I remember when I lost my mind… there was something about the way they taught ethics

I’m going to update regarding the essay in The Australian Book of Atheism which argues:

Premiss 1: Religious education is bad.

Therefore: Religious education is bad.

But in discussing some of the ideas elsewhere, I got bogged down in an argument with @pandeiacomic on Twitter about Primary Ethics.

In NSW, the Education Act has been changed to allow students to receive ‘philosophical ethics classes’ instead of going to religious studies classes.  As an atheist myself, I think this is a bad idea.  I feel that a lot of our social problems relate to cultural illiteracy: we lack the language to construct a positive and robust discussion about our culture and society.  If religious education classes were taught well (and I happily admit that they are not — I’m not sure what educational relevance colouring a picture of Jesus holding a duck has to do with religious instruction), they would help people discuss culture meaningfully.

Sometimes, I wonder if my fellow atheists would be better equipped to discuss religion if they’d had better religious instruction (one of the essays in The Australian Book of Atheism starts discussing religion in society before going off on an irrelevant rant that the Earth didn’t begin 6,000 years ago; because, you know, hurr hurr that’s what theists believe).

But the response to ‘Religious education is substandard’ is not ‘Let’s teach something else substandard’.  This brings me to my argument with Paul Caggegi (@pandeiacomic).

He ‘argues’ that:

1. We shouldn’t criticise volunteers.

2. The volunteers will get some training and thus be ‘qualified’ to teach ethics.

3. If volunteers off the internet aren’t qualified to teach ethics, then neither are ‘all the mothers who ever lived’.

Teehee.  Classic.

My argument is:

If something is worth teaching, it’s worth teaching well.  The people qualified to teach are called ‘teachers’.  They get degrees and diplomas in teaching, that’s how good at it they are.  It’s a wonderful system: in order to teach a student something in an educational facility provided by the State, you have to be a teacher.

You ought to be a teacher.

Unfortunately, we don’t value religious education or ethics as much as we should.  Instead of demanding teachers, we think volunteers from the internet (or the local church) are good enough and near enough that we won’t bother doing it properly.  Plus, it’s cheap and means that we don’t have to pay teachers to teach an extra hour or two a week.

Imagine the outrage if the school system decided it would leave the teaching of science up to volunteers.  Oh, but science is important, so the education system would never allow that.  Never ever.

And though it pains me to say it, parents aren’t substitute teachers.  Parents teach their kids all kinds of wacky, wacky things.  The example which comes most readily to mind: religion.

So if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly.  ‘Volunteer’ systems are selling children short on their education needs.

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17 thoughts on “I remember when I lost my mind… there was something about the way they taught ethics

  1. Nice. Gripe about the fact that the classes will be handled by volunteers, but provide no solution of your own. A curriculum was created, tested, and run by the at James ethics center, and volunteers are being asked to fill particular roles in order to make it happen. The fact they are unpaid is being equated to unsuitable to take the classes. Please look at: http://www.primaryethics.com.au/ to see how they are going about things. Thus is merely an opinion based on one twitter user who is actually putting his hand up to volunteer because he cares. It’s a start, the classes are an SRE alternative, but also an introduction to critical thinking. If you gave a better solution, put your money where your blog is and make it happen.

    • ‘Gripe about the fact that the classes will be handled by volunteers, but provide no solution of your own.’

      1. I did provide a solution.
      2. Despite (1), I’m under no obligation to provide a solution. If the idea stinks, it stinks.

      ‘The fact they are unpaid is being equated to unsuitable to take the classes.’

      No, the fact that they are not teachers is being equated to unsuitable to take the classes.

      • Your solution is a mere bitch and moan unless you get out there and do something proactive. You deserve no respect for simply objecting on you blog.

  2. Nice work cherrypicking just two of my tweets, btw. Let’s not forget I sent you links to show what anyone considering volunteering is required to have: http://www.primaryethics.com.au/volunteers.html but no. You simply gave to defend your one and only argument against ethics classes in primary schools: ethics should not be tought by volunteers. Please, If you have a better idea, make it happen. It’s easy to bitch and moan and pick on someone who’s actually taking part; much harder to get out there and do something.

  3. I agree with the blog and also you have said it is your blog and you are entitled to say what you wish to say and you do not have to give any reason. I am against any volunteers in schools unless they are helping out in the schools grounds or the classrooms under the guidance of a teacher. Ethics or cultural studies ( RI or RE is crappy) could be taught by a qualified person who gets paid. Or shock horror one of the teachers who is already at the school like a relief teacher who also teaches these classes. Volunteers do a great service for our community but when it comes to something as important as children and in this area I feel qualifications and a permanent position as part of the school is important or even sharing between 2 schools if that is possible. I also think you made it clear how you felt that schools are doing this as a form of saving a few bucks, plus your preference for qualified teachers or people to do this who are not volunteers. Flawedprefect has a bit of a chip on their shoulder it appears.

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