A Letter to Education Minister, Simon Birmingham

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Dear Minister,

I am foremost writing to you as a father of 3 children who all attend school, and only secondarily as a local community leader.

I am supportive of schools educating children about bullying and making a stand against all manner of bullying, including because of sexuality, but I am convinced that the Safe Schools program is not the answer.

Roz Ward, one of the chief authors and overseers of the program has herself explained that Safe Schools is designed not merely to be an anti-bullying program but it is a tool to promote same-sex marriage and to work against heterosexuality. This reasoning ought to be given due consideration by the Government as they review the material.

I have published many of my questions and concerns on a blog and in The Age, but to summarise some of the more pertinent points for you:

  • What materials and support is offered to students who experience same-sex attraction and do not wish to encourage or live out these desires? I am yet to find anything in all their website that will help these children.
  • For a course designed to remove ‘stereotypes’, Safe Schools successfully stereotypes many people including some LBGTI people, by not giving legitimacy to individuals who for personal and sometimes religious reasons, do not believe in living out same-sex thoughts and feelings.
  • Safe Schools teaches the false dichotomous view about peoples attitudes to gender differences: either you support and encourage all sexual variants, or you are a bigot and homophobe. This is simply not true, and to insist of such simplistic and erroneous positioning is intellectually and morally dishonest.
  • The teaching material expressively dismisses heteronormativity and alternative sexual expressions are encouraged. A child who believes  heterosexuality is normal or desirable is given label ‘heterosexism.’ Far from educating against bullying, this is bringing bullying into the classroom and giving it legitimacy.
  • As a parent I am all to aware how my children are influenced by what they read and watch, and are taught in the classroom. It is simply  naive to pretend that Safe Schools will not impact the behaviour and thinking of children in regard to sexual thinking and behaviour. After all, Roz Ward has indicated that this is one of her goals in writing the curriculum.
  • As other people have rightly asked, why is an anti-bullying program providing links to websites where students can buy ‘sex equipment’, attend masochist training, and watch pornography? I understand that some of these links have been taken down, but why were they ever there in the first place, and who is to guarantee that they won’t reappear at a future date? These things may not be part of the formal curriculum, but they have nonetheless been added for students who wish to investigate further.
  • Finally, the Victorian Government are making Safe Schools compulsory by the end of 2018.  What steps will the Federal Government be taking to ensure students will have freedom to opt-out of these classes, should parents believe the program unsafe and unsuitable?

Surely there is a better way forward where we can encourage children to show respect and kindness, and to support children wrestling with identity issues, without pushing a course with questionable science, material, and that has already begun estranging children in our schools.

I am happy to speak further with you should you wish.

Yours Sincerely

Murray Campbell

This is not education

In explaining the Victorian Education Department’s own position on secular education, they state,

“The legislation clearly states that the government school system is secular, and open to the adherents of any philosophy, religion, or faith.”

This is clearly no longer the case. As a supporter of secular education I am concerned to see these principles eroded by programs designed to reconfigure how children think and behave; Safe Schools is one such program.

When Corey Bernadi first suggested a connection between Safe Schools and Marxism, I laughed and thought his comment unhelpful. However, he appears closer to the mark than many first believed.

The Australian newspaper today published a piece where Roz Ward  links Safe Schools with a political and social agenda, namely that of Marxism and same-sex marriage  (Roz Ward oversees the Safe Schools program in Victoria, and she co-authored its content).

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courtesy of The Australian

In two speeches (one in May 2013 and another in 2015), Roz Ward has explained (quoting from The Australian),

“It is a total contradiction to say we want (the) Safe Schools ­Coalition but you can’t get married to the person that you love,” Ms Ward told a rally in Melbourne. “(Teachers) have to work in this context where we have this state-sponsored homophobia in this discriminatory law and still fight against homophobia.

