Dr Barry McGaw
Level 10, 255 Pitt St
Sydney, NSW 2000
Monday 30th May 2011
Re: Place of Religious Education in Australian Government Schools
The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians refers, amongst other things, to the role of schools in promoting social cohesion, a responsiblity shared by families and the community. It further says that schools should help ensure young Australians appreciate Australia’s social, cultural, linguistic and religious diversity.
Like many other groups and school parents, the Rationalist Society is concerned that the curriculum presently being used by ACCESS Ministries in Victoria fails to live up to these aspirations.
From the examples we have seen, the ACCESS Ministries curriculum is more likely to promote social division rather than social cohesion. The curriculum inculcates belief in the doctrine of one type of religious denomination, excluding equal recognition of others – it does not educate about religions. Let me give you an example.
In one Unit designed for primary school children called “Who do I want to be?”, the stated purpose of the Unit is “For students to understand that people can make wise choices in life, with God’s help”. This carries the implication that choices made without God’s help are not wise choices; it also assumes the actual existence of a God, which remains a controversial topic even for mature adults.
The Unit’s logically directed conclusion is that “Letting Jesus take control of your life will help you make a new start”. In urging students to let some religious leader ‘take control’ of their lives, this directly undermines the Melbourne Declaration description of successful learners as being able to ‘think deeply and logically, obtaining and evaluating evidence in a disciplined way’.
The Rationalist Society has sought a full copy of the ACCESS Ministries curriculum in order to assess the degree to which it further undermines the sort of educational goals listed in the Melbourne Declaration. To date, they have declined to let us have a copy. What do they have to hide?
Governments and governmental agencies like your own should support democratic values like transparency and accountability. ACCESS Ministries is not transparent, nor are they accountable to anyone other than themselves. And yet they enjoy signficant amounts of taxpayers funds.
You were quoted recently in the Sunday Age as approving of the current Special Religious Instruction arrangements in Victoria. We hope you made these comments in the absence of a close understanding of the actual ACCESS Ministries curriculum.
We call upon ACARA to formally assess the degree to which the ACCESS Ministries curriculum (and other curricula used by evangelical organisations, such as Scripture Union) supports or undermines the aspirations of the Melbourne Declaration.
Dr Meredith Doig
President, Rationalist Society of Australia
cc: Hon. Martin Dixon, Minister for Education and Early Childhood Development