…no religion too…

Imagine there was no religion taught in Australian schools. Imagine removing religion from the curriculum of every school and thus removing the primary justification for the existence of private schools.

Why?

Private schools are detrimental to the Australia education system, and almost all private schools are faith-based.

How?

Ban compulsory lessons which teach students a particular faith and allow schools to only teach about religion, the way government schools currently approach the subject. Students at government schools currently receive instruction in their chosen faith only in lessons taught by religious specialists from outside the school, and only if their parents have chosen that option. The remaining students participate in other subjects. In contrast, religious education lessons at faith-based schools are compulsory.

Teach about religion.

Religion underpins Australian society. The Judeo-Christian world view informs our parliamentary and legal systems, so religion cannot and should not be ignored. History and Humanities subjects can still examine the role religion played in events such as colonisation and the Stolen Generation in Australia. Students can study, and even join, religious volunteer organisations like Vinnies and the Salvation Army. They can also research the Crusades and the Reformation, the conflict in the West Bank and Northern Ireland, and even the convergence of major religions in the court of Kublai Khan.

Is it possible to teach about religion without teaching religion?

Yes.

Government schools do it. Steiner schools do it, so do the small number of independent secular schools. I’ve done it. I had to explain the term BC to secondary students at a government school in Brunei, a country under strict Sharia law.

A module entitled ‘Belief Systems’ or ‘Faith’ could also present the broad principles of the world’s major religions, without instructing students to follow any of these systems of belief.

Would any fee-paying schools survive?

Yes. Non-religious private schools exist in Australia and include the following:

  • Steiner, Waldorf and Montessori schools.
  • International schools, such as International Grammar School in Sydney.
  • National schools, such as Japanese, French, German schools…
  • Schools such as Reddam House and Ascham in Sydney.

What if private schools dropped religion?

Many may survive. Reddam, after all, is famously non-religious and is entering its 21st year, while Ascham is one of the most prestigious girls schools in the country – for families who can afford it.

How are private schools detrimental?

Funding

Private schools continue to receive substantial government funding as well as contributions from the religious organisations which run them, plus fees from parents. The same religious organisations receive additional government funding – for being religious organisations, and enjoy tax concessions – for being religious organisations.

This reduces the funding provided to government schools, which are poorly resourced and struggle to offer a strong education to their students. An underfunded public education system produces an undereducated population, and this is bad for most of the country – most, but not all. A weakened public education system strengthens the private education system and offers an automatic head start to the students of private schools. So much for an egalitarian society.

Studies have indicated that the single biggest determinant of academic success in Australia is wealth. Thus, it is not surprising that the following attitudes exist among everyday Australians:

  • Private schools are better than public schools
  • People only send their children to public schools because they can’t afford private schools.
  • Private schools, especially Catholic schools, have better discipline.
  • Private schools are great for networking, which helps students secure employment later in life.

They’re not learning anyway.

Most students at Christian private schools know very little about their own faith. I can’t comment on Islamic or Jewish schools, because the majority of my teaching has been in government schools or Catholic and Protestant schools. Despite up to 12 years of instruction in one particular faith, most students will leave Christian schools with very little knowledge about the teachings of their own faith. So why should these Christian schools exist?

Australia is a secular society. Most students are not practising Christians, neither are their parents. Some students don’t belong to the faith of their school, nor do some of the teachers. Religious education is seen as the ‘bludge’ subject and very few parents ever book appointments with teachers of religion during Parent/Teacher interviews – but they all see the Maths teacher!

In fact, the dearth of religious knowledge among students at Christian private schools prompted a previous article on this site. The article proposes an independently administered exam in the faith of that school, to be sat by every student at that school (except K-2 students). If schools do not score an average of 80%, across the entire school, then they do not receive any government funding in the next round of funding distribution. They can only regain their funding when they score an average of 80% in the exam.

I am certain most Christian schools in Australia would not pass such an exam.

