Secular Education

Introduction

The Rationalist Society supports the development of the human capacity for reflective and generative thinking through the teaching of critical thinking, scientific literacy and ethical values.

Critical thinking examines assumptions, discerns hidden values, evaluates evidence and assesses conclusions. Well taught, critical thinking leads to open-mindedness, appreciation of the consequences of action, a systematic approach to problem-solving, inquisitiveness, fairmindedness, confidence in reasoning and maturity of judgement. It allows other persons’ ideas to be examined while respecting others’ inherent worth.

Scientific literacy is necessary to understand how the modern world works, how to evaluate the validity of arguments based on data and technical information, and how to appreciate the contribution science makes to society and to the economy.

Positive ethical values such as the Golden Rule of ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ are found in all philosophical traditions, religious and non-religious. This is because positive ethical values are a natural product of human evolution, not derived from any supernatural source. Each generation has a responsibility to pass on these positive ethical values, and we believe this can be most effectively done by a combination of socialisation at home and education in schools.

Every child has the right to be educated to the full extent of their capacities. We oppose any attempt by religious or non-religious organisations to limit children’s education or to isolate them within closed communities.

The RSA opposes the indoctrination of children into any particular religious doctrine before they are mature enough to consider alternatives and make up their own minds about which worldview they choose for themselves.

In particular, we believe government schools should be neutral on the subject of religion in order to make them a welcoming environment for families of all faiths and of none. We support the invigoration of a robust, well-funded, genuinely secular government education system.

We don’t say government schools need be ‘religion-free zones’: we support the teaching of ethics and comparative religion as part of our rich cultural heritage. We accept that discussion of religions and religious texts may legitimately arise when students learn about art, music, history and literature. But ethics and religion should be taught by qualified teachers in an academic environment, not by unqualified religious instructors with an evangelical purpose.

Our Secular Humanism Curriculum Project

In collaboration with Humanists Victoria, the Rationalist Society has commissioned the development of a “Secular Humanism Curriculum Project”.

This project will develop a curriculum that:

  • fits into the Australian national curriculum and at least three state and territory curricula (eg, history, civics & citizenship, ethical understanding, intercultural understanding, critical & creative thinking, personal and social capabilities)
  • is targetted at Years 9 and 10, following the developmental stage of conceptual thinking
  • provides schools and teachers with materials to teach about secular humanism as a worldview – its history, principles and values
  • develops an understanding of the diversity of religious and non-religious worldviews, their similarities and differences
  • provides opportunities to practise the application of ethical principles to everyday dilemmas.

Phase 1

The first phase of the project was completed in August 2020. It comprised background materials such as definitions of humanism, rationalism and secularism, a brief history of these traditions, a description of the sort of educational materials that could be developed (in Phase 2) and how these materials could be used to help students deal with modern ethical dilemmas in contemporary society.

Phase 2

Phase 2 of the project will develop student resources and teacher guides. The first two sets of materials address the Key Questions, “What is Secular Humanism?” and “Where does Secular Humanism come from?”

This phase will continue over 2020-21 with an expectation of delivery by the beginning of the 2022 school year.

All the more reason.

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