The Ethics Debate

For the past few years there has been much debate about the place Ethics classes have in Primary school education.  There has been resistance from religious groups on the basis that it is competing with formal RE (Religious Education lessons) for numbers and government funding.  Proponents of having ethics instruction in our government schools claim that people have a right to choose what is the best for their children, and that non-religious students are better off having an alternative program rather than just sitting out of RE and taking part in an unstructured lesson (basically consisting of free time or watching a movie) instead.

In a new law about to be passed in NSW, parents will have the right to ethics classes as an alternative to scripture in their child’s school even if the principal and the majority of the school community opposes them.

A Baulkham Hills parent, whose child participated in the trial, said: ”The majority of parents, ethics teachers and children at our school found the ethics classes an enriching complement to the many good SRE [Special Religious Education] classes on offer”.

However, many of those opposed were concerned about ethics competing with scripture classes.

”Ethics is already taught in other forums in state primary education and should not be allowed to attract students away from meaningful faith-based studies,” wrote one.

Whilst I am not opposed to have Ethics lessons taught at our schools, I would like to make the following points:

1.  I would like to see RE and Ethics material being submitted to a curriculum board for approval.  Everything taught at school must be rich, stimulating, engaging and subject to curriculum style scrutiny.

2.  Every teacher should, and most do, invest time in their day-to-day teaching, imparting ethics by teaching their students right from wrong, helping them to make healthy choices and showing them how to maximise their potential.  The idea that students without an Ethics program at their school are is some ways missing out on ethics instruction is just wrong and disrespectful to hardworking, caring teachers.

Is the RE vs Ethics debate prevalent in countries other than Australia?  What is your opinion regarding the validity of ethics instruction?

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