A parent with children at Wellsford School recently complained on the Secular Education Network facebook page about how the school had carried out a misleading survey asking about bible in schools. Despite the apparent bias for the classes, 33% of people surveyed were still opposed to them. Interestingly, the teachers were included in the survey. When the survey was sent out, promotional material from the Churches Education Commission (CEC), who provide the lessons was included. As you can see from the scan of the a letter from the school, they were not simply offering the CEC programme but actively endorsing it. There was nothing provided that offered an opposing view. Parents were also asked if they wanted to opt-out of the lessons regardless of the result. A little presumptuous perhaps!
Really disappointed with the notice that we received today. If we oppose religious instruction in schools we should not have to opt out annually, or feel discriminated against due to our beliefs.. We certainly shouldn’t have to opt out twice in one term!
Despite the claims that this is values based, the propaganda we received today clearly shows Christian instruction across all points. (FYI the CEC is not approved by the Ministry of Education, despite suggestions otherwise regarding curriculum)
She also said;
“The board are predominantly Christian.. as is the principal/deputy principal. It’s a losing battle.”
I was interested to find out more about the school’s approach to RI classes, so I emailed them.
To: Wellsford School
Date: 17th May 2017
I understand that you have carried out a survey on religious instruction within your school community.
However, it seems that the survey consisted of a letter from the school promoting RI classes followed by options where 3 of the 4 choices were endorsing continuance of the classes.
Obviously, this is incredibly biased and akin to an election where only one candidate is represented.
You have asked for the school community to vote on whether or not to discriminate against non-Christians by;
- forcing their children out of curriculum teaching time.
- forcing them to either compromise their religious views by accepting religious instruction they disagree with, or alternatively, declare their views on Christianity by opting their children out.
Freedom of religion does not include the freedom to discriminate against minority beliefs.
Why should any religious group be given access to promote their faith to children in a secular state primary school?
I didn’t receive a reply, so sent a follow up email and received the following response…
From: Dave Bradley (Principal)
Date: 26th May 2017
Hi there David,
Yes I did receive your email.
Our survey was created in order for our community to make an informed choice about whether or not our Values Education programme would be supported by the volunteers who have taken bible in recent years, or not.
According to community feedback about our school curriculum, conducted last year, there are mixed feelings about it. Some were strongly in favour and some were strongly against. Some were ok about it, and happy for their child to attend, while others didn’t have strong feelings, but preferred their child was not involved.
To gain a clearer picture we directly surveyed the community about it. All four options were part of the survey, equally. Parents could strongly support or strongly reject the programme.
The Board of Wellsford School were very careful to ensure all points of few could be expressed, and do not believe the survey was at all biased. We are also very clear with these volunteers – they are not there to promote their faith, they are there to use stories to reinforce the values the school community aspire to.
Can I ask you a question or two? Who are you? Are you a member of our school community?
Schools seem to rely a lot on majority voting to justify including religious instruction classes in the school. But if you have a religiously biased school administration, providing one-sided information to parents, how can a vote be fair? Is it even reasonable to vote on something that polarises the school, segregates children based on their parents’ religious views and discriminates against non-Christian children? Why are the school stopping children from being taught the official curriculum to promote Christian religious faith? This was my reply…
To: Dave Bradley (Principal)
Date: 26th May 2017
Thanks for the response.
I understand why you have the view that the classes are to promote values and not proselytise. That is the way that the Churches Education Commission promote them. However, this is easily proven to be a false claim for a number of reasons;
- I’ve seen the teacher guides for these lessons. The classes start for 5 year olds by teaching the creation story, God’s existence, God made them… and so on. There is no suggestion that any of this is not true, that there are other beliefs or that some people don’t believe any of it. Clearly this has nothing to do with teaching values.
- Values are already required teaching as part of the curriculum. I’m sure that your staff are already doing a great job. In fact the CEC mimic all the curriculum values, except one… diversity.
- The CEC director was recently interviewed on Radio Rhema where she encouraged church members to get involved so that “a local church owns their local primary school” (around the 9m30s mark). I’d consider that to be unethical, immoral and not the sort of values that we should be encouraging. This is far from a one-off slip of the tongue.
- There is also the recent case of a (CEC backed) Pastor in Oamaru who boasted of “infiltrating” his local school.
- I have a collection of quotes from churches who promote the same classes where they state their aims to “give children faith” and that they are regarded as a “ministry”.
- The CEC infamously told their followers in 2012 that schools were an “under-utilised mission field“.
- The classes teach children how to pray to God.
The only way these classes are allowed into the school at all, is as religious instruction under the Education Act 1964 (see sections 77-79) because they are instructing in religious faith. Anyone who tells you these classes don’t promote Christian faith is either ignorant, delusional or a liar.
Teaching values does not require the teaching of religious beliefs. Less than half of NZers consider themselves to be Christian, so why are values being taught to a diverse groups of kids from the perspective of one religion? These people would not be in the classroom if they could not talk about their religion and only taught secular values.
Victoria University Professor of Religious Studies, Paul Morris, says that the bible in schools materials are “…inappropriate and likely objectionable to secular, non-Christian,and non-evangelical, conservative Christian parents and students.“.
I have seen that schools often put heavy emphasis on the results of a school survey to justify decisions made about religious instruction. However, I believe this to be a mistake.
- The church members promoting these classes are organised. They meet to discuss ways to advance their faith in the school and organise a block vote. On the other hand, the parents who aren’t interested in religious instruction are not normally part of any group who vote against RI. If they are, it’s because they have been forced to seek help to defend their right to freedom from religion.
- There is always inherent bias in the way these surveys are carried out. Your own survey sent out promotional material provided by the CEC for a class already endorsed by the BOT. Given that it is a contentious issue put to a vote, it would have been fair to provide an argument against the classes and not force parents to seek their own information or rely on apathy to get it across the line.
- Voting on this is asking Christian families if they would like to discriminate against non-Christians. If a family has decided not to raise their kids with Christianity, why should they be forced to opt out of the classes and in so doing stigmatize themselves and their children? My own enquiries of non-Christian parents who leave their children in these classes often shows that the only reason is that they don’t want their kids to fit in and not be “different”.
Given all the above, why should any religious group be allowed access to primary school children in a secular state school to promote their faith?
I’m a member of the Secular Education Network, who are trying to have religious instruction removed from Primary schools in NZ. Note that we are not against academic religious studies.
I would be happy to discuss this further with you.
I never received a response to the last question and didn’t expect to. However, Wellsford School can’t say that they are promoting Christian religious instruction without being aware of all the information I provided above. There is far more that I could have sent them but I tried to keep it short and relevant.