What are values and where do you get them
A news report on the wireless last week about a decision taken by the local council at Liverpool, a satellite suburb in Sydney’s west, first to approve - then to reject - a planning application for the construction of an Islamic school in the nearby area of Hoxton Park promoted some interesting listener discussion.
One caller, a father who identified himself as a Muslim, indicated a sense of generalised disappointment with the decision. He said it had always been his intention to send his children to either a Catholic school, or Jewish school because he wanted them to have a “values-based” education.
Dad went on the explain that he had, in fact, enrolled his kids in as Islamic school, so his own wishes for his children’s education had been fulfilled - but the point remained; Liverpool Council’s decision would probably mean many parents in the area would be denied the chance to exercise the sort of “choice” this particular father had wanted for his children.
But it gets you to thinking, doesn’t it? Of course, we’re all pro-choice in this marvelously diverse and pluralistic nation. We’re not afraid of cultural difference, we embrace the rights of all to follow their own pathways of belief according to their lights, we defend our hard-won freedoms to pursue our own faiths, our own codes of understanding.
Yet for all that, what sort of “values” was this dad hoping might be instilled in his children at the schools he’d wanted them to attend - a Catholic school, a Jewish school or the Islamic school in which they ultimately enrolled? And how might the “values” taught in such schools depart from the “values” taught in the secular public schools funded by government?
It’s impossible to speak for this father, of course, but surely the foundation values which all schools ought to be trying to inculcate in their pupils are not only – perhaps not even - the province of independent religious schools.
Surely we’d all want our kids to grow up with a well-founded understanding of the need for tolerance and respect for others, with the ability to see that violence is rarely – if ever – the solution to a problem, able to make independent and well-reasoned decisions about their own lives, with a capacity for compassion, and an ability empathise. That’s not meant to be an exhaustive list - but you get the idea. The point is, they’re human values, not religious values, aren’t they?
Now undoubtedly, it would be a piece of prejudice, pure and simple, to suggest - on the basis of the unrelenting stream of news reports relating to the Catholic church’s sorry reputation when it comes to the welfare of children committed to its care – that Catholic schools might not be best-placed to provide a proper foundation in the sorts of values most parents prize.
Likewise it would be wrong - no doubt - to suggest that equally pervasive reports of bloody Islamic extremism, and even Jewish fanaticism might somehow be thought to limit the ability of schools founded on those faiths to offer worthwhile instruction in proper values.
And it’s not the intention of this column to besmirch the good names of the millions upon millions of good men and women who do profess religious faith.
But for all that, I do wonder just what weight of bad news it would take to make parents looking for “values-based” education for their kids start to question claims by religious organisations to custody of the bases of morality.
The head of the NSW Association of Independent Schools, Dr Geoff Newcombe also phoned the radio station. He said local community objections to the Islamic school plan did look like prejudice.
Maybe he’s right. But a lay interpretation of bad behaviour by elements associated with virtually all major religions over the past millennium might lead some to suspect that religion is the last place one ought to look to find “values” we can all endorse.
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