and can keep my eyes open long enough to read. It would have been easier if you could have just given me a clear idea of what the lessons would be so I don’t have to.

    • Yes, Emily. I run this blog in snatched moments of spare time I can find for myself in a very, very busy life also. Hence my point that each lesson plan would take me an hour to prepare, and I don’t think it would give you any better idea. As you say, it is not unusual for Kiwis not to have the faintest clue about any religions. That is exactly the issue I think needs addressing in our multi-cultural, multi-faith, increasingly-global village. What did you think of the joint statement on the importance of Religious Education signed by leaders of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Sikh religions?

      • But if you are proposing something that affect the whole country as the school curriculum does, in a public forum like a blog then I would have thought you would have examples of what you are proposing readily at hand to show as examples to those it affects. For example, If I wanted to set up a business, I would have a business plan and examples of the product or details of the service I would be providing, at hand to show potential investors or clients. People want to know what they are getting. The school curriculum is no different. A dance teacher would say what kind of dance they teach. A music teacher what instrument, I would expect to know what religions are included in the religious education classes.

          • Well there you go. I guess having religious education taught as part of the curriculum isn’t that high on my list of priorities. I haven’t heard of any parents pushing for it to be included so I guess it’s not that high on a lot of parents list of priorities either.

          • Well there you go. I guess having religious education taught as part of the curriculum isn’t that high on my list of priorities. It would be nice for the major beliefs of the world to be taught in social studies at intermediate or college but I don’t see it as essential, perhaps as an option at college for those interested. I personally find learning about religions and cultures I know nothing or very little about more interesting than Christianity and a western lifestyle because that’s something I already know about. I went to church for a while years ago to learn more, but it wasn’t my thing. That option is there for others interested and wanting to learn more and they do programs for kids so I suppose parents who want their children to learn about Christianity will take their kids there. A bit like joining a rugby club if your kids want to play rugby.

  18. Hmmm, it says it develops knowledge and understanding of Christianity then just puts everything else under the broad umbrella of other principles, other traditions and other world views. Does this mean that Christianity is the main focus and it’s pot luck so to speak of any other beliefs being taught as no other religion or belief is specifically mentioned ?
    I don’t find this reassuring at all.

    • It is signed, Emily, by leaders of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Sikh religions. All those six world religions are taught there. Christianity has a particular history in the UK, just as it does here. I would expect RE in India to have a special place for Hinduism, just as I would expect RE in Israel to have a special place for Judaism. But, yes, any statement could be improved upon. If you don’t find that statement reassuring at all, then I don’t think you will find much in academic RE to your liking.

      • More fool them for signing it then, because there is no promise or guarantee that any of their beliefs will be taught.

        Schools today are very multicultural, specially here in Auckland so I think it only fair and proper that at least the five most popular, perhaps seven are taught equally. I don’t see why any one belief should be singled out to dominate.
        How can you say on one hand that you want children to explore, then limit what is taught. How can they properly compare, explore and question world religions if the main focus is on one. No, I cannot support what you are proposing.
        I would expect academic RE to teach about all major religions equally and treat them all equally otherwise it’s really Christian education with a few world views thrown in.

        • Hi Emily,

          At the risk of stating the obvious, I also recognise your stated lack of knowledge of the education sector. All curriculum content is selected, and no system is comprehensive. Countries naturally choose content that reflects their own interests first, and then those of others they are most closely related to. This is clearly obvious in subjects like history. In the USA, they study much more of their own history than Albanian or Indian – even in communities with significant Albanian and Indian populations.

          In England – and in Aotearoa – there is a significant religious history of Christianity. It has shaped many of our laws, customs and language. I live in Christchurch. The name of our city reflects the Christian heritage.

          Equity does not by necessity mean sameness. Teaching children about religion does not require that the same time be given to every different religion, just as learning about reading does not require studying every genre of literature.

          In this land, there is a justification for having particular focus on Maori and Christian religious traditions. It does not need to have anything to do with indoctrination, but can have everything to do with context.

