Ethics classes are crucial for schools, says MP

by Robert Ballantyne04 Nov 2015

Leong, along with primary school parents and teachers, co-signed a letter of protest after the NSW Premier, Mike Baird, announced in June it was removing the option of ethics studies from school enrolment forms.

Despite the backlash, the Department of Education proceeded to change the forms – a move that Greens MP, John Kaye, described as a political deal between Christian Democratic Party MP Fred Nile, and the NSW Premier.

"Christian democrat MP Fred Nile has for many years been obsessed with destroying the ethics alternative to scripture," Kaye told the ABC.

"The compromise that seems to have been struck is to hide ethics away from parents and simultaneously to trick them into enrolling their kids into special religious education."

Leong said she was continuing to reach out to parents to ensure they could access the old enrolment form.

“We have been directing them to attach it to the new form to show they have a choice between ethics and religion. We need to make sure the next generation is brought up with the ability to question, engage with and have critical analysis of what is going on in the world,” Leong said.

“What we know for a fact is that when ethics classes were first introduced in schools in the inner west, enrolments in scripture studies plummeted. We know that teaching students about religion is important, but enforcing a view on students in the public sector is not acceptable.”

Leong added that children at a young age “should be learning to explore and question the world”.

In June, Neil Levy, professor of philosophy at Macquarie University told The Educator that ethics classes provide students with context and deep thought about life’s big questions.

Levy said ethics classes and the Bible should not be viewed as mutually exclusive and that religious affiliation should not be a prerequisite to teach ethics.

“I certainly don't want to suggest that ethics can't be effectively taught by Christians –or by Jews, or Muslims – or that an ethics class taught by religious people can't be just as good as one taught by someone without a religious affiliation,” Levy said.

“I think it is important to combat the view, promulgated by Fred Nile, that ethics has a religious foundation or that one needs to be a believer, or worse, an adherent of a particular religion to be ethical.

“We know that's just not true; there's plenty of data from sociology that shows that atheists are at least as moral as believers.” 

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