“The question of equal marriage is important in every single school that I go to, because I talk to teachers and they say to me: ‘How can we continue to fight against homophobia when the students will say to us that same-sex couples or transgender people cannot get married to the people they love? The law says it’s not equal and then we need to turn around as teachers and say: well it should be but it’s not’.”

Railing against a “push to fit people into gender constructs that promote heterosexuality’’ at a Marxist conference in Melbourne last year, she alluded that Safe Schools was part of a broader strategy to change society.

“Programs like the Safe Schools Coalition are making some difference but we’re still a long way from liberation,’’ she said. “Marxism offers the hope and the strategy needed to create a world where human sexuality, gender and how we relate to our bodies can blossom in extraordin­arily new and amazing ways that we can only try to imagine today.”

According to the chief author and organiser of Safe Schools in Victoria, this program has a political and social agenda. It does not exist simply to combat bullying in schools, but is designed to instruct and influence children according to a socialist ideology, which includes strengthening the case for same-sex marriage.

In his time, Karl Marx identified a societal problem with capitalism, but his solution was flawed, and those who have followed in his footsteps have too often faulted. Marxism may advertise equality, but achieving it requires others to be silenced and marginalised. Indeed, history reveals how open-minded and constructive Marxist led societies have been: amidst all the gulags, red-book education, blood-shed and oppression, all the love and acceptance simply radiates from Karl Marx’s legacy.

In the case of Safe Schools, singling out children who may not affirm the new ‘normal’ is not only a sure path to discrimination, but the material itself expressively calls these children by derogatory terms, including ‘sexist’. Labelling children who don’t subscribe to all the values of Safe Schools is somewhat ironic and hypocritical given how the course instructs children to avoid tags; even the use of ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ is discouraged.

In contrast to this latest epiphany of Uncle Karl, Michael Jensen this week suggested a view to humanity that is far deeper and attractive. He writes,

“The Christian faith has bequeathed to our culture a great gift: the teaching that we are all made in the image of God. That concept permeates even apparently secular documents like the US Declaration of Independence. It coaches us to see humanity in the face of the other. It was this conviction that held good against the social Darwinians of the late nineteenth century, who would rather have placed people of different races on the lesser rungs of the human ladder.

Add to that the experience of Jesus Christ: rejected by his own, abandoned by his friends, convicted by a corrupt and lazy government, tortured, tormented, and killed. At the heart of the Christian faith is the sign of the cross, which calls us to remember what we human beings are capable of as well as to recall what God offers us.”

In other words, as Christians we are troubled by the fact children are bullied, including homophobic behaviour in schools. All parents drop their children at school each day hoping and expecting they won’t be mistreated. We want our schools to be safe for all children.

Can we not have in our schools a program that encourages respect and kindness, without all the add-ons that are so controversial and unnecessary?

The Victorian Education Minister, James Merlino, has this week confirmed that the program will be compulsory in all Victorian Schools by the end of 2018. But why? This is not education. This is not anti-bullying. By her own admission, Roz Ward has explained how Safe Schools is part of a broader strategy to rail against heteronormacy and to slam-dunk same-sex marriage. Again, I understand that some people will have no issue with this, but many others are concerned and are asking for a more reasonable and less politically motivated alternative.

A Christian response to bullying

Michael Jensen (Rector of St Mark’s Darling Point, Sydney) has written this helpful piece about bullying and what a Christian response should include. I have published it with his permission:

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That people are bullied, victimised, and even assaulted because of their sexuality in contemporary Australia is completely unacceptable.

For me, this is a simple corollary of the teaching of Jesus Christ. And as a Christian, and particularly as a Christian minister, I am compelled to stand against those who would advocate or participate in such treatment of GLBTIQ people, or anyone else for that matter.

It has to begin at school. The school playground can be a tough and even brutal place.

I had a great experience at the private boys’ school I went to. I was tall for my age, played sport, I was white, I didn’t have anything foreign on my sandwiches, and I wasn’t gay.