  19. Christchurch was named after a place in UK.

    How has Christianity shaped our laws and language ?
    The largest percentage of our population are none religious according to the last census so perhaps just as Christian missionaries relegated the Maori Gods to myths and legend status, perhaps the idea of NZ being a Christian country should be relegated to being taught as NZ history rather than current fact. We are now a diverse multicultural country and any religious teaching should reflect that in my opinion.

    • Whether the city is named from Dorset, or the far more widely held assertion, for Christ Church in Oxford, for me is of less significance that the original plans of the Canterbury Association ‘to build a city centred around a University and a Cathedral’.
      For many New Zealanders, the Christchurch Cathedral, or the memory of, it will always hold a very special place in our hearts (and for me, so too will the Durham Street Methodist Church).
      I feel that the importance of the Cathedral to Christchurch and to New Zealand, goes beyond a mere history lesson, it is in many ways [a part of] the foundation of the city.

      • I should not have used the word “meer” there is nothing trivial about our history; or how Christianity intertwines it.

    • Hi Emily,

      “How has Christianity shaped our laws and language ?”

      A great question, and interesting answers can be found for it. It identifies one of the driving reasons for the need of a good Religious Education curriculum in NZ.

      As for the myth of NZ being a Christian Country – you are so right. If it were the case, the CEC would probably not see a need to exist! For those of us who see the desirability of schools teaching about world religions, your point is well heard. I would, however, be concerned if we repeated the mistakes and abuses of the early missionaries.

  20. Well then answer my question and please explain to me how has Christianity uniquely shaped our laws and language because I can’t see any significant way that it has because the English language existed before Christianity when England was a pagan country and I our laws as far as I’m aware only contain two of the Ten Commandments (thou shall not steal and thou shall not commit murder) these two laws are very much common sense that everyone regardless of religion agrees with and have been accepted as, the law of the land, in many countries per dating Christianity. There has always been a division of religion and state here in NZ so how has Christianity shaped our laws ?
    You may say that the Queen being the head of the Anglican Church may in some obscure way be relevant but that’s really more to do with history, specially as the Anglican Church was formed by a king who’s religion would not permit him to divorce his queen so he could marry someone else, so he formed his own church, set himself up as the head of it and killed anyone in his country who refused to join it. Not what most would class as a divine calling or following the laws about murder, specially as he ended up chopping off the head of the woman he did it all for. But there you go. I think this is the religion you are talking about that shaped our laws in some way ?

    • Emily, I’m not sure if shifting the discussion to actually running an online Religious Education course is appropriate. But I would point out, of course, that the church that you say Henry VIII “formed” has consistently, in his day and since then most emphatically, not permitted divorce. It is misconceptions such as these, as well as the questions that you pose, that form the content of quality Religious Education.

      • Well Bosco, it seems to be common knowledge just why “Old Henry” (the nickname given to Henry VIII by my English history teacher, in England when she taught us English history while I lived in England for a couple of years as a teenager) created the Church of England, I presume she would be a reasonable authority on the subject.

        • Again, Emily, it seems unhelpful to sidetrack the point of this thread, although it does highlight that so much of what you call “common knowledge” about religion is incorrect. This is now your 21st comment on this thread, your 5th today. I wonder if you had used that time to look at the approaches I pointed to whether you may have better answered the questions you have been seeking answers to in this thread.

  21. Unfortunately Carol, like it or not it’s the people in charge who make the decisions and we are at the mercy of there decisions. This is sometimes regardless of what others find dear to them. I to have fond memories of Christchurch and the cathedral as they were before the quake as my mother grew up there. She died just before the first quake and to me it feels like Christchurch died with her.

  22. Bosco, I was just wanting to know the link between our countries laws and Christianity that Mike refers to? He referred to it in the first place, not me. I would have thought this more a topic for NZ social studies though rather than religious education, as the laws of the land apply to everyone in the country regardless of their beliefs and are therefore social rather than religious laws and are made by politicians who may have varying even conflicting religious beliefs.

