I’m appalled. Saddened and appalled. Some time last year I heard that there was a plan to introduce ethics classes into public schools. I thought that was a great idea. It was a bittersweet moment, as it went along with finding out that there was religious instruction in public schools – which coming from a naive view that separation of church and state meant that church and state were, you know, separate, I found hard to stomach.
Now I read that the NSW Government is not guaranteeing the ethics classes will go ahead. Due to pressure from religious leaders, they appear to be backing away from it. Now while I am atheist, I am not anti-religion. I personally can’t fathom why … a lot of things that I won’t go into, but I’m not here to try to persuade anyone to stop believing in their flavour of supreme being. However, I am incensed that these religious leaders think they have any mandate to interfere with this. Their beliefs are completely irrelevant to this issue. I will elaborate….
How is this even a question?
These ethics classes are secular. I.e. they are not based around religion of any kind. But they are not denying religion or gods. They are not promoting atheism or agnosticism. When you get right down to it they are simply about teaching children how to treat other human beings ethically and decently.
How on Earth can anyone in their right mind have the faintest problem with that?
Are they really worried that children might learn that it is (a) possible, (b) important, and (c) rewarding, to behave ethically without reference to any god? And if so, why? Surely a desire to behave ethically simply because it’s … well … ethical, doesn’t preclude religious faith. Right?
Sure, if these classes were pushing atheism I could understand why religious people would be distressed by it …. It’d be pretty much the same as how I feel about the fact that there are scripture classes in public schools right now!
But take any religious concerns out of the picture for a moment, and consider what the issue actually is: Should we teach young children about ethical behaviour? How. Is. This. Even. A. Question? I’m stunned that it’s not automatically been approved. I’m appalled that frankly irrelevant groups are being allowed to possibly derail it.
What is wrong with our society today? Well yes, lots of things … but a common thread is unethical treatment of other people. Don’t we want to try to turn that around? Even if a particular group think they have a good way of tackling the problem (and I guess the churches believe they do), what could possibly be realistic (ethical) justification for denying the addition of another approach – to cater for those who that group is not reaching anyway?
Again I want to emphasise that the issue is not one of religion and atheism. It is one of ethics. Of humanity. Of teaching our young people how to behave decently through their lives. That is something we should all embrace and support.
The #nswethics hashtag on Twitter will keep you up with current Twitosphere discussions about this.