What are the ethics of concealing parents’ choices?
It’s the mantra any organisation ignores at its peril: don’t be afraid of a little healthy competition. If having a few rivals keeps you on your corporate toes, then so much the better.
Whether it’s sheer fear or plain old arrogance to blame, it’s a tenet of Business 101 ignored by religious groups determined to maintain their monopoly over the impressionable young minds of primary school children in NSW.
With the O’Farrell government reliant on the support of the Christian Democrats in the Upper House, the rights of parents to be kept informed of the options available to them are being restricted at the behest of Fred Nile. Rather than be upfront with parents that both scripture and ethics classes are now available in primary schools, Education Minister Adrian Piccoli has confirmed students will only be told about ethics after they decline an offer to attend scripture.
It’s a cunning loophole designed to trap well-intentioned yet time-poor parents into enrolling their children into special religious education by default – a tactic that suggests even Reverend Nile suspects scripture classes numbers would freefall in the face of serious competition.
So much for the free market.
Those who believe it should be up to parents – and not individual MPs or religious lobbies – to determine what their children are taught are rightfully infuriated the government’s concession has resulted in the introduction of an unnecessary and misleading measure.
Not surprisingly Reverend Nile has a slightly more upbeat take on proceedings.
“It’s appropriate that the main policy emphasis is on scripture classes,” he declared this week. “Ethics is an alternative. We don’t want to confuse people.”
On the contrary, confusing people is the very purpose of the new plan. Why else object to a straight-forward and transparent approach in which parents are informed of both available options before they make their decision?
Relying on parents to turn down the only class offered to their child before volunteering that well-what-do-you-know-there-actually-is-another-alternative is a disingenuous and downright slippery tactic.
It also reveals a fundamental lack of confidence.
Are the supporters of special religious education really so insecure about their own product they think the only way to keep numbers up is in ensuring would-be customers are kept in the dark about the competition?
If scripture classes are as enriching and worthy as their advocates would have us believe, why the need to withhold all the facts from parents?
As with anything regarding the often divisive issue of faith, the age-old debate of religious education within state schools boils down to tolerance and mutual respect.
Despite attempts to paint advocates of ethics classes as soulless, strident atheists with dubious morals, the overwhelming majority of parents simply want to exercise a little autonomy over their children’s education.
For families who would prefer to opt out of scripture, the introduction of a viable alternative has mercifully put an end to the time-wasting scenario in which students are restricted from embarking on timetabled lessons or activities during class time.
That the ethics program posed a sensible solution to the long-standing agreement that scripture attendees do not miss out on curriculum-based learning is why the classes have proved so popular.
It is a long overdue compromise that simultaneously caters for students of all backgrounds and beliefs – those who opt to attend scripture and those who do not.
It’s called choice, Reverend Nile, and the parents of NSW are entitled to nothing less.
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