In addition, most Christian churches are largely empty during weekly church services, and Christmas and Easter are now a celebration of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Most children are sent to private schools because they are ‘better than the local public school’. Furthermore, the religious education subject is often given to (or forced upon) young teachers or new teachers at Christian schools, who can only ‘off-load’ the subject once they’ve proven themselves in their core subjects.

Australia is a secular country, and yet almost all of its private schools are religious.

Single-sex education

Most private schools are still single-sex. In 2021. Some have become wholly or partly co-educational, but most cling to their single-sex traditions. This can be beneficial to some of the students, depending on which educational theorist you read, but is it beneficial to society?

Students at single-sex schools miss the opportunity to mix daily with members of the opposite sex, but are suddenly forced to do so when they enter the real world. Moreover, some exclusive private schools still provide boarding. Thus, students study and live among their own gender, for up to 12 years. This informs their world view, and many of these students, especially boys, become leaders of society and make decisions which directly affect the lives of every Australian.

We are still suffering the results of this phenomena.

Attorney General Christian Porter was recently accused of historical rape. He was never found guilty, but was exposed for infidelity and sleazy behaviour with young female members of his staff, in a public bar near Parliament House. Porter attended Hale School in Perth. He and the remainder of his party have refused to allow an independent inquiry into his behaviour, which many Australians see as a disregard for the victim of the alleged rape and to women in general. The revelations prompted widespread protests throughout the nation calling for greater gender equality.

The response from the government has been appalling, and continues to inflame the conflict. Most of the politicians responsible for the response are male, and most attended single-sex, faith-based, private schools.

This follows the very public and misogynistic behaviour of students from two of Melbourne’s most exclusive boys private schools, Wesley College and St Kevin’s. It also follows allegations of a culture of rape and sexual abuse of girls by boys from Sydney’s most exclusive private schools, which was recently revealed in the mainstream media. An online petition signed by thousands of former private school girls alleges sexual assault by private school boys, and calls for greater focus on consent in sex education lessons delivered to boys. The creator of the petition, Chanel Contos, claims the culture of rape in Sydney is the worst she witnessed, despite having lived in two other countries.

Recent articles by Mike Seccombe in The Saturday Paper, and from respected child and adolescent psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg, do not blame private schools for the toxic masculinity that pervades Australian society. They do, however, concede that they are a contributing factor.

Restricted curriculum

Religious schools present a restricted curriculum. Religious doctrine determines their teaching of science, gender, sexuality and other social issues. Future leaders carry this particular world view into politics and make judgements based on that world view. Our government and business leaders have also grown up in a world in which religious chaplains replace qualified counsellors at schools.

Where will students learn religion?

At home.

Place the onus on parents to provide their children with a religious education, either entirely at home or at institutions like Sunday School. The classes would take place outside of school hours and receive no government funding.

How can students learn morality?

At home.

Religious devotees of all faiths often argue that a non-religious person cannot learn morality. The boys at St Kevin’s, Wesley College and Hale clearly did not learn morality. The male politicians in the LNP, most of whom attended faith-based, single-sex private schools, show no evidence of moral learning. It is clear that notions of gender, class and racial superiority took precedence over values such as compassion, morality, respect, tolerance and service, for students of these private schools.

Is this article just religion bashing?

No.

Religion bashing is certainly on trend in Australia, but this article is not targeting religion per se. The article cites religion as the primary justification for the existence of most private schools in the country, and nominates private schooling as the problem.

A precedent

Private schools are rare or non-existent in countries such as Finland, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Scandinavian countries. Singapore does have private schools, but these cater mostly for international/expat children. These same countries consistently top the rankings in international standardised exams. Experts suggest there is a correlation. When almost every child is forced to attend their local government school, every parent has a strong vested interest in the quality of that school. Thus, parents put pressure on the government to maintain high standards at local government schools, and hold the politicians and schools accountable. In addition, the people who make the decisions about school funding and educational standards, politicians, also send their children to government schools.

In Finland, apparently it is illegal to charge fees for a child’s education.

One must also point to the culture of these countries, not just the lack of private schools. Academic achievement is highly regarded in countries such as Japan, South Korea and Singapore, and this explains their success. The countries themselves are also far from perfect. Enormous pressure is placed on students in some Asian countries and this can have disastrous effects on young people That said, Australia can learn something from these countries as literacy and numeracy rates continue to fall throughout the nation.

