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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Aussies, have your say on the school chaplaincy scheme

The federal government funds a scheme that provides school chaplains to primary and secondary schools. This was started under the regime of John Howard, but continues under Kevin Rudd. The Rudd government has promised to "provide an additional $42.8 million to extend the NSCP for all participating schools until December 2011."

However, you can have your say about it. There is currently a public consultation process which you can read about here. The process runs in two stages, with a first call for submissions open until the end of May. A discussion document will then be produced, and a second process opened in June. Submissions can be sent to: chaplaincyconsultation@deewr.gov.au.

Frankly, not that much notice gets taken of individual submissions from members of the public (as opposed to lobby groups or supposed experts). However, the cumulative effect of many submissions going one way or the other does matter. Personally, I think that the government has no business funding religious views in public schools, even within the constraints described on the site. There's even some doubt as to whether this is constitutional in Australia (but that's a long story in itself). Even if you disagree with me, go ahead and let 'em know what you think.

18 comments:

Sakura said...

I nominate Richard Dawkins for my school chaplain.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Russell, the comment you make on School Chaplains shows quite clearly how they actually work in our public schools - they are not religious or religion teaching tools at all, and never have been.

Perhaps some research into how the system work would be prudent before slamming the program.

Most public schools are very glad they have chaplains, or under school policy a person who can help with extra care where teachers cannot - even to the point (and I was involved in this) where a struggling family was in desperate need of housing. food and support for the 5 children. The chaplain contacted government bodies but it was many weeks wait for anything remotely helpful. The chaplain used their church contacts and was able to help with 24 hours. At no time was it said to the family a church helped out or any religious people were involved.

The policy for chaplaincy is quite clear on the expression of faith issues. Also the chaplains do not educate on the Christian faith when celebrations come around, all faith including non faith festivals are discussed with kids when appropriate and only after principle discussion.

The schools my children go to have chaplains, and I know the chaplains do a wonderful job with troubled kids or families in difficulty.

In many things you stand for reason Russell, but in this please do your research before sprouting religious education - Chaplaincy is so far from this concept that complaints made like that are ignored by the government.

At the moment schools just can't get enough chaplains, the funding is small and good ones are poached from schools, especially the private ones. The chaplains role is not that of a teacher and not that of a parent, they are someone in between. They are not councilors, who for some reason are not liked by many schools - councilors play blaming games too much I am informed.

While you find anything a Christian may do reprehensible, the role of these people is valuable beyond belief - I hated Howard, but for some reason he did something that truly made a difference. You ask any of the kids whose schools had chaplains what they think -- very different to the position taken by narrow minded adults, that's for sure.

I agree with you in a lot of things Russell - not this time.

Sakura said...

OK, obviously my earlier comment was a bit flippant, but I really do think trained professionals (councillors, social workers or psychologists) are more value for money in schools.

The chaplain at our high school was a nice, approachable guy - but so were most of our teachers. He offered nothing that wasn't already available.

Spend the twenty grand on another part-time teacher, if you need an extra hand. Or another trained professional.

A chaplain is not employed by a school to provide emergency welfare services, much as it may have been appreciated in that instance, Robert.

Spiritual advice is available from a church or other place of worship. If children choose not to go to churches, that is up to them or their parents. School is a place they have no choice but to attend, and I doubt if a chaplain would be able to help them much with personal problems such as "I think I am gay" or "I'm thinking about getting an abortion."

Robert N Stephenson said...

This where I feel the program is one of those things that is working, and working far better than the initial concept.

This is a bit like 'I hate Christians, how dare they do good things'

Let me put it this way -- all the atheist based counseling programs that have been through the school system have been a bust. A heap of money wasted on people who ended up just creating more problems then addressing any issues.

For some reason the Chaplaincy idea is working, and it isn't working on any spiritual plain either. I grew up going to an atheist school with atheist teachers and I spent half my life as an atheist. At no time did those who held similar beliefs take the time of day to see to young people issues - it was always beware of those religious nutters - even to the point the school had an atheist gang that would head up the road to the Catholic school for a bit of cheek turning.

In the last 10 years I have seen remarkable things happen and heard great stories from public schools who have the program. Again, it isn't anything to do with religious teaching.

The school near me even has a Kid's Hope program where local churches (funded by themselves) supply people to help mentor troubled or struggling kids - give them extra time reading to someone, or improving maths. Hell, even I help in a school program where the students themselves set up a program at my church where they could study and get extra help from parishioners in their subjects. I look at English (being and author and stuff) and we have some teachers who come in a help for free.

