Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Values, Not Traditional Values

This makes me nervous. I didn't want to make an immediate knee-jerk reaction - blurring of church and state, Howard throwing Fundies First (cheers MrL) a bone, etc - but then I read the Oz's take, and alarm bells rang. I've said it before and will say again: These editorials must either be written or proofread by Federal Liberal PR headquarters prior to publication.

Let's take a squizz:

But those most likely to be pleased by the proposal are parents who, whether they are particularly religious or not, are concerned about the drift away from standards in the classroom. For such people, the presence of a chaplain could be seen as antidote to relativism and as a way to shore up and affirm traditional values against such excesses as the exercise in Queensland that asks students to imagine life in a gay community on the moon.

'Traditional values' always sends a shiver. Like 'pro-women' in the context of how Fundies First like to claim they are. Or 'defence of marriage'. Or 'ministerial accountability' as conceived by Howard. All very disturbing euphemisms noticeably disconnected from reality.

'Traditional values' really means 'biblical values'. And in the context of one identified by the Oz, homosexuality, by the doctrine of 'traditional values', a teenage student seeking guidance over the crisis of identity he may be facing would be told by a hypothetical chaplain that, traditionally, homosexuality is an abomination and here, have a business card of a good deprogrammer mate of mine so that you don't have these sinful thoughts ever again.

Putting religious counsellors in schools appears less about imposing organised religion in schools and more about ensuring that the public education sector reflects the sort of culture, values and moral discipline demanded by the broader community.

And yet the Oz points out itself that 'just two million (Australians attend) weekly religious services'. So how on earth are the personal religious beliefs of roughly 10% of the population reflective of the broader community?

Are we really wanting to emulate the US yet again, and start a whole new debate about organised religion in public education? The fallacy perpetrated by fundies is always that 'values' and religion are intertwined, and that one cannot exist without the other. Wrong. No amount of alleged moral relativism has ever detracted from values children should be taught in their formative years, regardless of whether they're in a private or public school: to respect themselves, one another and the law; to accept personal responsibility, and to be honest; all values I certainly hold as the byproduct of a secular/non-demoninational education, and value that churches and some of their soldiers are frequently shown to be wanting.

I grew up in an agnostic home and openly admit to being an aethiest, and yet I have a values system that I believe works well and has not been informed by passages from the Bible. I'm also not so naive I don't know how much of a nightmare some public schools currently are. But blame should be laid with shitty parents when students are screwing around, not teachers.

This money would be much better spent investing in secular counsellors, not more God-botherers. If parents choose to send their children to religious schools, power to them - that is their choice. But if we're going to insist on the 'secular society' even Howard admits we currently enjoy, clearly chaplains have no place within our secular government's schools.

The obvious counter-argument to this is that, as our taxes subsidise private religious schools anyway, chaplains already do exist in government schools to some extent. The difference, however, is in the choice available to parents. Parents send their kids to government-subsidised religious schools with an expectation, or at least an understanding, that they will be instilled with biblical values. Those who send their kids to 100% government-funded schools presumably do not have such expectations, since they know Australia is not a church-state and so the values they expect to be reinforced in their children are not biblical.

A refreshing change would be that our governments invested enough in public schools that they were a genuine alternative in quality and education the equal of their private equivalents, so that those parents who want their children to appreciate 'values', without necessarily being bashed with the 'traditional values' stick, had the peace of mind to know teachers and counsellors alike had the resources and time available to them to teach their kids objectively good values, independent of any dogmatic propaganda.


At 31/10/06 5:36 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, just look back in history and you can see some rather long lived and influential civilisations that flourished without the religious base now being pushed: Rome, for example.

At the moment, (IMO) there are legitimate concerns about moral relativism and also there are real concerns about the potential for Islam to grab a foothold here (if you like Hillsong, you'll love that crowd).

However, the answer to moral relativism (and some nonsensical academic fads) and the growth of various fundamentalists is most assuredly not pandering to another group of fundamentalist nuts.

It is not necessary to appeal to a religious base to develop the basic underpinnings of western civlisation. In fact, it is extremely poor policy to base laws policies on religion because not everyone will be believe in that religion and, even between co-religionists, there is tension.

Sadly, it seems that the opposition would be no better in its ignorance of this than the current government.