What happens next?

What would happen if schools were prevented from teaching religion in Australia? What would happen to the schools?

Schools could drop religion and remain private. Many parents would not remove their children, because we’ve already established that most parents don’t send their children to private schools for a religious education, but for a better general education.

If private schools are not religious, religious organisations have no reason to fund them. They may run into financial ruin, at which point they would be taken over by the government and become public schools. Parents could leave their children in that school, or seek another private school and compete with other parents for limited spaces.

If existng private school parents were forced to send their children to a public school, they would put more pressure on the government and educational authorities to adequately fund and resource the school and to ensure strong academic outcomes. More parents would have a vested in in quality public education, just as they do in countries such as Finland, Japan and Singapore, and governments would have no choice but to allocate more resources and care to public education.

Not only would parents demand adequate funding for their child’s school, but children from different social backgrounds would attend the same schools, and this has been found to create greater empathy between all groups in society, including those who formulate laws.

Where will they find the money?

The money to fund public education exists. Much of it is currently being directed to private schools, some of it is sitting in government coffers waiting to be spent on projects which will win votes at the next election. If there were fewer private schools in Australia, public education would become one of those central issues which could determine the outcome of an election.

The main obstacle to adequate funding of public education is political will, and religion.

Images: Element5Digital, http://www.pridelife.com.

¿Quiere’ fre’co?

¿Quiere’ fre’co?”

¿Como?”

¿Quiere’ fre’co?” she repeated.

“Sí” – I think that’s what I want.

The friendly Cuban woman was confirming my order of a ‘refresco’, or soft drink. Except now I wasn’t sure what I’d just ordered.

This was my first prolonged exposure to Cuban Spanish. It was at a busy street stall amid honking traffic and other thirsty customers, and the vendor had no time to coddle this foreigner through his language learning journey. I was a bit worried because I’d planned to stay in the country for a month, and already I was struggling just to buy a soft drink.

I was actually quite confident of my Spanish as I’d flown directly from Mexico where I’d been living for the past 12 months.

I eventually got what I asked for and walked off into the sultry streets of La Habana with a welcome sugar hit. It wasn’t Coca Cola of course, because products and imports from the United States are strictly forbidden in Castro’s communist utopia. I wasn’t bothered, the sugar hit was what I craved.

Cuban Spanish was to challenge me for the rest of my trip. Despite having already travelled through South America, Central America and Mexico, I was having some trouble adjusting to the broad accent. I found that Cubans chop off various sounds and syllables, pepper their language with slang, and run many of their words together.

Have Cubans done to Spanish what Australians have done to English?

Even a word as simple as ‘vamos’ sounds more like ‘wamo’ in Cuba.

The Cuban dialect was very different to the Spanish I’d used in Mexico and other parts of Latin America, and my only previous interaction with Caribbean Spanish was through Calle 13, Daddy Yankee and fellow Reggaetón stars.

I eventually trained my ear to the local dialect by staying with local families in Casas Particulares. Cubans rented out rooms in their houses to travellers and were happy to chat over a meal or a cup of coffee. Few of the families that I stayed with spoke English, so it forced me to adapt to the local lingo.

Cuban Spanish was more difficult to understand than the language I’d been using in Colima, Mexico. Colimenses dispensed with many of the more complicated grammatical features of standard Spanish, such as ‘vos’ and ‘vosotros’ and had a flowing, almost musical accent. Chilangos, or residents of Mexico City, spoke more quickly and with their own parochial slang, and the young Chilangos in particular finished their sentences with sharp inclination. This habit alone signalled their origins, and was a source of great amusement for every other Mexican.

Ironically, I encountered more linguistic challenges in Cuba than in Peru and Bolivia, where I first started using Spanish. I arrived into Peru with nothing more than ‘hola’, ‘gracias’, and a translation dictionary, but was soon able to negotiate traveller’s fundamentals like food, accommodation and transport. Travellers hypothesise that Andean Spanish is easier to understand for a foreigner because it simplified and stripped down by people from Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, who speak it as a second or third language.

