October 15, 2012

Life Matters

ABC Radio National


Contents


Values and Ethics in Schools


LIFE MATTERS


Natasha Mitchell

  • Everybody Matters: A Memoir by Mary Robinson, 15 January 2013.
  • Values and ethics classes in schools, 28 September 2009.
    Philip Cam: Associate Professor, School of History and Philosophy, University of New South Wales; Author, Thinking Together: Philosophical Inquiry for the Classroom.

    Richard Aedy:
    Should government schools be able to offer a secular ethics and values alternative who don't attend faith based lessons?
    In some states schools must offer … scripture or special religious education [SRE].
    The instruction's provided by representatives from different faiths in school hours.
    [Students] who opt out of religious education, can't really do anything else.
    So you hear stories of kids being put in the library, watching a DVD …
    At the moment, those kids aren't offered a secular alternative. …

    The [State] Education minister's just been presented with proposal to trial an ethics based complement to scripture in NSW state primary schools.
    The man who will devise the curriculum for the proposed trial, under the auspices of the St James Ethics Centre is [Philip Cam (an internationally recognized expert in the area of philosophical and ethical inquiry for children).]

    Philip Cam:
    [Religious education in schools] goes right back to the beginning of free secular state education system … when a bargain was struck with the churches.
    [When] the state took over education from the churches, they put in this provision, so that provision has been there since the late 19th century.
    It's part of the state legislation for education …

    In relation to the kids that go to scripture, they're getting an extra special extension of that … in terms of their own faith and beliefs or their parent's faith and belief system.
    The other kids are now not getting that extension.
    They're not getting that opportunity to think further about ethics frameworks. …

    [Some] faith based groups are actually interested in this.
    In having some ethics based material that they could use to strengthen what they do.
    So what's on offer here … is something that could be helpful to other faith based groups. …

    [In] part it's a social justice issue, because [at the moment,] if you don't have religion, you get nothing at all. …

    Richard Aedy:
    You have to opt out.
    You are automatically opted in.
    That's the default position. …

    Philip Cam:
    [And if] those kid's parents opt out …
    Why should [the kids] thereby be disadvantaged?
    Why should it be religion or nothing? …

    Richard Aedy:
    [The] Inter-church Commission of Religious Education in Schools [has] come out against this idea; even though the proposal does not advocate that ethcs and values based education replace religious education for those parents who want it. …

    Philip Cam:
    I'd understood that the St James Ethics Centre had made approaches to a number of faith based groups and, in fact, had a wide range of support from faith based groups. …

    Richard Aedy:
    The St James Ethics Centre has been working on this [since 2003.]

    Philip Cam:
    In the past … when this was taken to [two education] ministers in succession.
    One of the things that was suggested was that there wasn't a ground swell of support for this in the community. …
    In fact, once you start looking around in the community, you find there's a huge amount of support for this.
    [At] the NSW Parents and Citizens associations [AGM this year] there was absolutely unanimous support for this proposal. …

    [What's being proposed is] a 10 week pilot in [seven schools for] kids in the last 2 years of primary school. …
    What they would get is 10 different lessons, each on a different issue [—] friendship, bullying, lying and telling the truth, ganging up on kids …
    A whole range of things like that, that come within the experience of these kids in their everyday lives.
    [And] rather than now being told what to think about those things; they'd be presented with … problematic little scenarios that they could relate to. …
    They would discuss these [situations] in small groups and [as a class] with a view to exploring these issues together. …

    Richard Aedy:
    You want to give them the tools, to work things out for themselves. …

    Philip Cam:
    It's a matter of them using their reason, in the right sort of social setting.
    To think about, and reflect upon, conduct and ethical issues and ideas. …

    [It's] about wellbeing …
    Kid's who have been able to think about conduct, about issues and problems, and learnt how to deal with them, are going to be in a better position to take control of all the kinds of problems and issues that they have to confront in their lives than kids who have not had that opportunity.
    [Ethical] reflection, is something that could help to support that process.

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