But even then, I do remember episodes when my mettle was tested by the crowd. I was teased for being a minister’s son, or for having ideas beyond my station, or for having pimples – ‘Pizza Face!’ being the taunt.

This was nothing. I brushed it off, because I had all the advantages.

The bullying was noisiest for the Asians, who of course couldn’t pretend they weren’t who they were. Their difference was obvious, and they were teased because they inspired envy – many of them took the top spots on the merit list each year.

But there was one boy, smaller than the others, who was always at sea. From the beginning of Year 7, he was singled out as the ‘poofter’. It was determined that he was gay, and that too great an interest in him or too deep a friendship with him, would render one’s own sexuality suspect.

I don’t recall the victimizing of him ever becoming physical (though of course he might tell a different story). But I can only imagine that school was as isolating and lonely for him as it was exciting and encouraging for me – and I shudder at the imbalance of it.
Recently I met his father at a reunion. Without betraying confidences, all I can say is that my classmate’s life has not turned out well.

Later when I became a teacher, I often heard students call each ‘gay’ as a term of abuse. To be gay was, in teen-speak, to be despised. I knew that there were students who would identify as gay, or who were at least questioning their orientation. The menace to them of this language was obvious. And it seemed obvious that this language, and the attitude that generated it, needed to be challenged. It was simply unchristian.

The Christian faith has bequeathed to our culture a great gift: the teaching that we are all made in the image of God. That concept permeates even apparently secular documents like the US Declaration of Independence. It coaches us to see humanity in the face of the other. It was this conviction that held good against the social Darwinians of the late nineteenth century, who would rather have placed people of different races on the lesser rungs of the human ladder.

Add to that the experience of Jesus Christ: rejected by his own, abandoned by his friends, convicted by a corrupt and lazy government, tortured, tormented, and killed. At the heart of the Christian faith is the sign of the cross, which calls us to remember what we human beings are capable of as well as to recall what God offers us.

How could a person who worships a victim of bullying turn away from those who are being victimized and bullied?

Observations and Questions about ‘Safe Schools’

I have read some of the stories being recounted in the media of teenagers being bullied and abused because of their sexuality. I would not wish such experiences upon anyone. It is because bullying is so detrimental to children (and adults too) that it is vital for schools to have in place effective and fair programs. In my view, Safe Schools is neither.

Despite what Bill Shorten and some others are claiming, it is possible to be concerned for these children and believe that Safe Schools is not the answer. It is possible to want these children supported and to see them flourishing, and have reason for believing that Safe Schools may cause more harm than good.

1. Bullying is real. Children are bullied in schools for all kinds of reasons, including race, religion, weight, social status, mental ability, and sexuality. Safe Schools doesn’t address any of these other forms of bullying and focuses solely on sexuality. This is not to ignore bullying on the basis of gender, but would it not be sensible to provide an overarching program that teaches children to respect and care for other people in all these areas? Indeed, many of our schools already run such programs, and to great success.

2. Session 2 of the program for year 7 and 8 students asks the question, ‘Imagine you are attracted to someone of the same sex…’ and students are then encouraged to pursue this path of possibility. Is this suitable for 11-13 year old children?

3. Why is an anti-bullying program providing links to websites where students can buy ‘sex equipment’, attend masochist training, and watch pornography? I understand that some of these links have been taken down, but why were they ever there in the first place, and who is to guarantee that they won’t reappear at a future date? These things may not be part of the formal curriculum, but they have nonetheless been added for students who wish to investigate further.

4. What materials and support is offered to students who experience same-sex attraction and do not wish to encourage or live out these desires? I am yet to find anything in all their website that will help these children.

5. Safe Schools teaches the false dichotomous view about peoples attitudes to gender differences: either you support and encourage all sexual variants, or you are a bigot and homophobe. This is simply not true, and to insist of such simplistic and erroneous positioning is intellectually and morally dishonest.