In contrast, Chileans speak it rapidly and proudly as their first language. Santiago was fast-paced and sharp, and demanded powers of concentration. Costa Rica, meanwhile, was a language of two halves. The language of the centre and the capital was distinct from the Spanish of the Caribeños on the Atlantic coast.

How is my Spanish now?

It’s fading. I don’t use it much, especially after moving to Asia after finishing my time in Mexico.

Maybe it’s time to return to Cuba.

Wamo’!

Thousands of NSW teachers issued with fines.

Thousands of NSW school teachers have been issued with fines on the eve of the summer holidays after being caught committing heinous acts of treason.

Every registered primary and secondary school teacher has received a fine of at least $100 from the NSW government, which must be paid in order for teachers to keep their jobs in 2021. It is believed similar fines have been issued to teachers throughout the country.

The penalty must be paid to a branch of the NSW government calling itself the New South Wales Education Standards Authority (NESA), which then issues teachers with something called Accreditation. Without Accreditation, teachers cannot work in any recognised educational institution in the state.

NESA stated the fines were issued in retaliation for teachers committing crimes against the nation.

“Teachers are being punished for educating the next generation of Australians,” announced a spokesperson.

“They have done so willingly and ceaselessly, and against the wishes of the current state and federal governments. An educated population is harder to control. An educated population would never have elected a failed marketing man as prime minister. An educated population would never fall for Scott Morrison’s marketing spin. An educated population would not swallow Murdoch propaganda, and an educated population would never excuse the corruption of ‘poor Gladys’. For their continued insistence on educating the populace, teachers have been issued with fines.”

The punishment does not end with fines, however.

Once the fines are paid, teachers must then participate in mandated professional development sessions throughout the year. Most of these sessions will take place during teachers’ free time, and while some of the sessions are free, many also incur a charge. Thus, on top of their annual fine, lowly paid teachers are also forced to spend their hard earned money on work-related training with little or no tangible benefit to them or the children they teach.

NESA rejected claims that Accreditation simply adds another layer of paperwork to an already over beauracratised occupation.

“Without the processing of mandated fees and professional development sessions, our staff would not have any boxes to tick, and without boxes to tick, they would be at a loss.”

NESA also argues that Accreditation brings the teaching profession in line with other occupations such as law, medicine, and finance, which all have membership organisations upholding professional standards. Excited teachers then asked if teaching salaries would now be commensurate with those professions, but the government replied,

“No, that would be UnAustralian.”

Image: Element5Digital

Australian teachers are respectable, but not respected.

The occupation of teaching is respectable but not respected in Australia. The nation’s teachers are considered to be law abiding, trustworthy, patient, kind, reliable, dedicated and altruistic, but their profession is not afforded the same status as other professions.

Australians collectively adhere to the adage,

If you can, do, if you can’t, teach.

There is an underlying assumption that English teachers are all failed writers, Maths teachers are failed engineers and Art teachers are failed artists. PE Teachers are failed athletes, and none of the teachers could ‘hack it in the real world’. Teaching as a profession, especially at primary or high school level, is perceived to be well below other professions such as medicine, law, finance and IT.

Academia and intellect have never been highly valued in Australia. The country’s national heroes are athletes, farmers, soldiers and lifeguards, despite the fact that Australians have been behind inventions such as WiFi technology, the cochlear implant, the black box fight recorder, spray-on skin, the electronic pacemaker and permaculture…

Better you than me…

Australians constantly remind teachers of the challenges of their profession with remarks such as these. Aussies tell teachers, ‘I don’t know how you do it’, or ‘what you do is so wonderful’ – but underneath all of these statements is the message,

I’m glad you work as a teacher, so that I don’t have to.

Parents themselves will tell teachers,

you must have the patience of a saint‘ to put up with teenagers, even when it is their own teenager who most tests the teacher’s patience. These are all nice things to say, but none of them convey any sense of respect.

