Sunday, 14 April 2013

In defense of our children

On Friday, Sean Faircloth, Peter Harrison of Secular Education Network and David Armstrong spoke at a public seminar held at Lecture Theatre GLB1. The seminar was organized by the Humanist Society of New Zealand in conjunction with the New Zealand Association of Rationalist and Humanists.
The event was supported by three times as many people attending as was expected.

The audience learned that the original architect of New Zealand's education system, Charles Bowen, understood three primary essential features an education system must have to provide great good to society:
  1. Free, and so accessible that no one locked out
  2. Compulsory, so no one is locked out of the value of education
  3. Secular, so that society would not need to be divided because everyone would have a common platform from we could work together.
But since the days of this great vision much has changed, during the eighties we saw the cost of education falling upon students through student loans.
In 1897 Reverend Mckenzie found a loophole in the law known as the Nelson Clause. This clause allows schools to nominally close early for special activities.

And now religious groups are lining up and rubbing their hands at the prospect of charter schools now being pursued by National as a political favour to libertarian ACT party.  The overseas experience of charter schools varies wildly, while there are some successes, many fail to meet basic minimum standards. Charter schools legislation  leaves these schools exempt from the Official Information Act and the Ombudsman’s Act, making them immune from scrutiny and accountability. Such schools in the US have in some cases used textbooks that state, "Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence. Have you heard of the `Loch Ness Monster' in Scotland? `Nessie,' for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.", or even positively spin the murderously racist KKK as reformers "fighting the decline in morality"(more). I mention this as a heads-up for what we can expect from charter schools. I'm comfortable paying taxes in support of secular education because I don't like being surrounded by idiots. Sure, many kids going through these schools will be smart, but then so were the folks at Waco and Jonestown. But the beliefs they adhere are demonstrably harmful. Other beliefs, while not necessarily fatal, are still harmful to the cohesive secular society that has so often led human rights, including women's suffrage and electing Georgina Baier, the world's first transgender MP.

Destiny Church, the cult run by Brian and Hanna Tamaki, has made announcements concerning the development of a closed community with its own school. The likelihood is that the children that will attend this school, and it will likely be a charter school, will be exposed to a curriculum with some disturbing religious elements. Tamaki's rhetoric suggests that a Christian nationalist agenda will be pushed through propaganda in the schools' curriculum. Tamaki previously stated circa 2003 that Destiny Church would be running this country by 2008.

You may think "well they can teach their kids what they like". Perhaps, but should they do that on your dime? And what effect would this have on future New Zealand society? Please remember what German Christian nationalists did for Europe just before the middle of the 20th century. Like the many citizens of Nazi Germany, there is no reason to suggest that members of DC are malevolent (except for the questions surrounding the money trail), but certainly they are wildly misinformed and blind to the negative consequences of growing this ideology in the population, or of creating a theocracy.

You might have noticed the speaker with the American accent, US evangelicals see their work as an export business; certainly, Brian is getting support from foreign agents. Some US evangelicals certainly have no problem with the idea of Christian theocracy; indeed many desire it. And certainly, it is central to the theology of Dominionist Christians.

Peter Harrison opened noting the heroic courage and forthright determination of Malala Yousufzai and her continuing defence of education for Pakistan's girls and young women. Peter also noted the effect of teaching girls that they must be subordinate to men. Not only does this happen in the predominantly Islamic cultures, it also happens in schools with connections or programmes provided by fundamentalist Christian groups.

On the home ground

We saw the photo of a girl in the "timeout corner", not being punished ostensibly, but she was opted out of this religious instruction by her father.
Parents started contacting the New Association of Rationalists and Humanist over concerns raised by the experience they had. For some, the first clue that their child was in a religious programme was when their kid came home with a prayer card, including the daughter of an attendee to Friday's seminar. In cases where kids are opted out, the opt-out is sometimes ignored, some kids are put in a time-out corner for "quiet reading", or on rubbish duty, and at least one Christchurch case a kid was made to do dishes in the staff room.
This separation and lack of meaningful activity contribute to bullying and religious discrimination. This is further amplified in cases when participating children interrogate opted out children for their nonbelief in the god presented on the play playground. The targeted children may have been brought up with a different notion of the divine, or none - all driven by profound convictions of their parents. In other cases participant children became distressed upon learning that their families do not believe what they have been taught in these classes, fearing the eternal punishment per Christian doctrine concerning hell was given to them in the religious instruction.
It is the view of the Secular Education Network that religion if it is taught should be taught without bias and at an appropriate age. However what we are seeing is overwhelmingly Christian education for children aged 6-8 years, and perhaps younger.
The main provider of these classes is the Church Education Commission(CEC) who report that at least 11 schools have withdrawn from their programme since, at the behest of the Secular Education Network, the CEC has adopted a policy of "informed consent". This is a significant win of persuasion over an organization that once described our secular state schools as "untapped mission fields".
In approximately 800 of the 2000 or so public primary schools in New Zealand offer religious instruction, sometimes without the full knowledge of parents. For some, the following was the only information they had:
Values in ActionPermission slip
I give permission for my child to participate in the Values in Action programme.[ ][√]

The question is how the CEC and others get to do this. The Nelson Clause allows schools to close early for special activities, so technically these classes are off the school clock, at technicality not fully appreciated by 8 years old and so the classes come with the authority school. Efforts continue with the aim of repealing the Nelson clause.

