Waipu School Removes Religious Instruction

Waipu School crest

Waipu School crestWaipu is a small community 30 mins drive south of Whangarei. It was founded in the 1850’s by Scottish Highlanders escaping oppression following the Jacobite rebellion. Somewhat ironically, modern citizens of Waipu are “up in arms” about the removal of religious instruction from the local primary school. It seems that free thought and differing religious views are not to be tolerated! Local Christian evangelists would prefer that everyone believed the same thing they do. As always, the promotion of their religious faith is in the guise of “values teaching”.

After a community consultation, the Board of Trustees upheld a decision by the previous board to remove the classes for good. In the school newsletter, they politely thanked the Bible teachers and noted what time the local church runs their Sunday School.

You would think that local church members would be thrilled that their Sunday School class will be full to the brim with school kids who will be keen to make up for “missing out” on religious instruction classes in the school but apparently not. There have been mutterings in the main street, angry words on facebook and letters to the Editor in the local paper, the Bream Bay News!

Spare a thought for the board of trustees though! In the face of the undoubted vitriol that the Board of Trustees at Waipu Primary are receiving from Christian evangelists, I think that they should be congratulated for making the decision to remove religious instruction from the school. I am sure that it can’t have been an easy decision for them to make.

They’re not making this decision on a whim. Parents who were too intimidated to complain to the school gave their feedback to the board and were (finally) listened to. The decision they made was not backed by a hostile Muslim/Atheist/Pastafarian takeover of the board. It was backed by empathy and consideration for the families that the classes affect.

In managing the backlash, they should know that the pressure they feel to stick with the “status quo” is the same social pressure that parents have felt for decades to toe the line and put their children into Bible classes, even though they may have disagreed with what is being taught.

The BOT hasn’t just removed this pressure from parents. Children were the ones in the front line. The children’s hearts and minds were the targets of these lessons. Those children who were opted out had to endure the questions about “Why don’t you believe in God?” and “Why don’t you come to Bible classes?”. This is difficult when all a kid really wants is to be the same as everybody else.

So thank you for standing up for the kids and preventing parents from using a legal loophole and access the school to promote their religious beliefs.

As I said, not all the community feel this way. I was disappointed but not surprised at the letters Bream Bay News has received about the removal of religious instruction at Waipu Primary.

Julie Malone talked about how “Life Choices” is a values-based programme teaching love and kindness. Unfortunately, this love and kindness doesn’t extend to the parents of children who were forced to leave their own classrooms to avoid evangelism in their secular state school.

Julie Malone letter – click to enlarge

Carolee Geddes wrote about how it was a “privilege” to teach Bible classes at the school She’s right. It was privileged access for one religious group in a school that was supposed to be welcoming to children from all religious backgrounds. No group of any religious view should have a privileged position in the school. She also talked about respect for other people. I have to wonder how trying to promote your personal religious views in a primary school shows respect for parents who choose not to follow her particular religion?

Carolee Geddes letter – click to enlarge

Martin Geddes manages to insult all non-Christians by suggesting that without “Judeo Christian” values people “lack self-worth” and the Waipu community may become dysfunctional. I think that parents and teachers are capable of teaching children good values without the need for any particular religious faith.

Martin Geddes
Martin Geddes Letter (click to enlarge)

Teachers are required to teach values as part of the Ministry of Education curriculum. Are Julie, Carol and Martin suggesting that teachers are not doing their jobs properly? I think that teachers are and not just as a “lesson”. I suspect that the real cause for concern is that they aren’t getting their preferred religious beliefs promoted in the school any longer. Imagine how much children will benefit from the extra 20 hours a year of teaching time that has been recovered by removing religious instruction.

To the supporters of Bible in Schools; I think that when you are accustomed to “privilege”, equality can feel like oppression. But your churches are still there and available to anyone who wants to visit. That should be enough.

I’ll give the final word to an experienced teacher commenting on a local Waipu Facebook group.

As a teacher of over 30 years I can assure you that kindness and good values are taught all the time without a bible in sight. Anything that excludes children from a group is dangerous and teaches discrimination at an early age. – M.C (On a local Waipu Facebook page)

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