A small minority has recently been vociferous in its opposition to the widely supported programme of teaching values from a Christian perspective in schools. Their evangelistic fervour for their atheistic, rationalist, secular, humanist cause far exceeds that of those who provide the programme.
It is time that a deeper investigation of this issue was provided.
First, the weekly half-hour sessions provided in many schools are not an opportunity for Christian enthusiasts to teach religious doctrine. While stories from the Bible may be the basis for a number of lessons, it is the moral principles and values in them that are the main aspect of the presentation to the children.
For example, in a recent unit on Joseph used in some schools with which I am involved, the children were encouraged to consider the negative impact of jealousy, of quarrelling, and of paying back evil for evil, and the positive impact of learning to forgive others and of working well and faithfully on small tasks (self-management).
Apart from these values and issues, yes, there was a "spiritual" issue included: God can comfort us in our sorrows. I doubt the countless numbers of people who have found spiritual solace at times of need would argue against that being mentioned.
Secondly, the programme is well administered by the Churches Education Commission (representing most denominations), which sets a high standard for those teaching it.
Professional training is given, teachers are observed to ensure the standard of presentation, and an agreed curriculum is supplied. Most importantly, a code of expectations is provided, which sets out the criteria of what can be done in the classroom.
Among other things, it expects teachers to "respect the variety of experience and beliefs represented among the children in the class" and "to enable the child to make informed choices without any pressure".
Thirdly, the opponents of the programme are insulting the judgment of the many hundreds of principals and boards of trustees who have investigated the issues surrounding it and continue to allow teachers to come into their schools. In fact, school teachers invariably sit in on the lessons. Obviously the schools believe the programme adds value to the children and their community.
Fourthly, those afraid of providing values education from a Christian perspective have not spoken out against other programmes provided to schools, drugs education or bullying, for example.
Some say that if the parents want their children to learn the Bible then they should teach it themselves or send them to a church. Do we say that teaching on bullying and drugs should be given only by parents?
While good parents will teach their children about such issues, they are not afraid if someone else backs up their teaching through a programme at school. The same should be true of Christian programmes containing what are generally seen as basic values that underpin our society.
On the one hand we collectively bemoan the violence, dishonesty and other perceived social evils around us, yet on the other hand some want to sweep away one of the factors that for so long upheld a social morality that helped our society function in a "civilised" way.
This was a values system incorporating justice, honesty, respect and the value of the individual, all squarely based on Christian ethics. It seems we still want the fruits of Christian values but are increasingly rejecting their roots. No wonder the fruit is diminishing.
Hugh Dickey, a teacher who has specialised in Christian education, is involved in training and publishing with educational aid services in Auckland.
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