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.
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’.
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.