The land Down Under also has a famous disrespect for authority, including teachers. Secondary school teachers understand this and know that earning the respect of their pupils in the early stages of the school year is imperative. This is forgivable – students are children. A lack of respect from adults indicates underlying cultural issues in Australia, in which a profession so vital to the prosperity of the nation is severely undervalued. It is, however, possible to transform the respectable profession into a respected profession, in order to benefit teachers and the nation as a whole.

Pay the teachers or pay the price

Australian teachers need to be altruistic, because they earn so little. In NSW, the average, experienced teacher earns about $80,000 per year. This is a decent wage when compared to other occupations, but not when compared to other professions such as law, medicine and IT, and not when considering that a public bus driver in Sydney can earn the same amount.

Salaries must increase in order to attract the best and brightest graduates to the profession. Society complains that many young teachers lack basic numeracy and literacy skills, and that criticism is often justified. The best way to attract more capable graduates to the profession is to raise salaries. Don’t forget, Australia is an expensive country, and a capitalist country in which income determines the worth of an occupation, and in which income determines a person’s ability to enjoy a decent standard of living.

The country is already paying the price for a lack of respect for teachers. Literacy and numeracy rates among children continue to fall, and the country trails other comparable nations on standardised education outcomes. University undergraduates display poor command of literacy and numeracy, and Australia’s youth will be competing with young people from all over the world for employment in a globalised world.

What’s wrong with a country in which those educating the next generation will struggle to buy their own house?

If Australia is to compete as a nation at international level, it must give more money and more respect to teachers.

Parents

Parents used to support teachers, now they attack them. This paradigm shift has been great, but recent. Modern parents will almost always side with their children and will blame teachers for their child’s poor behaviour, poor work ethic and poor grades. Some of the treatment of teachers is shocking, and it points to a diminishing respect for the teaching profession.

Data collection

Data collection is the new fad in education. Politicians and bureaucrats demand more and more data collection from teachers. It is mostly unnecessary and adds more paperwork to overworked teachers, who then can’t concentrate on teaching their students.

Data collection implies a lack of respect for teachers. It implies that teachers don’t know the individual and collective strengths and weaknesses of their students. NAPLAN is a classic example. It is a very time consuming task designed to show teachers and schools where their students are succeeding and failing. The bureaucrats ignored the fact that teachers already know this. Furthermore, excessive data collection provides no educational benefits, and exists primarily to provide politicians with statistics for their press releases. Most other professions would have an administrative assistant to carry out the same administrative tasks.

Ironically, Australian society shows little respect for teachers, but charges them with enormous responsibility. The curriculum encompasses everything from English and Maths to driver education, drug and alcohol education, cyber safety, anti-bullying, and so much more. On the one hand, it is natural to deliver these lessons in a place where young people are assembled en-masse, but how much of this can, and should, be taught by parents? To understand the enormous scope of the modern curriculum, look at the topics covered in the PD/H/PE subject.

Politicians and bureaucrats must take blame for this also. When a teenager dies of ecstasy, a new drug education program is demanded. If a child drowns in a backyard pool, a new water safety program is demanded. When a new educational program is demanded, it is implied that existing education programs are insufficient, and that teachers are not doing their job.

Bleeding heart lefties

Another criticism of teachers is that they are now all bleeding heart lefties, and that a left wing ideology has taken over Australian schools. Conservative voices love to make this claim.

If you want less left wing influence in schools, pay teachers more. People enter teaching mainly through a sense of altruism – to serve children, to serve society and to make the world a better place. Altruistic people are not motivated by money or wealth and their world view is thus likely to favour the common good and the health of the society, and not the individual. If conservatives want less left wing influence in schools, they could pay teachers what they are worth, and perhaps attract graduates who are currently chasing money in other professions and have a different world view.

That said, most secondary teachers would be very surprised if any of their students listened to them long enough to become ‘bleeding heart lefties’.

Australia now belongs to a global community. It must compete with other nations like it never has before and it’s prosperity depends greatly on the health of its education system. A strong education system is comprised of teachers who are not only respectable, but respected.

Image: Element5Digital