At 31/10/06 10:28 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back when I was a lad (And as a 27 year old gay man I am now legally allowed to use that phrase. At least in Sydney) we had something similar... Although my memory is vague on the specifics, it went down something like this: Each child would have to have a signed permission slip from their parents to attend a religious activity during class once a week.

Us Anglican kids just ran amok on the old priest until they installed a newer, CUTER, priest in his place once he died or whatever. I started to go to those classes gleefully and all the girls sat up front looking pretty.

I know, no sharp reflection of the serious issues from ME. Just recollections of a crush I had in 1990.

At 1/11/06 5:32 pm, Anonymous Bazza said...

I smell "Deadnaught!".

The " We'll all gather by the river" blogger!

At 1/11/06 5:39 pm, Anonymous Bazza said...

The South Australian Anglican Church is having to sell its assets, to pay damages to kids who were abused under their care.

The things that come to mind of chaplins in schools, makes the mind boggle!

At 1/11/06 11:10 pm, Blogger "AK" Adam said...

Why is it that every Christian who doesn't wear a rainbow sash to church is now a "fundamentalist"?

I'm inclined to agree with you, Sam, about the Chaplains: I can see this creating many messy issues for schools. However, the idea that what we need in society are more "secular counsellors" - presumably social workers - is absurd. Governments employ legions of such people, who incidentally fill a role in society formerly held by clerics, and I don't see how we have benefited from their numerical growth.

Of course, the Fed Gov could simply not spend the money at all ...

At 2/11/06 9:01 am, Blogger Sam said...

It's not the Christians who don't wear a rainbow sash to church who are fundies Adam, it's the Bible-bashers who insist on everybody else thinking the way they do.

And yes, I also agree that the Government could just not spend the money. I'm pretty sure the only reason they are is a thank-you to Fundies First for helping to get through their cross-media law changes.

At 2/11/06 4:50 pm, Blogger "AK" Adam said...

Well then, I fear we are in agreement, Sam.

At 2/11/06 6:48 pm, Blogger JahTeh said...

I can think of two things he can spend the money on. He put the GST on school books, he can take it off. He's so worried about childhood obesity then let schools provide a healthy lunch...free. Of course that would be on approved religious books and blessed meals. Hypocrite, rodent and a few other names I wouldn't sully your blog with QP.

At 3/11/06 5:32 am, Blogger liquid said...

I would be concerned about this as well if I were you. Giving children free access to a moral anchor is a great idea. But that moral anchor HAS to be secular - especially as the entire globe becomes more and more polarised along religious lines. Thankfully, here in Canada (and especially Quebec), there has been such a backlash against the church because of it's previous (and abusive)role of authority in society that such a program could never have any mainstream credibility.

At 3/11/06 9:47 am, Blogger Sam said...

I think Australia could do well to take a few leaves out of Canada's book, liquid. Although, Stephen Harper doesn't fill me with much confidence.

At 4/11/06 12:58 am, Blogger liquid said...

Sam - agreed. This morning, Harper's government announced that they would re-open the same-sex marriage debate - in an effort to reverse the right to same-sex marriage that we gained under the previous Liberal government. Thankfully, he only has a minority government, making it that much more difficult for him to succeed. Truly a prick with ears.

At 6/11/06 2:19 pm, Anonymous kate2 said...

my mother is a regular church-going catholic, and she doesn't like this plan either. why? well because she's also a qualified social worker, with enough experience to know that telling people about God doesn't help fix their problems.

she also knows that the biggest social problems, and the greatest pastoral care needs, are in schools with the poorest demographics. this plan only allocates 20 grand per school, the school has to raise the rest (about $50,000 to cover salary and oncosts). it subsidises schools equally, without focussing resources where they are most needed. because poor schools can't raise $50,000, they wont get anything.

AND it completely fails to recognise that some of the biggest problems kids have are their parents breaking up (or not getting along post-breakup) and feeling that they might be queer. neither problem is one I'd take to a person who's identified with religion, because they're unlikely to be sympathetic.

there are probably some great chaplains out there, but Federal funds really should be directed at getting qualified social workers and psychologists working in schools with the greatest needs, and making sure they're trained to deal with kids who exhibit suicide risk factors.

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