SIGHT-SEEING: GETTING DOWN TO WHAT'S REALLY AT STAKE CONCERNING RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION IN QUEENSLAND

27th June, 2016

PAUL CLARK

I happened to find myself on ABC TV last week, and subsequently on the radio and online. I didn’t set out to become a bit of a ‘practitioner expert’ on religious instruction (RI) in Queensland, but it's the path life took. Teacher, minister, children’s author - and religious instructor, off and on for 25years!

Religious instruction hit the media because a school principal took exception to the Connect curriculum inviting children to become part of Jesus’ team. He understood this to be ‘proselytising’ and against Education Queensland policy.  He therefore suspended the program, and wrote to Minister for Education Kate Jones to inform her of his decision.

"The end game of the group behind the ruckus at Windsor State School is to remove choice from Queensland parents. They want their philosophical understanding of life to be the only choice in Queensland state schools. That is, no confessional religion offered of any sort. This is a backward step to pre-colonial days when governments decided what faith people had."

Ms Jones ordered a review of the particular curriculum to find out if these allegations were true. We now wait with bated breath to discover what will happen to the curriculum. 

Religious instruction is enshrined in law by an Act of Parliament in Queensland, and as such, continues along as usual - and will long after the dust has settled on this debate (it has only been suspended in one school).

I made the comment in the media that this was a "storm in a tea cup", and for about 24 hours the storm continued in the media with all sorts of claims and counter-claims being made on radio and social media.  If you head to the right websites, the storm continues - but you should never base your information on the online comments section, or Facebook trolls!

What is really going on? This issue hinges around one big word; proslytising, prosletysing, proselytising (I can’t even spell it!).

Proselytising is broadly defined as seeking to convert someone from one religion to another. Religious talk can get a bit complicated and boring, so I love a good football analogy.

In Queensland's state schools, students are instructed in football by approved local volunteers. The schools don’t approve the instruction manuals, they just ensure students aren’t being taught to be hooligans!

Parents freely opt in to the football of their choice. League is big in Queensland, but they can also do Aussie rules (Aerial Ping Pong) or soccer.  Parents who don’t want their kids to learn football opt out and do art or music in the library.

Proselytising is what would happen if the league coach went into the soccer class and invited those students to come and play league.  Everyone agrees that would be bad form; asking a child to change codes.

Meanwhile, it is perfectly acceptable that a league coach would invite students signed up to his league class by their parents to have a go at playing league.

In this case, the principal in question has read the league material asking kids to have a ‘run at the line’ and, in my view, over-reacted.  He has equated an invitation to play to proselytising but it is plainly clear that if parents have signed their kids up to be instructed in league, it’s OK to invite them to have a kick! Even the lawyers get it!

It’s a bit disappointing everyone’s getting all hot and bothered over it. You’d think it was the State of Origin or something, and New South Wales were asking Johnathan Thurston to change states!

But seriously, it is a bit serious! The end game of the group behind the ruckus at Windsor State School is to remove choice from Queensland parents. They want their philosophical understanding of life to be the only choice in Queensland state schools. That is, no confessional religion offered of any sort. This is a backward step to pre-colonial days when governments decided what faith people had.

So, look past the debates about what the curriculum may say - that’s a distraction that can be sorted by wiser minds. Do you want one small group to decide what your kids can and can’t learn about God in Queensland state schools? That’s what this is really about.

Paul Clark is the spokesperson for Queensland's Christian Religious Instruction Network. A former, decorated teacher, a current pastor, children’s author and religious instructor.

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