Decision to hide ethics classes is shameful

high lowHaving an ethical foundation for the decisions you make has never been more important. In the welter of anonymity that is the internet, amongst the absolutism overtaking religions, and the breakdown of standards in politics you must have some personal way of deciding right from wrong. That way might be to reference a religious book, it might be to think what your mother would tell you to do, it might be to reason through the issue: But you must have a way.

So it is mind-boggling that in this climate the NSW government is making moves to hide the fact that ethics is being taught in schools. On its face this appears to be a knee-jerk reaction to protect religions from a perceived threat to their numbers. The obvious driver is Fred Nile who has hated ethics classes since day one and whose determined opposition has driven Primary Ethics into a defensive bunker. But Nile denies he has anything to do with the latest moves. The government also denies it’s reacting to Fred Nile, so that means our government has created this unconscionable stupidity off its own bat.

Apparently when you enroll your child in school you will be asked to nominate a religion, you wont be told that there are alternatives: either non-scripture or ethics. Only once you work out that you can opt out of formal religious instruction will you be told that ethics is a possibility. This is unethical madness and clearly embarrassing enough that the Education Minister doesn’t even want to discuss it.

First, if the only way you can sustain numbers in religious classes is through underhanded marketing, you have an enormous problem on your hands – and hiding alternatives is not going to fix it. And let’s be clear here, the issue is not ethics as an alternative to religion as a way of thinking – the problem here is how primary school kids spend 45 minutes every week. This is not about principles; no one I have seen is suggesting that Primary Ethics is teaching anything bad. It’s all about numbers.

Secondly, the hiding of alternatives makes it starkly clear that the religious classes are nothing more than indoctrination. This isn’t about people choosing religion, it’s about people being forced into it. That’s exactly the sort of absolutism that we should all be resisting, because there are far too many historical and modern examples of where it leads. Persuade people that your way is the right way, don’t force them down it.

Finally, it’s not going to work. The cat is out of the bag and can’t be forced back in. People talk, information wants to be free. The only way the government will be able to stop people moving to ethics classes is by shutting down the classes. And much as many of our politicians might like to do that, they will find that the backlash will cause them to question whether politics or religion are more important to them.

This decision is indefensible in any light and cannot stand up to any degree of scrutiny. The government clearly knows this and doesn’t even want to engage in a discussion or present a case. If this is going to be done, the Premier or Education Minister should at least stand up and try to justify it. But the reality is that it’s a dirty little political deal, in which even the people involved wont acknowledge their part, and it makes us all one step more impoverished as a society.

At a time when we all need to see some ethics in action, our government, our politicians and everyone else involved in this decision should all be hanging their heads in shame.

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