The Secular Education Network is looking for information to help find the schools offering this form of religious instruction so that schools can be encouraged to ensure parents are fully informed of the nature of programmes being offered. Note that once informed consent is part of the process, schools struggle to find enough parents to opt into the programme and tend close down the programmes for lack of support. Apparently, Kiwi parents have little appetite for people proselytizing to their children through our state education system.

The language used in the Values in Action like "invite children to be curious about God." is designed to be enticing but if that were true might there be questions about the biblical god's demands for human sacrifice(Abraham, Jephthah), ethnic cleansing(Midianites, Hosea 13:16), sex slavery(Deuteronomy 21:10-14), infanticide(psalms 135:8 & 10) and abortion(Hosea 13:16, 2Kings 15:16)? Note while many of the previously cited passages are the old testament, some will say "ah, but that is the old covenant, Jesus brought a new covenant". To which I would refer them to Mathew 5:17-19 NAB "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.  I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.  Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest part or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place." and Luke 16:17 "It is easier for Heaven and Earth to pass away than for the smallest part of the letter of the law to become invalid."

The second speaker, David Armstrong, is a Wellington playwright, columnist, and satirist. His provocative Dominion Post columns on topics including religious education, the Destiny Church, Charter Schools, ‘Wogistan’, and the importance of science has drawn the ire of the religious and conservative right. He has been described by furious trolls as ‘a few cards short of a deck’, ‘nothing but a hack’ and ‘a godless liberal with bleak intolerance.' Dave Armstrong noted they are "dying". This is mainly because of the lack of support from younger generations and the older generations are literally dying and being replaced by a less religious population.
The major institutions are all in decline. It is expected that this year's census will reveal that Christianity is no longer the majority in this country. And while it may well remain the largest group for some time, the next largest group is the no religion group, which is growing faster than religious groups. This is a generational change. The rising generation sees religion as a tool of manipulation and oppression and they don't like one bit at all. New Zealand is not alone in seeing a rise in non-religious people. In recent years, the in the US non-religious segment has risen to around 20%, and played a significant role in the 2012 presidential result. Here in New Zealand, around 35% counted themselves as having "no religion" at the 2006 census, expect 5% more this year.
Bill English is a Conservative Christian, and John Banks is a creationist, I would be interested to know if it is young or old earth creationism he adheres to. In 2005, we saw the scandal of John Key talking to the cult known as the exclusive brethren. John Key also wears a bracelet that supposedly stops him from getting sick. Perhaps we should be concerned when we place the future of the country in the hands of people who seriously entertain such woo or humbug to those not familiar with sceptic terminology.

Back in the 90's the Christian Heritage party gained about 4.6% of the popular vote. That was before Graham Capel got convicted of kiddie fiddling. Colin Craig appears to be trying to revive the movement and Peter Dunne may yet be replaced by the Conservative Party as the religious right continues to organize. During 1970's in the USA, the religious right was nowhere in the political landscape but they organized, and now they almost run the Republicans who have proposed over 600 provisions at the state level restricting access to women's reproductive health services in the first three months of this year.

Sean Faircloth came to bring together secular people and to bring together secular groups internationally. He notes that on a per capita basis New Zealand is the most "Dawkinsian". Australasia is also well placed to stand out in front in defence of human rights. Indeed we already have a bit of a reputation for that. It is part of why people want to come here from countries where human rights are crushed for the benefit of political and religious institutions.
The rise of the religious right in the US came from the coming together of an "unholy trilogy" of conservative Catholics, fundamentalist Protestants, and Mormons.
In the 70's and 80's they organized by getting representatives on to school boards, and into political organizations, eventually affecting foreign policy informed by the book of Revelation and Dominionism. There is evidence that we are seeing the same "wedge strategy" being employed here.

We like to think of New Zealand politics as being relatively sane compared to the "clown car" or "short bus to Crazytown" that was observed in last year's US election process. And that may still be true, even with the buffoonery that has been hitting our headlines lately. But given time, we are looking at something very similar. "for evil to prevail, good must do nothing." The solution for this problem is that secular people must stand together and lobby our government to make clear that religious imprimaturs have no place in our secular nation. During Sean Faircloth's 10 years as a senator in Maine's state senate, Sean heard from a never ending line of religious groups concerned about "morality" - primarily focused on what people did with their "naughty bits". To Sean, this cheap and tawdry version of "morality" was a huge departure from the morality of Jack Kennedy type Catholics who concern themselves with matters of American poverty and civil rights.

Select Committee submission
Anglican leader says keep Bible out of School
Public schools languish while private schools boosted


George Higinbotham said...

Looks like the guy with Brian is Eddie Long, who was accused of taking a boy to New Zealand for sex ... he settled the case

John Hutcheson said...

Amazing people like these get to preach morality to so many.

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