Monthly Archives: October 2011

The Revival of Sectarianism

On 21 October 2011, in a stunning reversal of 140 years of campaigning for religious education in schools, the Synod of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne defeated a motion which welcomed the provision for General Religious Education in Victorian State Schools made possible by a 2006 Act of Parliament.

Since 1872, when Victoria’s pioneering Education Act coined the phrase ‘free, secular and compulsory’, Melbourne Anglicans have fought for the right of state school children to receive religious instruction.

In 1958 this campaign led to the amendment of the Education Act to allow for Special Religious Instruction, by volunteers, during school hours, for no more than 30 minutes per week. Special Religious Instruction has been taught ever since almost entirely under the auspices of ACCESS Ministries (otherwise known as the Council for Christian Education in Schools).

Special Religious Instruction has always been a halfway house. Generations of Anglicans have asked, what if religious education could be offered to every single child in a Victorian state school, taught by professionally trained state school teachers, as part of an integrated curriculum?

Since the 1970s Anglicans have led the campaign for the legalisation and introduction of General Religious Education in Victoria.

This change was achieved in law, but not in practice, when the Education Act was amended in 2006. In 2011 the Australian Education Union announced it supported the introduction of a General Religious Education curriculum.

The unsuccessful motion was brought before Synod by John Baldock and Peter Sherlock as one response to the persistent controversy about SRI and the role of ACCESS Ministries in state schools. As the mover noted, ACCESS Ministries itself publicly supports General Religious Education.

The text of the motion was carefully constructed to ensure that Synod was not suggesting that General Religious Education should in any way displace or supersede Special Religious Instruction.

The Synod business paper was generously amended on the first evening, to ensure that another motion in support of the work of ACCESS volunteers and staff in Christian Religious Education and in school chaplaincy would be heard immediately following the motion on General Religious Education, despite being delivered too late to appear on the agenda.

The first speaker to the motion was, appropriately, Stephen Hale, an Anglican bishop and Chair of the Board of ACCESS Ministries. Contrary to the support for General Religious Education stated on the ACCESS Ministries website, Bishop Hale spoke against the motion, undoubtedly contributing to its defeat (the final result was 167 for, 204 against).

No attempt was made by the many representatives of ACCESS Ministries or their supporters present at the Synod to amend the motion to facilitate its passage, or in any way avoid a wholesale rejection by the Synod of its significant first clause that welcomed the introduction of legal provision for General Religious Education.

Meanwhile, a number of members of Synod spoke against the motion, alleging that government-accredited state school teachers were incapable of teaching General Religious Education in an engaging or fruitful manner.

The results of this decision are far-reaching. Melbourne Anglicans have now distanced themselves from the new legal provisions for General Religious Education. Synod has implied without censure that state school teachers are unable to conduct themselves in a professional manner in the classroom. The position of ACCESS Ministries in relation to General Religious Education is ambiguous at best and deceitful at worst.

The debate about religious education in schools has returned to the divisive and self-defeating sectarianism of the 1860s and 1870s.

* * * * *

The motion brought before Synod read as follows:

That this Synod:

a) welcomes the provision in the Victorian Education and Training Reform Act 2006 allowing for general religious education to be taught in state schools as part of the overall curriculum;

b) welcomes the Australian Education Union’s stated support for general religious education in all schools;

c) calls on the Victorian Minister for Education to facilitate the introduction of a program of multi-faith, general religious education into all Victorian state schools as soon as practicable;

d) and in so doing envisages that this would supplement and not replace Special Religious Instruction as provided for in the Education Act.

The website of ACCESS Ministries states that

‘Wisely, the Act makes provision for General Religious Education to be taught by specially trained school teachers who teach the history, belief systems and cultural mores concerning the major faith groups.’ (, published April 2011)



Filed under Anglican Church, education, religion

iThink therefore iAm

One of the most significant achievements of the late Steve Jobs was the creation of the iPod.

The iPod embodies early twenty-first century principles of design, technology, and consumerism.  Owners carry their entire music libraries with them, and, using iTunes, create their own playlists and sequences.

As has been frequently noted, a consequence of the iTunes, iPod world is the death of the album. The creation of a coherent, multi-layered whole that is greater than the sum of its parts has died. Instead, we are left with episodic, fragmented, discordant soundbytes, where the individual whim triumphs over all. The playlist – generated by Genius or by the user – has replaced the album.

This phenomenon is being speedily replicated in the University world. The production of the academic monograph has been regarded as the pinnacle of scholarly achievement in the humanities. Yet few people read monographs from cover to cover. Popular, narrative-based works that repeat and reorder known information still sell well, but academic research is increasingly reliant on online journal articles.

These changes are perhaps emblematic of the postmodern condition. We can communicate more information to more people than ever before, yet we have less and less of consequence to say. We trawl the archives and create more and more inquisitive focus groups, yet have lost sight of a larger narrative that might save lives or simply make more people smile.

Yet before we give up on creativity, despairing the demise of the monograph or the album, it’s worth recalling the recent origins of these products. Albums as we know them are children of the 1960s, while monographs are a luxury, dating back no further than The Origin of Species.

Plenty of musicians, artists and writers have changed the way we think about ourselves in shorter pieces. Think the Communist Manifesto, or even Galatians 3:28. And the sciences have long recognised that the conference paper or research report has intellectual and practical significance that is not relative to length.

The rise of the online journal article, or the power point slide, will probably be eclipsed shortly by the blog, the wiki and the youtube broadcast. This is not a cause for despair (well, perhaps it is for educrats and the public servants charged with inventing metrics to govern research funding). What does matter is that humans do continue to think, read, write, communicate – stepping outside the predictable, the imaginable, and the individual into the cosmos of the unexpected, the unthought, and the reality of living and dying alongside billiions of other humans searching for something bigger than themselves.

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