6. Heteronormativity is dismissed and alternative sexual expressions are encouraged. A child who believes  heterosexuality is normal or desirable is labelled with heterosexism.

7. The material makes use of the Blooms Taxonomy, which is designed to make learning more than merely impartation of information and ideas, but to change behaviour and attitudes. In other words, Safe Schools is no mere anti-bullying program, it is carefully constructed to re-engineer how children think about gender and sex.

8. Why does the Safe Schools Coalition website cite statistics that lack scientific credibility?

Safe Schools

These statistics are offered as assumed facts, however according to recent studies, the numbers are significantly lower than those suggested on the website.

I understand that gauging accurate numbers for sexuality and gender is near impossible given difficulties over definitions and categories, as well as social and cultural stigmas, and other reasons that may prevent some people from aligning with LGBTIQ. On top of that, other people find that with age and experience their self-understanding and lifestyle may change. Keeping all those variables in mind, the statistics presented by Safe Schools differs significantly to the major studies conducted around the world.

Safe Schools want us to believe that 10% of the population have same-sex attraction, whereas most scientific studies put the figure under 4% (and that includes bisexual people), and other research suggests even lower.

While the Safe Schools material states with confidence that 1.7% of people are intersex.

The American Psychological Association suggests the figure to be about 1 in 1,500, not the 1 in 60 which Safe Schools would have us accept as scientific fact.

And this research directly contests the 1.7% figure:

“Anne Fausto‐Sterling’s suggestion that the prevalence of intersex might be as high as 1.7% has attracted wide attention in both the scholarly press and the popular media…If the term intersex is to retain any meaning, the term should be restricted to those conditions in which chromosomal sex is inconsistent with phenotypic sex, or in which the phenotype is not classifiable as either male or female. Applying this more precise definition, the true prevalence of intersex is seen to be about 0.018%, almost 100 times lower than Fausto‐Sterling’s estimate of 1.7%.”

This kind of misrepresentation of facts and science straight away raises questions about the legitimacy of this program. It is analogous to a political party taking 10 polls, publishing the one that is favourable and deleting the 9 which are less supportive. Or it’s like coming home after a cricket match and telling everyone I scored 185 runs, when in fact it was 42.

Smaller numbers does not of course reduce the value of people who find themselves in these categories, nor does it excuse us from providing care and support for children struggling with identity questions.

9. Is it the role of the Government and schools to teach sexual ethics to children? It’s a question worth asking.

For a course designed to remove ‘stereotypes’, Safe Schools successfully stereotypes many people including some LBGTI people, by not giving legitimacy to people who for personal and sometimes religious reasons, do not believe in living out same-sex thoughts and feelings.

Surely there is a better way forward where we can encourage children to show respect and kindness, and to support children wrestling with identity issues, without pushing a course with questionable science, material, and that has already begun estranging children in our schools.

‘Safe Schools’ and the Danger of Polemical Rhetoric

Just days after writing a piece on how to speak and engage in public, today the Australian public has witnessed further examples of immature and dishonest debate.

Earlier today in the halls of Parliament there was a brief and unpleasant exchange between Bill Shorten and Cory Bernadi. Mr Bernadi called Mr Shorten a ‘fraud’, while Mr Shorten yelled out, ‘At least I’m not a homophobe, mate’.

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SBS News

In today’s The Age, Jill Stark has presented what is now an all to  common false-antithesis: either we are progressive, enlightened and support gender theory, or we are conservative, culturally regressive bigots.

She writes,

“We cannot let the march of equality be held to ransom by a powerful minority of religious zealots who dress up their bigotry as concern for children.”

“These are desperate acts from ideological crusaders who refuse to accept that the inequality they have built their privilege on is in its death throes.

But fear is a powerful emotion. If you can scare conservative voters into thinking the by-product of equality is a world in which their children will be forced into some sort of state-sanctioned gay induction camp, facts are no longer necessary.”

