A Prayer

A Prayer to Teachers of Primary Ethics

I use the word “prayer” here in the old meaning from the Latin word “precari” meaning to beg or entreat.

My supplication here is not to a greater being but to the wonderful teachers in Primary Ethics.  I would like you to look deeply at the ethical content of what I am saying and its implications for the on going, and wonderful, Primary Ethics program. I write this as somewhat of an apologia for the inevitability of my having to leave the organisation in the not too distant future, after almost five wonderful years. I was among those who originally wrote a submission to the General Purpose Standing Committee No2 on the Review of the Exucation Amendment Act. concerning the provision of Ethics as an alternative to SRE.

There is no doubt in my mind that this excellent curriculum, the wonderful trainers and you devoted teachers who give up your time to deliver lessons to classes, do something very admirable for the children whose parents opt for them not to participate in the Special Religious Education classes in which schools, pursuant to the NSW Public Instruction Act, were and still are obliged to host in our public secular school system.

I do not live in the city or in the country but in a large regional area which contains multiple demographics. Whether this program can be provided in a school appears to me to be increasingly a question of division rather than inclusion. In areas in which parents have had their own opportunities for education and philosophic musings it is not too difficult to persuade them, and sometimes other interested community members, to teach Primary Ethics courses.

On the other hand in different areas, whilst some parents want it for their own children, they express reluctance, even fear, at the thought of teaching. Some others are turned off volunteering by their lack of access to computers or even the moderately sophisticated programs they have to master to access and deliver the classes. Some are deterred by the expense of printing out material, and one or two, who have been encouraged to do the training, have found it quite daunting in terms of time it takes them to prepare lessons.

Therefore once again we have, quite unwittingly, enhanced one group’s chance of opportunity over that of another group. The offspring of thinking parents who already discuss these issues with their children can provide yet another forum for their children and their friends. Less privileged schools have to continue to provide the children with supervision by teachers, unable to teach them, during that compulsory time spent at school when SRE is taking place. We are, although acting with every superb intention, making an even bigger divide between children who have opportunities and children who have not.

I can think of one answer. This is where my supplication comes in. When your own children move on to another school or if you have a little more time to give to the community, could you wonderful teachers, with all your experience, chose to help a disadvantaged school which has not been able to start a program? There are lots of them.

I am getting a bit long in the tooth, the reason I will be leaving in the not too distant future, but there is also a bright side. While I am part of Primary Ethics I cannot in any way campaign for Special Religious Education to be removed from Public Schools. Of course we must not prothletise as part of our provision of Ethics Classes in Schools. If an individual did so it would reflect badly on Primary Ethics. But I need to. I have been doing so all my adult life. This is an iniquitous situation we have been left with which has come from the age old negotiations for the state to provide the school system. It became a more ethical problem when education was made compulsory. I thought that the widespread adoption of Primary Ethics would ameliorate this inequity in our schools. Unfortunately it is unwittingly creating another and this can only be solved by having Ethics Teachers in every school or removing SRE.

I cannot in all conscience say to myself, “Just let it go and help where people are willing to get involved.” Children are too important.

So as I continue my last efforts to have Ethics teachers in our local schools I exhort all you wonderful teachers to keep up the good work but also find another school that needs you.
These are the only ways toward equality of opportunity.

So be it.


About Anne Powles

I am retired from paid employment. During my working life I have been variously and sometimes contemporaneously, wife, mother of four, lawyer, teacher and psychologist. I have also been a serial education junkie. As are we all, I have been an observer of the world around me. Here I have recorded some of my memories, observations and theorisings.
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2 Responses to A Prayer

  1. Stuart MacLeod says:

    Interesting and worthwhile idea … I am however interested why you “cannot in any way campaign for Special Religious Education to be removed from Public Schools”. SRE in its current form does not deserve to be in schools.

    • Anne Powles says:

      Stuart, I agree with your sentiments. As a nonbeliever since the age of almost 12, over 60 years ago, but coming from a religious family I said nothing to them about my views just dodged “confirmation” etc. But in my last year of school (public) I took the step of writing about my views in my Scripture exam and proposing that if there were to be any scripture it should take the form of historical and comparative religions. I did not suggest the inclusion of humanist views as, at that stage just prior to Uni, I had not really encountered the concept. Our local Minister magnanimously gave me the Scripture prize.

      This gesture has made me, over the years, a bit tolerant in my non belief as, while I entirely resent and have campaigned extensively throughout my life against the idea of ESL being part of a compulsory, secular education, I do not wish to direct my negativity towards the particular individuals who volunteer to promulgate their faith.

      In our interview process with Ethics classes we are cautioned against proselytising, as we do not want it to become an personal “us against you” situation in each school. We do not want to foster the feeling that we are “stealing” children from Scripture Classes. In the schools with which I have been involved there is a friendly relationship among all the volunteers as the lessons are being delivered.

      Rather our beef should be with our political masters from both sides of politics who have traded our children into this untenable position over the years.

      I know of a school that has less than a fifth of their children doing SRE because there are insufficient SRE teachers and no Ethics is offered in the area. Therefore more than four fifths of the school’s children looses this block of time from any learning. The situation is quite untenable over all and is not an across Australia situation. For example children in the ACT are not interrupted by a need to provide SRE for their children.

      I view Ethics as a viable and positive alternative which I fully support whilst so ever this situation is present in our schools.

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