    • Yes, Emily, I’m aware of special character schools that incorporate Religious Education into a Social Studies programme: history, geography, religious education, politics, etc. Speaking of politicians, it is of interest, isn’t it, that in our land Parliament begins each day with a Christian prayer, and that our national anthems are addressed to the Christian God. These, certainly, are points worthy of discussing in religious education as I don’t think they are beyond questioning.

    • Hi Emily,

      There are libraries full of books on this topic. A readable starter is “Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition, and The Impact of the Protestant Reformations on the Western Legal Tradition” by Harold J Berman. There are two volumes, written for lay people, identifying how a vast amount of our legal system (and society as a whole) is based on traditional Christian thought, culture and practice. This is important information for anyone of any belief system who wishes to knowledgeably engage in western society. Kia whakatōmuri te haere whakamua.

  23. I think its a shame when countries like ours have national anthems that not all its citizens sing because it doesn’t apply to them. I remember thinking this at a rugby match once when only a couple of players sang along. At least no God is stated so that broadens the spectrum a bit. Yes, there may be prayers out of an old tradition, but again, not everyone says them as they don’t apply to all. It’s is good that people of NZ are respectful of others beliefs and stand quietly to allow those that wish to participate to do so. This is not enforced in schools though and I don’t think in government schools that it should be as all students and their beliefs should be respected and valued equally.

  24. By the way, not all Maori were converted to Christianity by European settlers and the none Christian Maori side of my whanu don’t identify with the national anthem of our country at all, which I find very sad.

  25. Mike, I’m sure its great reading for those interested in such things. It’s not really my thing so I shall pass if you don’t mind. I’m just saying that in my opinion as someone who’s roots are in a multicultural country and I myself are of multicultural ancestors who all came to NZ from different parts of the world over many, many years. I see this wonderful country of ours a very diverse. It’s a beautiful, colourful rainbow nation and I love that. I love the variety different cultures bring with them. I believe a country is its people and our people all have different beliefs. When Europeans came her they were permitted to bring their beliefs and culture with them, they were permitted to let them flourish here in NZ. Others Must be allowed the same, the country nuts be allowed to change as its population changes and grows. In world terms NZ is still a very young country and as so it still has a lot of growing and changing to do. We are a nation of immigrants who must welcome equally all that choose to call this land home and their beliefs should all have equal rites. The people here today are tomorrow’s history, whoever they are, whatever they believe, wherever they came from. As a country with such multicultural roots, if RE is included in the curriculum it should reflect this. RE should be all religions taught equally otherwise what’s the point. We should celebrate all children in school, not just some of them.

  26. I’m back.
    I just read the five strand way of teaching RE and I’m appalled, you can’t reach that in government multicultural primary schools, it’s bible bashing. It’s not suitable for children of other beliefs. Hope it’s all taught as what Christians believe at least and not as fact as it will conflict with others beliefs. It may be taught in Christian schools because parents would expect it but government schools are supposed to be secular and show no preference to any belief. Hence the problem at the moment where schools have to close to enable bible lessons to take place. There are three Muslim children in my sons class and one Sikh and my sons best friend comes from an atheist family. I’m not sure how their parents would feel if these lessons were on the curriculum. I noticed one strand mentioned prayer. You can’t force children to pray to your God if they don’t believe in him. I don’t agree with this at all. This goes way deeper than teaching what Christians believe and why. Children should not be forced to study your religion any more than they should be forced to study Zen Buddhism or the Quran. If there is ever any question about this becoming part of the curriculum, I will make it known that I am against it and my children will not be attending the lessons. There are places of worship and Sunday schools for that sort of thing. Good gay to you.