Is Stark right? Are our only options, be caring citizens who support Safe Schools or hate-filled degenerates who wish children harm? Of course not.

  • There are many Australians who don’t identify with conservative politics and who reject current gender theory.
  • There are many Australian Christians not aligning with the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), and who affirm the historic Biblical understanding of gender and sexuality.
  • It is possible to be appalled and saddened by bullying in schools, and not support the Safe Schools program.
  • It is possible to actively care for and support families who have children identifying as LGBTQIA, without introducing Safe Schools.
  • It is possible for our schools to teach values such as respect and kindness amidst diversity without pushing specific and questionable gender theory. Many schools are doing an excellent job discouraging bullying without needing Safe Schools.
  • It is possible to have legitimate concerns over Safe Schools and not be homophobic and all the other insidious and untrue name calling that Jill Stark and others are resorting too. There is a sad note of irony in how  these anti-bullying advocates are among the most quick to disparage and heckle those who don’t support their social engineering project.
  • It is possible parents don’t want their 11 and 12 year old children  children being encouraged to explore sexuality in school.
  • It is possible many parents would be concerned if our schools permitted male students to use female toilets and change rooms.

I know many many people in the community who fit all the above statements, although most remain quiet and anonymous because they fear retribution from the kind of journalism Jill Stark is scripting.

Finally,  Jill Stark tries to reassure readers with this concluding remark,

“For the record, Safe Schools does not teach children how to be gay. It encourages young people to be themselves without fear of persecution or judgment, and fosters empathy for those who are different to them.

There is no “gay manual” because sexuality is not something that can be learned. Any suggestion to the contrary is a deliberate attempt to deny the very existence of LGBTI people.”

While I understand her logic, I can only assume Jill Stark hasn’t read all the material and that she has ignored the links on the Safe Schools website. Also, as a parent I am all to aware how what my children read and what they watch influences how they think and behave. It is simply benighted, or least naive, to conclude that Safe Schools will not impact the behaviour and thinking of children.

I am not interested in the politics of this debate, but I am speaking as a concerned parent, and as a person who is concerned by the continued untrue rhetoric certain journalists and politicians would have us believe about Australians who dare question current gender ideology.

Introduction of ‘General Religious Studies’ in Victorian Schools

When I first became a parent someone gave Susan and me this wise advice, ‘whenever you offer a criticism or correction to your children, make sure you also give them 10 encouragements.’  I’m pretty sure we haven’t made it to 10 every time, but we try.

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The logo presence does not represent a Govt endorsement of this article

When it comes to the education of children in Victoria, I could easily mention 100 things that are fantastic about our schools and teachers. As a parent with 3 children in school, I am very thankful for the education they are receiving, and for the care and expertise of their teachers.

Having said that, I do not support everything that is being implemented by the Education Department, especially  issues relating to directives from the Education Minister, Mr James Merlino.  In 2015 the current Victorian Government made several drastic and unnecessary changes to our education system in regard to SRI (and other related issues); these have been discussed at length on other occasions. In 2016 the changes will continue, and it is important for parents to be made aware.

Our State Government is introducing material on General Religious Studies (prep-year 10). This is one of two curriculums* that is replacing SRI (which can now only take place outside of normal class hours, along with an extensive list of new measures). The other program is Building Respectful Relationships.

In this post I wish to raise 4 concerns regarding the General Religious Studies.

First, the freedom to choose religious education has been taken away from students and parents. Whereas families once had choice and could opt-in for religious classes (whether it be Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Buddhist classes), they are no longer given the option.

The material has been made available for this year, but due to certain issues (relating to training, I believe) the course will become compulsory in both State and Catholic schools from January 2017.

Second, can the Education Department guarantee that the General Religious Studies material will be accurate and taught impartially?

Learning about other religions is important and useful, and at home we ensure our children can learn about what different people believe. 

About teaching religion in schools, there is a significant ideological issue at stake, is it the role of Government to teach religion? Apart from that, my concern is, will educators ensure that each religion is explained and taught with fairness and veracity?

