At my high school, De Vialar College, we used to have the highest number of religion classes in the state of WA — five periods of religion a week PLUS one period of religious singing. A total of six. We also had the highest proportion of nun teachers to students in the State — only a couple of the teachers weren’t nuns. They were the very dedicated Sisters of St Joseph of the Apparition who’d insisted on so many religion classes that all other lessons and phys ed were trimmed to squeeze them in. They’d worked hard to get approval from the Ed Dept to get permission for so many religion classes (I’d heard the boast a couple of times that they’d told the Ed Dept they’d rather close the school if they couldn’t teach that much religion), and it was used as a major selling point. We had non-Catholics attending too. Only 200 in the whole school. Classes had to finish at 3.15pm daily, as the nuns all ran off to watch The Young and the Restless in the attached convent. We’d hear the theme music wafting out as we’d leave and giggle about it.
The religious ed was mostly great — we sat around debating moral questions and could say whatever we wanted. Eg. “Is it bad to want to be popular?” Answer: it was if it meant you abandoned your morals! That question used to come up all the time. And lots about peer group pressure and how we mustn’t cave in. There was stuff on bullying. About the poor. About Catholic persecution during WWII. Missionary work. We were taught about other religions too. We used to have masses and sing in the choir. We had Marriage Encounter couples tell us the ups and downs of being together til death do us part. We learnt about people in other countries. It was all over too quickly. It was a fun time. I remember we all had to write an essay in class about “What God means to me”, then we discussed the answers. And the nuns didn’t just teach the values; if they saw anyone being excluded or bullied, there’d be prompt action. Every 40-minute study period began and ended with a prayer and we stopped work to say the Angelus every midday. We didn’t learn heaps of Catholic dogma or discuss the Vatican’s latest encyclicals. There wasn’t as much anti-church material around then. The anti-church stuff then was contraception, living together, divorce, free love, drugs, having kids out of wedlock. I didn’t remember much sex abuse stuff being widely aired then. The priests I knew, from three parishes, were never charged with that. Most priests aren’t abusers.
They were like ethics classes. So I think these ethics class ideas are brilliant. Funded by P&Cs. They’ve presented their idea to the NSW State Government — to two previous education ministers and now the current one, Verity Firth. The idea keeps getting knocked back cause of the power of the Catholic Church and other churches — again, despite their 8 per cent church attendance, they have power cause of the public services they provide: schools, hospitals. They’re entitled to discriminate on the basis of sex and sexual orientation when employing teachers and nurses. Their staff aren’t allowed to parade in Mardi Gras or be openly “out”.
The churches also currently claim that they’re the only ones providing any moral fabric and instruction — only because they’re actively stopping ethics classes from being held. They insist that if students don’t attend religious instruction they must do nothing! So the churches keep taking kudos for any type of morality, as though society will fall apart without them and their discriminating guilt-pushing ideas. (The sort of ideas that lead to gay people being bashed and murdered in parks.)
I appreciate the ethics/religious instruction I got at school and I think everyone should be able to get that. Now, it’s only people who are trying to pass the Australian citizenship test that get any teaching on Australian values.
The theme music from The Young and the Restless, 1973.