The meeting with the Maungatapere School Board of Trustees went ahead on 19th August 2015. The last time I was in a school staff room, I was being told that removing bicycle seats from the bikes in the bike racks was “not funny” but here I was addressing the Principal, all the Board of Trustees, the Deputy Princpal (Yaron Overeem) and a couple of others who were in attendance. Although I had done a lot (a hell of a lot) of preparation, it’s always nerve-wracking addressing a group of people whose position is different to yours. However, I have this eternal optimism that people are generally rational and that in the face of a clearly logical argument, they will change their point of view. Still so naive!
This blog is part of a story about my experience with religious education in my Daughter’s school. If you missed the start of it, you can find the beginning here.
I title my proposal about the classes “Key points against Bible in Schools”. Note that it was not entitled “Why Christians are Bad People”, “Christian teaching is Evil”, or anything like that. That’s because this issue is about the right to access children to spread faith, not an attack on Christian people.
As you can see, I didn’t hold back. I wasn’t always much of a diligent student in school and my school reports regularly contained the oft-repeated line of “could do better”, but I thought that this proposal was pretty good. It was succinct. It contained referenced material from expert, independent sources and it was an unbiased review of the situation without pushing my own beliefs. I thought it deserved at least an “A-“! So did they respond in kind? Did they “see the light” and realise that perhaps they should have looked into it a little more themselves before re-approving the classes for kids from the age of 5 in normal school hours? Did they F**K! You can read the proposal below (Please let me know in the comments what you thought of it!) and then find out what sort of response I got to it.
Here’s the proposal as it was put to the people in the meeting. Please let me know what you think of it in the comments section below. Then you can find out how the meeting went…
Key Points against Bible in Schools at Maungatapere Primary School
The Churches Education Commission Bible in Schools classes taught at Maungatapere Primary School should be withdrawn as soon as possible or changed to be run outside of normal school hours as an “opt-in” class.
- It is inappropriate to allow any religious group access to children in a secular state school.
- Bible in Schools is an imposition on the religious freedom of children and their families in a school that should be free of religion.
- The “Christian values” claimed by proponents of Bible in Schools are actually secular Human values and not created by or unique to Christianity.
- Children should not be marginalised or segregated in a state school on the basis of their non-Christian or non-religious beliefs.
- The classes do not have widespread community support.
- The Education Act of 1877 stated that New Zealand schools should be “free, compulsory and secular”. Secular, meaning “not connected with religious or spiritual matters”.
- The only reason any religious instruction is allowed in a secular state school is because the school is closed to conduct the classes.
Why do we need to opt-out?
- Because Bible in Schools is extra-curricular, parents should not need to “opt-out” of the classes. The school is technically closed to allow the classes to run, why do we need to opt out of something that our children are not required to attend anyway?
- Parents are not only uninformed that the classes are outside of the curriculum but given the impression that they are part of the curriculum by being offered the option to opt out.
- Opt-out religious instruction classes were banned in the USA in 1948, Canada in 1988 and Australia in 2011.
It is not about values
- Values are already part of the school curriculum. Bible in Schools is not required to fill a gap in teaching values because that gap doesn’t exist.
- One of the values that the Ministry of Education encourages is; “diversity, as found in our different cultures, languages, and heritages”.
- How does segregating children based upon religious preference support this value?
- How does instructing children in one religion support it?
- Source: http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/The-New-Zealand-Curriculum#values
It is not Religious Studies
- How can it be study when it is not objective or diverse? It is Christian religious instruction.
- Would you still be as supportive of religious instruction in a state school if the religion were not Christianity? What if it were Scientology? Or Islam? Or Atheism? Any board of trustees has the power to approve them.
- Religion is an integral part of who we are and where we have come from and has a place in many parts of our existing curriculum. Religious Studies already exist within the approved curriculum at the NCEA level. Source: http://ncea.tki.org.nz/Resources-for-Internally-Assessed-Achievement-Standards/Social-sciences/Religious-studies
- Victoria University’s professor of religious studies, Paul Morris, says that the Bible in Schools syllabus teaches religion, not about religion. He says that some of the material is “inappropriate” and “objectionable”. Source: http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/69771955/professor-paul-morris-gives-scathing-review-of-bible-in-schools-material
- See video of an interview with Paul Morris: http://tvnz.co.nz/breakfast-news/christian-education-in-schools-deemed-unequivocally-not-suitable-all-faiths-video-6348636
Bible in Schools is “Christian Ministry”, NOT Religious Education
- Christian Ministry is an activity carried out to express or spread Christian faith.
- The Church Education Commission’s (who provide the classes) 2014 annual report includes a quote from a Bible in Schools teacher; “CRE (Bible in Schools) is a ministry I have been involved in for many years…”
- In 2007, the Churches Education Commission instructed its followers to join school boards so they could have “more influence” on religious teaching, and that schools were an “under-utilised mission field”. Source: 3news.co.nz/nznews/church-leader-opposes-bible-teaching-in-schools-2012071711#axzz3gUJBlNQ2
- Mitch Jordan (past chairperson for the Churches Education Commission who provides the Bible in Schools programme) is a co-author of “Evangelization of Children”, a 64 page document filled with ideas on “the evangelisation of children who have never heard the Good News of Jesus”.