Neutral education is a fairy tale, and this is clearly demonstrated by the Department’s own summaries of the 5 major religions. I am not an expert in Hinduism, Islam or Judaism, although I can (in my view) find fault in these representations, but as a Christian with an honours degree in theology I am in some way, able to speak to the published presentation of Christianity

According to the Education Department these are the ‘key premises’ of Christianity:

“There is one God, consisting of the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit. God is the creator and sustainer of the universe. God became human in the person of Jesus, the Son.

People have one life and its purpose is to live in a loving relationship with God, with others and with the world. The life and teachings of Jesus show how this is done and make possible the life-giving changes needed in individuals and society. Christians are empowered by the Holy Spirit and are called to demonstrate God’s love, compassion and justice in all their relationships and interactions. Most Christians believe in an afterlife; that after their physical death, they will live forever with God.

The Bible is the sacred text for Christians. The Bible has two parts, known as the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament contains Jewish books and teachings, before the time of Jesus. The New Testament records the teachings of Jesus as well as the history and teaching of the early

Church which is based on the teaching and example of Jesus.”

There are certainly statements here that align with Christianity, but others are blatantly wrong, and some of the most central tenets are altogether missing.

Here is one example of a basic error, ‘Most Christians believe in an afterlife; that after their physical death, they will live forever with God”. No, all Christians believe in an afterlife, and this life beyond death will be physical.

Notice how there is no mention of sin, Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection, and of salvation on account of God’s grace. There is no mention of hell. Without these things there is no Christianity. It is not enough to make the excuse, we can’t say everything in a few paragraphs, the core of Christianity has been ripped out and in so doing it is presenting a Christianity that is inauthentic and inaccurate.

To quote the Bible, Christianity is about ‘Christ and him crucified’.

My point is this, if the Education Department is unable to fairly and accurately summarise the Christian faith, how can we trust what they want taught about any and all religion?

One of the stated aims is that it ‘should include…opportunities for critical thinking.’ That’s a fine intention, but if my children are to be taught any religious studies, I want them learning the facts, not an erroneous and sloppy version that looks more like a fake painted by a liberal secular humanist on a bad hair day.

Thirdly, one of the concerns aimed at SRI was that instructors were not only explaining what their religion believes but were encouraging students to practise and participate, in a variety of ways.

The Facts Sheet given to school Principals by the Victorian Education Department (November 2015) makes it clear that as part of General Religious Studies, teachers may organise for students to celebrate festivals belonging to the different religions. They cite examples including dressing up for Diwali (a Hindu festival celebrating their understanding of spiritual victory), making Christmas decorations, and sharing sweets for Eid (a Muslim festival).

In other words, not only is this new religious content compulsory and fails at a basic academic level, it is encouraging students (regardless of their own religious convictions) to participate in activities of other religions. I have no doubt that this will be deeply troubling for many thousands of Victorian parents, from different religions.

Fourthly, class room teachers will be required to teach the material, although under very strict guidelines a visitor may be invited to teach certain aspects.

I have a very high regard for the teachers at my children’s school, but I suspect that very few if any have qualifications in theology or philosophy. I imagine it is difficult enough for them to teach the many different subjects they are already putting together each year, let alone teaching theology, something which would normally require a four year university degree!

I understand that teachers will be presenting overviews, not deep theological treatises. However, even a simple grasp of the 5 major religions requires significant learning, and what of students when they ask teachers questions about these religions? Will they be equipped to answer? I certainly hope they won’t be relying on the current information that the Department are providing, given its flawed representations

I have been informed by the education department that the content must be taught (from 2017), but it will be up to each individual school as to how it will be taught.

What can parents do?

Speak to your school principal (and council) and graciously explain your concerns to them.

Write to your local member of Parliament, and kindly and succinctly express your concerns.