    • For those who do not know what Emily is talking about, the five strands are:

      * The Biblical and Christian Tradition
      * World Religions
      * Theoretical and Applied Ethics
      * Philosophy of Religion
      * Affective Strand (Teaching Stillness and Silence)
      This is the approach used with about 200,000 students in Australia and New Zealand, introduced to Australasian schools in 1997 by Dr Peter Vardy, then Vice Principal of Heythrop College at the University of London. It reflects an educational model used throughout the United Kingdom. (See here and here)

  27. Bosco, it says it strives to give children meaning and purpose within the context of the Christian faith. There is very little teaching of other world religions. The Heythorp College describes itself as having a “modern catholic ethos” most of the five strand teachings are based on the bible. It’s fine to use the bible to teach ethics and philosophy in a catholic or Christian school but not in our public schools as there are many who live by a different philosophy to that of the bible. This simply isn’t suitable for our multicultural society. How does it encourage children of alternative beliefs to the bible to live according to their philosophy ?

    • Thanks for seeking clarification, Emily.

      Could you please let us know where it is stated that the five strands approach as you contend “strives to give children meaning and purpose within the context of the Christian faith”? Where do you ascertain that “most of the five strand teachings are based on the bible”?

      I have had much to do with the five strands approach, been to many of their conferences (both here and overseas), visited schools that follow this approach (here, Aus, UK), read a lot of Dr Peter Vardy’s books (something I encourage you to do as you seem quite interested in this topic, and they are written as intelligent introductions), have met him many times and listened to him lecture.

      You are sorely mistaken in the impression you have gleaned. The five strands approach is the same approach as followed in our (secular!) universities, translated into the younger context of our schools – just as any academic subject does.

  28. I Googled the five strands approach, religious education. I have copied and pasted the opening statement.

    The Five Strand Approach to Religious and Values Education in Schools – an overview and some strategies for classroom implementation.
    We all face the challenge in our schools of giving our young people an understanding of religion and values relevant for life in a society increasingly secular and pluralistic. It is in many ways a difficult world in which the young grow-up. They face a bewildering array of conflicting values shaped increasingly by the media, the market place and their peers. Family, school and church influences are sometimes trapped by the same forces, caught up as they often are in the relativity of the ethics being put forward.
    In our aim to educate the “whole person” we strive, however imperfectly, to provide our young people with a framework of meaning and purpose, within the context of the Christian faith, with which to face the challenges lying ahead as they enter adult life in the new millennium.

    I also noticed that all the schools mentioned in the article as using the five strands approach were independent, mostly Anglican and a few Catholic. It gave examples of teaching about acceptance of other religions by using the story of the Good Samaritan. It seemed to use parables from the bible in quite a lot of its teaching. Islam was only mentioned twice. I wonder if when questioning the existence of God comes up if it’s the Christian perspective that’s used to guide students decision ?
    It all appeared loaded in Christian favour to me but as something used in Christian schools, I would expect that and it would be right and proper to do so. In government, multicultural schools however, it’s not appropriate.

    • I cannot work out, Emily, whether you are just being contrary for the sake of it. I provided you with a link. Could you please, for other readers here, answer my question where you are getting your information? Please provide the URL of the website you are quoting – from which you gain the incorrect understanding of the academic teaching of RE.

      As far as I can see your quote comes from a paper presented over a decade ago to a conference of Anglican schools in Australia on how the five strands approach might work in their specific context.

      I don’t understand your point: we don’t have RE in state schools; I’m advocating we have RE as part of our curriculum; you are arguing in your third paragraph that we shouldn’t have RE in state schools because you notice those who have RE are independent, Anglican and Catholic schools!

  29. I’m using quite as small device and it’s not easy going back through everything to find a link, also, this device doesn’t always recognise links. I googled and that’s what came up. I’m not totally against RE being taught in schools. I think teaching equally about the major beliefs of the world in social studies to older children as a topic would be a good thing. I am however against it being biased towards one belief and encouraging children into a belief. Past experience has made me very cautious and I don’t trust schools or religious organizations to be open and honest about what they are teaching regarding RE, so I want to satisfy myself that what they say they are teaching is actually being taught and in a fair and appropriate manner. If the system had been open and honest in the first place and not disguised bible study as RE or morals and ethics lessons, then I wouldn’t mistrust and have to check up and scritinize what’s being proposed.

  30. Any changes to the national curriculum will affect my children, so I think I’m completely within my right as a parent to want to know exactly what any proposed changes might be.

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Rev. Bosco Peters Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.