April 21, 2011

Victoria is shaping up as the next God Vs Caesar in the schools battleground on religious education. This appears from reports by Michael Bachelard in The Age March 27 and April 3 and the comment from Jewel Topsfield on April 4.


But the issue is bigger than ‘religious education’in our public schools. The issue of God and Caesar, religion and the State,  goes to the very rationale of public education as the cornerstone of our democratic system. According to the Age of 18 April 2011, a well- known religious figure,

Father Bob Maguire of Melbourne has articulated the rationale for a public system of community schools rather than one of sectarian institutions: religious training in belief should be the domain of parents and churches, mosques and ashrams, not schools . Children of all beliefs should be educated together and religious education in school should be  ‘about’ religion - the ethos - of all religions. DOGS quote the Age article :

…religious instructors in schools should lead open-ended discussions that drew no conclusions. ‘It should be mum and dad who help children come to conclusions, not the instructor in religious class.’ Father Bob said.

Father Bob also believed it was a ‘jolly good idea’ for Australia to have community schools rather than denomination specific schools.

‘I have been nervous about denominational schools all my life because of the Northern Ireland thing, ‘he said.

[ Melbourne Football Club chairman ] Jim Stynes – God love him – was one of the first to say he was interested in going back to Ireland to fund combined schools, so Roman Catholics and Protestants would be going to the same schools to learn, ‘he said.

‘You have to get to learn about one another before you can live with one another. If you keep separating and dividing, you are going to foment distrust, dislike and fear. Fear is the killer.

Bravo Father Bob! He is being true to his Irish inheritance.

Amelioration of religious strife in Ireland in the early nineteenth century was the rationale behind the Irish National system. This was the basis of the Australian national system established in Australia in 1848 to ‘bring the children together’. The Irish experiment foundered when the Catholic bishops withdrew Catholic children into a separate system in the 1890s. The National, or public system of education survived in Australia because colonial politicians withdrew public funding of sectarian schools in the period 1872 -1895. When public funding of sectarian education was recommenced  by Menzies in a trickle during the 1960s, expanded in the 1970s under Whitlam and reached a roaring flood under Hawke, Keating, Howard and Gillard, the public system, our public system, fell into disrepair. It is currently under threat of demolition and privatisation– as the Irish National system before it.

Our public education system is too precious an inheritance to lose. Now is the time to listen to the Father Bob Maguires and learn the lessons of history. Otherwise, we may be doomed to repeat them.








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