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Technically, the General Religious Studies is not a curriculum, but content which can be fitted into various areas of learning at school, for example it may appear under ‘Civics and Citizenship’ or ‘Ethical Capability’

Christmas Carols in Schools: the directive given to Principals

UPDATE as of 8pm December 22nd

Later this afternoon Education Minister, Mr James Merlino, issued a statement via The Australian newspaper, seeking to douse once for all the questions and confusion over whether schools will or will not be allowed to reference God and Jesus Christ in Christmas singing, as of 2016.

I am not interested in the politics being played out between the Government and opposition MPs, but I am concerned about Government overstepping the mark over freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

In his statement, Mr Merlino has reiterated (he made a comment on his website a few days ago) that there is no ban on carols in schools, and he has now specified that songs such as Away in a Manger and O Come all ye faithful, can be sung.  This is most encouraging to hear. I am not sure why it took several days for this clarification to come, but nonetheless, many people will be relieved to hear the news.

This statement is an improvement on and somewhat different to what he said a week earlier, “As with other curriculum decisions, schools will make the decision as to which Christmas carols feature as part of classroom activities.”

Does this mean the end of the matter? Unfortunately no, because  Mr Merlino’s statement is at odds with the Departmental directive sent to school principals. In light of this,  I am requesting that the Minister revise this messy piece of policy, and clarify in writing to schools so that there can be no ambiguity. Better still, why not drop the whole issue and allow schools to return to a practice that has work well for many decades

As I have earlier said, the directive is at best confusing, and a natural reading leaves people sensing that Christian carols are probably not permitted, except for within the very strict parameters of SRI and perhaps the General Religion classes.

The contention now is whether schools will follow Mr Merlino’s comments or will they adhere to the Education Department’s directive.

below is the post I wrote on December 17 with details concerning the directive sent to Principals

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I would prefer to spend this time enjoying the lead up to Christmas, not defending the freedom of children to celebrate Christmas, but unfortunately this is a sign of the times in which we live.

Following on from yesterday’s developments regarding Christmas songs in our schools, I have read a copy of the Government’s directive given to school principals. Below is a screenshot of the most relevant section. The left side describes what is permissible only in a SRI class, and the right hand side outlines what is acceptable as non-SRI activity.

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Logically, these two lists clash. The directive is clear, songs that praise God or some other deity are strictly prohibited outside SRI. The only exception to this rule are songs considered ‘societally recognised’, but even they are limited to General Religious Instruction. However, the right side column says that Christmas carols are permitted. Which is it?

A generous reading of the directive could conclude that children can keep singing ‘Away in a Manger’ and other songs about Jesus’ birth, but in my view that is not the natural reading of the document.

Education Minister, Mr James Merlino, yesterday commented that Christmas carols can still be sung in our schools, which was I was pleased to hear, but his own Department’s notice to school principals puts this in doubt. Unless of course, his meaning of Christmas Carols is limited to those non-religious festive favourites such as ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’.

I’m curious, what will happen to classic songs like John Lennon’s, ‘Imagine’ ,which is often sung at Christmas time. Are anti-God lyrics ok for our children to sing?

One thing is clear from the directive, members of the community can no longer be invited to help schools in their Christmas celebrations, which is sad given how most people appreciate these ties with community groups.

At best this policy is ambiguous (perhaps deliberately so), and that is evident from the disparate interpretations being proffered by various MPs and even schools.

For me, reading the directive raises more questions:

  1. Is a ‘societally recognised’ song permitted to be sung at a Christmas celebration outside of General Religious classes?
  2. By Christmas Carols, are songs about Jesus, the Bible, and God permitted in school celebrations? For example, ‘Joy to the World’ and ‘Silent Night’.

If the answer to these questions is yes, and many Victorians will be encouraged to hear this, I would then ask Mr Merlino and the Education Department to clarify the confusion for schools, in writing. Better still, I recommend that the directive be revised to support these important clarifications.

What do others think?