This post is part of a series
Well as promised yesterday, we’re going to start dealing with the issues. Over the next three days I’m going to suggest three policy areas that, I think, should have a bearing on the way we vote and then I’m also going to suggest three policy areas I think shouldn’t influence the way you vote (you’ll see what I mean later). Truly, there are far more areas of concern than these three, but I guess I’m trying to lift our gaze a little to see just how far reaching the Christian worldview is in the sphere of political thought.
Issue 1: Public Education
I was a bit nervous making this my issue number 1, because that gives the impression that I think it’s the most important issue, which I don’t. I was also nervous because I used to be a public high-school teacher and so this might seem like a conflict of interest. In writing this I don’t mean to demean the great work that private school teachers do. I think that’s enough caveats, lets begin.
Why should Christians in NSW care about public education – particularly at a time when more and more Christian parents believe the right thing to do is to send their children to a private school, be it a church school or an independent Christian school?
Well the answer lies in how we come to know God. Since the Reformation, protestant Christians have known the importance of having access to the Scriptures in our own tongue. God has gone into print. This is how he communicates with us. When we want to know about God we dive for the Bible. It’s why translators like Tyndale and Wycliffe demanded that the Bible be written in language the plough-boy could understand. It’s why linguistics and language preservation matters so much to Christians (through Bible translation). It’s why the first schools in NSW were church schools.
And so, because Christians have such a massive commitment to a written book, we likewise have a commitment to literacy. The only way to ensure we have a literate public is to have a well-funded public education system.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to argue that there is a cohort of students who are emerging from our schools in NSW that are not getting the literacy skills that they will need to participate fully in our society (or read the Bible for themselves) – and that through no fault of their teachers. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to notice things like class sizes ballooning; lack of adequate air conditioning so that classrooms are in excess of 44°C; inadequate funding for teachers aids, especially for kids with learning difficulties; low morale and high staff turn-over in our schools – any one of these things is concerning but together they represent a cause that Christians should be championing.
A few words on vouchers. From what we can gather from the ACVI’s survey I mentioned a few days ago they are in favour of the so-called “voucher system”. In this system the government allocates your child a certain amount of money for education. The theory goes that parents who send their kids to private schools are “taxed twice” (in that they are taxed for the provision of public schools and then “taxed” again when they pay their school fees). The voucher system means that parents are only taxed for the voucher system, and then they are free to decide where that money is spent, be it in public education, the private sector or to recoup the costs of home schooling.
Sounds good right? Well the fact that it sounds good is kind of the problem. It is a system that sounds good to a choice-rich, individualist society. But what if you live in Wilcannia and it’s not financially viable for a private school to run (indeed it’s not financially viable for a public school to run) then we need a robust public system that is unreasonably generous in the eyes of an economic rationalist to ensure that kids in that community can read (and perhaps one day read of King Jesus).
This is a drum I need to keep banging again and again; Christians at their core are not meant to act in self-interest. We are meant to be people who seek to serve. In this circumstance it means that you are going to pay taxes so that those who can’t afford education can still access it – and to a high standard.
- Go to the NSW Electoral Commission website and find out who’s standing for your electorate here. (if you don’t know which electorate you live in go here first)
- There you’ll find the email addresses of the people standing (candidates) in your electorate.
- Send your candidates an email asking them, should they win your seat, what they would do to fix some of the problems I’ve listed above (and others you might be able to think of).
Christians care about public education system.
Non-Issue 1: Ethics in SRE time
“WHAT?! Why is this a non-issue?” I hear many bellow.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am livid about the St James ethics classes being taught during SRE time. I’ve written about it here. My major concerns are:
- Ethics classes suggest that other parts of school are “values neutral” to use a Howardian phrase. This is deeply insulting to me as a former teacher.
- Due process was not followed – there was no public inquiry and the trial was a sham.
- The Ethics programme cannot fix the problem it was designed to (non-attendance in SRE does not equate to attendance in ethics classes)
But, and it pains me to say it, we lost. The legislation was introduced.
Had you asked me about this in January I would have said it isn’t all bad. This is one of the areas Christians were able to hold a gritted smile, in the knowledge that Labor is going to be trounced at this election and then the Liberal Party (who spoke against the legislation) would be elected and reverse the decision. I myself, not traditionally a Liberal voter, could see this as a good that would come from having a NSW Liberal government. But then they stabbed us in the back. In early February the Liberal education spokesman announced that, should they win government, they had no intention of reversing the decision (a story on this here). Their reasoning? Because it’s already enshrined in law…
umm… bu… wai…
The logic of this is bizarre. Someone needs to explain to the Liberal Party’s Adrian Piccoli that part of being a government is that YOU GET TO CHANGE AND MAKE NEW LAWS. Ultimately it seems the Liberal party has realised that victory is so certain for them that they can cut loose the interest groups that they have traditionally relied upon to catapult them into government – on this occasion it was the conservative Christian vote.
So the chess board looks very different now. After the election we will have a government and an opposition that are both in favour of the ethics classes. Unless there is a huge upsurge of support for the minor parties who are against ethics classes in the place of SRE (an outcome that is unlikely) then this is actually an issue you shouldn’t worry about in your voting this Saturday.