- Among other things, the report suggests that they…
Recognise the global potential of children’s enthusiasm.
Marketing companies have recognised that children have the power to enthuse others.
Imagine if the church worldwide could harness the enthusiasm of children and encourage them to tell their friends and get them involved as well.
- In 2009, Petrea Medland (National Manager for the CEC) stated on the CEC website;
Welcome to the website of CEC, (The Churches Education Commission), the national organisation that is charged by the churches throughout New Zealand to share God’s love with children in schools.
The classes should not have been approved based on the 2014 Maungatapere School Community Survey responses
- Only 42% of the survey respondents said “Yes” to Bible in Schools classes. This represented only around 6% of families with children at the school. This allows an organised religious group to strongly bias survey results due to a low response rate.
- There was an inherent bias to protect the status quo in the question by including a “don’t mind” answer that was not included in any other question. This could be interpreted either way but seems to have been considered as a yes.
- In their own survey template, the CEC themselves say that if less than 50% of the respondents to a community survey vote yes, then the classes should not go ahead.
- When only 15% of the school community responds to the survey it is difficult to justify making a decision on religious instruction for the entire Maungatapere school community.
The 2014 Maungatapere School Community Survey question about Bible in Schools was false and misleading
Q17 RELIGIOUS STUDIES: The bible-in-schools programme is an interdenominational programme approved by the Ministry of Education. Local people work with classes on this programme for 30 minutes per week with supervision from a teacher. Should this continue to be part of the school’s programme?
Options were; Yes, No or “Don’t Mind”
- The programme is not a study of religion. It is a class of Christian religious instruction.
- Parents were not told that the classes are extracurricular, that the school is closed and that attendance at the school is not required during those times.
- Placing the classes at the start of the school day or during normal school hours makes it more difficult for parents to opt out of the classes and implies attendance is required.
- Bible in Schools is not Ministry of Education approved. This is an entirely false claim that appeared in the 2011 and 2014 survey questions.
- There was an Advertising Standards Authority complaint upheld against the CEC for making the same claim in 2007.
- The Human Rights Commission asserts that the Ministry of Education does not endorse any providers of religious instruction and has no role in approving any programmes by any religious body. Source (Q22): https://www.hrc.co.nz/files/9414/2387/8011/HRC-Religion-in-NZ-Schools-for-web.pdf
- Under employment law, teachers cannot be compelled to oversee religious instruction classes.
Church Groups consider Bible in Schools an opportunity to spread their faith
I think it is naive to consider these classes as just harmless story-time and colouring in. The religious groups promoting these classes have their own agendas that are completely different to what we are being told.
Here are some more quotes from church group websites relating to bible in schools programmes…
“A mission field on our doorstep.
A captive audience – 25+ children wanting to hear what we have to say”
Eastgate Christian Centre
“The motivation is to see the children develop an understanding of who God and Jesus are, and to encourage them to let Jesus into their hearts.”
“We have a unique opportunity in NZ to be able to bring the Bible into public schools! “The entrance of your word gives light.” (Ps 119:130.)”
“Bible in Schools is a teaching programme in local schools that helps give children faith…”
“Now that we have a presence in the school we are eager to see how God is going to transform the church and the community together.”
“Much of his serving in church is in children’s ministry. He is currently a Bible in School teacher at…”
The classes are not suitable for children
The bible in schools classes are not even remotely comparable with any real study of religion in an academic context. They are religious instruction classes.
- Most primary school children do not have the maturity to objectively assess what they are being told by untrained teachers in a position of authority over them.
- There is a very superficial attempt to say that the classes are what “Christians believe” and to associate the teachings with values but this is a thinly veiled attempt to justify what is actually being taught.
- There is far more emphasis put on beliefs than there is on values.
- Impressionable and trusting children are taught;
- That there is a God who loves them.
- That God made the world and everything in it (creationism).
- That they can talk to God.
- How to pray and are encouraged to join in prayers led by the teacher.
- To pray when they are alone.
- That the bible is the best source of information about God.
- That they should thank God and Jesus for the good things in their lives.
- That they are lost without God.
- To live in ways that please god.
- God protects them.
- God made them.
- There is no requirement to teach objectively. The volunteers are present to promote Christianity to children.
Should the board of trustees decide that religious instruction classes should continue within school hours, I suggest that a further Maungatapere School Community Survey should be initiated to correct previous misinformation that has been sent out to parents over at least the last 5 years.
I propose that any the survey;
- Removes the “Don’t Mind” options.
- States that the classes are not Ministry of Education Approved.
- States that previous survey questions were incorrect regarding Ministry of Education approval.
- States that the classes are Christian Religious Instruction and not imply that they are objective by using the words “study” or “education” or that they teach any religion other than Christianity.
- Offers the classes as “opt-in” only and states that they will be outside normal classroom hours. Perhaps during lunch break or after school.
Please let me know what you think of the proposal in the comments section below. Then you can find out how the meeting went…