Church and [the first] state – a guide to democracy for NSW Christians. Part 3

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.

So -

  • 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.

9 Comments

Filed under NSW Election 2011

9 responses to “Church and [the first] state – a guide to democracy for NSW Christians. Part 3

  1. Peter

    One of the main problems of education (not just public) is that a lot of schools are stuck in a post industrial age pedagogy. A lot of educators do not know what 21st Century teaching practices look like. This is something that we are challenged to experiment with at my school (I’m not saying that we’ve got the perfect system but we are trying to preempt educational trends and be proactive rather than reactive)
    I’ve seen good money get wasted in both sectors of education. What irks me is the newest high school to be built in NSW at Rouse Hill. It looks more like a concentration camp than a place where young minds are inspired.
    In terms of the voucher system and remote areas… Schools don’t necessarily need to be buildings anymore. Online learning is growing and is becoming more appealing to the digital native students that are filling the class rooms. With equitable access to the internetz this could see the voucher system work for everyone.

    • steveboxwell

      Hey Pete,

      Couldn’t agree more about that Rouse Hill school is yet another in a long line of ugly monoliths. I also am absolutely with you on the problems of outdated pedagogy being the assumed norms of society (after all it was good enough for us….) It means educators like yourself are constantly battling to drag society into the century we’ve been living in for 11 years.

      I will softly disagree with you on the need for buildings and the justification of vouchers though Pete. I reckon things like the school of the air are a retrieval. I’m slightly concerned by some of the things I’ve been reading recently about what can only be described as a technological disembodiment. We do our children a great disservice when we tacitly approve of them making their dominant modes of communication with other humans to be mediated through a computer.

      Feel free to come back at me on that though.

  2. I think that’s enough caveats, lets begin.
    I assume you didn’t teach English? ;-)

    Seriously – this looks like an excellent series and I’m very much looking forward to hearing what the next two issues are. I’m going to assume from your first post that one of them is ecological responsibility (and energy policy). Newcastle is already the world’s biggest coal export port and set to dramatically increase its size in the coming years. Once expanded, the amount of coal to be exported via Newcastle will result in emissions greater than the total of all local Australian emissions combined. We can’t pretend that we in NSW are not a very serious part of the problem.

    And are you going to discuss political funding? The very worrying thing about NSW Labor has been the never-ending stream of stories about corruption and shady deals between developers and MPs. There is only one major party that doesn’t accept funding from unions or corporations.

    • steveboxwell

      Good assumption Byron. I’m too reliant on grammar checkers and when I forget to use them I’m doomed to look like a moron.

      Today’s post is on environment care. Frustratingly this one issue deserves a massive treatment – I’ve got <800 words. It's as if we need someone writing a blog that nearly all the time talks about environmental issues so that Christians can get a fuller picture of environment care in the Christian life :)

      • I know your tongue was in your cheek, but seriously, that is part of the problem: ecological issues are treated as an optional sideshow, a luxury for the “greenies” and/or those with time/money/energy to think about them. Until they are integrated into our personal and social policy thinking (as the profit motive is currently woven in), then we’re pretty much doomed to give the kind of (in)attention that will just dig us deeper into a hole.

        Glad to hear that’s the next post. Looking forward to it.

  3. Lewis

    Steve,
    I’m a Category B person so you might not be very interested in what I have to say – nevertheless … I can’t agree with you that Ethics v SRE is a non-issue in this election and, with respect, your analysis of the politics around this is a little unsophisticated.
    Yes, the Liberals have said pre-election that they have no intention of doing away with Ethics classes. But then the PM told us pre her election that she would not introduce a carbon tax. Sadly, what politicians do after elections does not necessarily accord with what they said before the election. And the Liberals stance on Ethics classes is not even a ‘promise’ – just a statement of ‘no intention’.
    Consider:
    1. Labor dreamed up the Ethics class idea and is wedded to it. There is no way they are going to abandon it.
    2. The Libs initially opposed Ethics classes and a large number of their MPs are still against them, no matter what their Education spokesperson now says.
    3. The Libs change of public stance was driven by a fear of being perceived as too closely aligned with the religious right in the lead up to the election – but once the election is over and they have a substantial majority that fear will disappear.
    4. Conservative Christians have almost no influence in the Labor Party – the main Christian influence in the Labor Party is from soft Catholics (like the Premier) who tend to take a very humanist stance on trendy issues like ethics classes and gay marriage. But conservative Christians have a strong influence in the Liberal and National parties. I think we can expect to see strong internal and external lobbying on this issue post-election and who knows whether the Libs may be persuaded to change their mind again?

    There is no chance of a change of mind on Ethics classes with Labor. There is a good chance of a change of mind with the Libs. So the Ethics class issues is still one that should very much exercise the minds of Christians in this election.

    • steveboxwell

      Hi Lewis

      Thanks for your comments (drive-by unsophisticated swipe notwithstanding) :)

      I hope by calling it a non-issue I wasn’t giving the impression that Labor come out squeaky clean out of this thing (or indeed that you should vote for Labor – while acknowledging my biases I’m trying not to tell people how to vote, just that the Christian worldview is more encompassing than gay marriage and abortion).

      Having said this I’m still convinced we must behave as though this is a lost issue for Saturday and therefore not an issue worth voting on. Regardless of the individual views of members of the party the Liberal stance, both from the education spokesperson and the party as a whole, is that they do not intend to change the ethics legislation. Unless there is a massive groundswell of public anger against the ethics classes (something Christians have failed to generate) the Liberals will not act in a way that is only really a vote loser for them.

      I for one will be writing letters about this topic in the new parliament but all we have to go on is the party platform for Saturday – you can’t vote for a party on the expectation that they will change their mind.

      What do you think Lewis?

  4. Not on the main line of thought, but I agree that the ethics thing looks quite set, at least for the moment. I wrote to my local (Liberal) member and the response was: the upper house will mean we can’t change it.

    See: http://oops.blogs.exetel.com.au/index.php?/archives/174-school-scripture-in-nsw.html

  5. thanks for ur work in these posts. australian apathy has got to me this year and i know nothing. i now know a little more thanks to your post.

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