Yesterday, a lobby group called Fairness in Religions in Schools (FIRIS) released a commissioned analysis on Patricia Weerakoon‘s ‘Teen Sex By the Book‘. It found that the book, which was published under School Ministry* resources within the Christian Education Publications catalogue, was unsuitable for use within SRE classes. The reason? The book, intended for Christians, teaches the Christian position on topics such as sexual abstinence, monogamy, divorce, hetrosexuality, and abortion.
Deanne Carson’s report was then picked up by the Sydney Morning Herald in an article labelled ‘Scripture classes: Calls for crackdown on public schools‘. In it, the Greens education spokesperson, John Kaye, was quoted as labelling the book as “dangerous stuff”, saying that the “abstinence messaging and homophobia have real consequences for vulnerable young people.” In his blog post, Kaye also further mentions that the books “being used in NSW public school optional scripture classes denigrate contraception and promote abstinence outside marriage and male ‘headship’ and female submission in marriage.”
Fast forward to one day later, and the Department of Education & Communities (DEC) in an attempt to quickly remove the offending material, and please those like Kaye and FIRIS, issued the following directive:
Whilst not directly stating that the book was outright against the department’s policy and legislative requirements, this communique required principals to pull the book from use. Along with Weerakoon’s book, Michael Jensen’s ‘You: An Introduction’ and John Dickson’s ‘Your Sneaking Suspicions’ were also listed as not being suitable for SRE use. Many SRE teachers turned up to school today faced with a request to sign a declaration stating they would not use the books mentioned in the directive.
As Adam, an SRE teacher in the South-West of Sydney, recounts:
I went to sign in [to the school], and was asked to sign a declaration saying that we were no longer allowed to use the books ‘Teen sex by the book’ by Patricia Weerakoon, ‘you: an introduction’ by Michael Jensen and ‘a sneaking suspicion’ by John Dickson. I felt as though if I didn’t sign it that I might not be allowed into the school and seeing as though they are not part of the primary school curriculum I signed it.
Whilst Teen Sex By the Book was not part of any SRE curriculum, both Dickson’s and Jensen’s books were. Both were part of the approved year nine SRE curriculum provided by Youthworks, the Anglican college which trains individuals in youth and children ministry. Youthworks were not consulted that the books were going to be withdrawn and provided the following statement:
That’s the extent of the developments at this time.
That these books have been banned by the department is disturbing, and sets a dangerous precedent in the state regulating what Christians should and should not teach Christians. We need to remember, as Kaye mentions in his blog post, that SRE participation is entirely optional and is intended to be an outlet where children and young adults are taught what Christians believe.
All three books provide and reiterate Christian stances in terms of both ethics and morality and where we stand on a myriad of issues. None of these should be surprising — that we affirm things such as monogamous covenantal marriage between a husband and wife, pro-life, sexual abstinence before marriage, and the exclusivity of salvation found through Christ alone. Thus, for someone to raise the alarm that there are books teaching Christian positions to Christians, or those who want to learn about Christianity, in the classes designed to teach the beliefs of Christians is bewildering. It’s effectively like wanting to ban a book on advanced calculus from maths class because it teaches people maths.
Yet, the dangerous precedence that the move by the Department of Education & Communities sets is that it can make executive choices on what Christians should teach about Christianity to those wanting to know about Christianity. It places DEC in a gatekeeper role where it becomes the the veto-holder on what Christian positions can be taught and what can not be taught. This is particularly worrying when groups like FIRIS can demand the withdrawal of books because they find them offensive. So — if the exclusivity of Christ being the only way to salvation becomes offensive — ban the teaching. If the concept of hell becomes offensive — ban the teaching. This move can quite easily become a slippery slope if safeguards aren’t implemented. Christian morality will become subject, and consequently subordinate, to the morality of the society around it. Thus, societal morality will trump whatever Christians believe if they run contrary to each other.
So what can we do? We can stand up for the right of the SRE teachers to teach the principles of the Bible in the classes designed for them to do so. As Sandy Grant, the senior minister of St Michael’s Cathedral in Wollongong, has done — we can compose a letter to our local members of parliament and let them know of that we decry this move by the department to regulate Christian teaching. We can reach out to the SRE teachers in the community to know that they have our support, as well as letting the government know of the importance of SRE, as it is currently under review.
Bible Society – Three Christian books banned from SRE curriculum in NSW
Murray Campbell – Dangerous books banned from NSW Schools
Amendment (@7pm – 08/05/2015):
I earlier mentioned that Patricia Weerakoon’s ‘Teen Sex by the Book’ was listed in the CEP catalogue as an SRE resource — this was incorrect, it is not. Rather, it is listed under ‘schools ministry’ resources. Whilst, this change may seem only minor, the implications of this are a world apart as most things listed under schools ministry resources are intended for use in Christian schools, not SRE.
Amendment #2 (@10pm – 09/05/2015):
According to sources, including an SBS report — the directive did ask principals to pull the resources.