Gonski and school funding are front and centre as an election issue. Equally important is Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s national crusade in education and her attempts to impose a culturally left, politically correct curriculum on all Australian schools.
The most recent example is the national civics and citizenship curriculum, where religion is rarely mentioned and Christianity is airbrushed from the nation’s civic life. It’s no secret that secular critics want to banish religion from the public square and ignore the essential role Christianity plays in the story of Western civilisation.
While students are told to study “religious groups to which Australians of Asian heritage belong” there is no such compulsion in relation to European religions like Catholicism or Anglicanism.
Additional evidence that those responsible are hostile to Christianity is what has been deleted from an earlier draft of the document.
The October 2012 copy recognises religion when, under the heading important knowledge and understanding, students are told to learn about, “the contribution of major religions and beliefs… to the development of Australian civic identity”.
Not only does the May, 2013, edition remove the above reference, it also removes the statement that students should learn about the contribution of “community, interest and religious groups, associations and clubs to civic life”.
As to why religion is ignored the answer is easy to find. In a report on the consultation process related to the curriculum, those responsible are happy to argue. “The treatment of religion within the paper needs to be reviewed to include more reference to ‘non-religious’ views”.
The authors are also happy to embrace a politically correct, postmodern view of society. The belief is that Australia is “a secular nation with a multicultural and multi-faith society”, one that is “diverse and dynamic” and where students are taught to “value their own cultures, languages and beliefs.”
In addition to adopting a relativistic stance, the curriculum also embodies a subjective definition of citizenship on the premise that “citizenship means different things to people at different times and depending on personal perspectives, their social situation and where they live”.
Taken to its conclusion the statement denies the existence of those common values, beliefs and system of morality that all must agree to and defend if society is to survive and prosper.
Without agreement that all citizens are imbued with what the US Declaration of Independence terms “certain unalienable rights” we are defenceless against the threat represented by totalitarian regimes.
Also ignored, while Australian society has evolved and we are now more diverse, is that we are inherently a Christian society and religion has played, and continues to play, a vital role in the nation’s civic life and political and legal systems.
While there is no state-mandated religion, the preamble to the nation’s Constitution includes the words, “humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God” and the nation’s parliaments commence with the Lord’s Prayer.
While the figure has declined over the years, moving from 73% in 1986 to 61% in 2011, the reality is that the majority of Australians still describe themselves as Christian.
It’s also true, especially in relation to the Catholic Church, that religious organisations are major contributors to civil society. Charitable organisations like the St Vincent de Paul Society and Caritas Australia, in addition to providing help and relief to the poor and disadvantaged, act to strengthen the relationships and bonds that bind civil society.
Research both here and overseas suggests that faith-based schools, especially Catholic schools, are also effective at promoting social capital – a situation where relationships are characterised by reciprocity and mutual obligation and trust.
It shouldn’t surprise that the proposed national civics and citizenship curriculum belittles religion, especially Christianity. ACARA has form when it comes to undervaluing Australia’s Judeo-Christian heritage and traditions. An early draft of the history curriculum replaced BC and AD with the politically correct alternatives "before the common era" and "common era".
And it’s not just history and civics and citizenship – every subject in the national curriculum from prep to Year 12 must give priority to Asian, Indigenous and sustainability perspectives while Christianity is ignored.
Much of the current debate centres on Gillard’s Gonski-inspired school funding model and whether non-government schools will suffer financially.
Equally as important is the issue of the new national curriculum, a curriculum that all schools must teach as implementation is tied to funding.
The danger is that students in government schools will be taught a curriculum that fails to acknowledge the central role of Christianity in the nation’s history, political and legal institutions and civic life.
The danger for religious schools is that they will have to implement a secular, cultural-left curriculum that belittles and undervalues the very faith on which such schools are based.
Dr Kevin Donnelly is Director of the Education Standards Institute and author of Educating your child: it’s not rocket science