There is a lot more to this than someone getting a bee in their bonnet about the beliefs of someone helping out. If the world followed the model constantly being put forth by the anti-religious crowd we be in a hell of lot more strife.

I'm sorry peeps - I have seen the program working and working well, and the people doing the job do a lot more than the hours they are paid for - days more.

It is also a shame to find someone who finds the help of a family something to be dissed as not their job. That might be so, but I tell you, who cares just so long as those kids didn't go without food or shelter...

Pity the new world says you have to be professional, accredited and sanctioned before you can listen to someone, before you can offer help.

Maybe that is what is wrong with the world - we are told we are no longer qualified to be a neighbour or friend, so what do we do when told this, we stop and listen to the people who deal in idealism and theory.

Sorry Russell - maybe this time I have stepped beyond the line.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Sorry about my temper here guys. Schools were almost pleading to government for this program - why should intellectuals take it away?

Russell Blackford said...

Well, whatever you think - by all means write in. I should also say that it will be best to write in a serious and respectful style, expressing your own original thoughts. It really is difficult to get attention as an individual citizen, but that way gives you your best chance. (This is not aimed at anyone who has commented, just something that I should have sayed in the original post.)

Ramases said...

Thanks for posting information about this important issue Russell.

Robert N Stephenson, I have to completely disagree with you.

The chaplains ARE definitely and unambiguously religious in nature. They are almost all recruited from religious institutions and selected on the basis of their religious qualifications (if I should use that term!).

Does anyone seriously believe that a Catholic or an Anglican or a Muslim chaplain will not feel free to push their own religious barrow on the kids?

I worked for years until 2007 in the Victorian education system, I have a Masters in Education and I still work in an educational field, so I think I am in a position to know what I am talking about. These folks are a threat to the social cohesion of schools and the fairness and inclusivity of their treatment of students.

The last school I worked in had a majority of student from a Muslim background, so according to the rationale of the program a chaplain should have been an Imam. But how would this have made the 30-40% of students at the school, and their parents, who were not Muslims feel? If the school had done so the chances are the parents and kids would have objected, and they would have been right. There is no way anyone in a public school should have the right to push Muslim values on non-Muslim kids. But how is this different from any other chaplain? As an atheist I would certainly object to my kids dealing with a Catholic or Anglican (or Scientology for that matter) chaplain. And I can assure you that kids in the upper years of high school are capable of thinking for themselves and being just as pissed off about it as their parents.

To say they would not have to do so would be to miss the point – if they don’t they are missing a resource available to others only on the basis of their religious beliefs. It is discriminatory, unfair, and a violation of the ethical obligation of the public education system to treat all students equally.

There is also the issue of discrimination in employment – the idea that public funds can be used for to employ someone on the basis of their religious beliefs is disgraceful.

As to you claim that “Most public schools are very glad they have chaplains”, I am sorry, but where did you get this? The cabbage patch? I can assure you from personal experience that public schools, if given the choice, would greatly prefer a non-religious alternative if it were available. Unfortunately the reality is that most Australian public schools are so stretched that they welcome any more resources to take up the slack and get some jobs done. So extreme is their need that many have taken up this program despite their misgivings. (This, I can assure you, is the attitude).

A much better alternative that would be far more welcome is provision of properly qualified counsellors or social workers – or alternatively using these public provided resources to provide more teachers, which would certainly also be welcome.

These folks should have no place in a public school, arguably no place in any school. They have no right to push their sectarian beliefs on kids – which I am sure most of them feel they are there for. The use of public funding to employ these God bothers is disgraceful.

Ramases said...

PS Robert,

I suggest you look up the difference between "councillor” and " counsellor".

Friend of Icelos said...

This is a minor request for clarification. Robert, you said

I grew up going to an atheist school with atheist teachers and I spent half my life as an atheist.

Did you mean to imply that your school and teachers openly affirmed a disbelief in God, or that they remained silent on such issues. If the latter is true, perhaps you should say "secular" instead, since "atheist" in this case implies a policy of religious disbelief, which would be just as unacceptable as a policy of religious belief.

Robert N Stephenson said...

I learned a long time ago that any discussion with anti-religious folk was a generally pointless exercise when you are trying to aim for a common ground.

If you canvassed all public schools in Australia the response to the effectiveness of the Chaplaincy program will be quite high. The only opposition to anything like this comes from teachers already pushing barrows.

I have met and spoken with many chaplains, and none of them push a religious barrow at all, and in fact school policy does not permit this, and it is tightly monitored. You could quickly be out of a job if you displayed over religious tendencies.

But naturally there is opposition, as there is opposition to anything these days.

I stand with the opposition against religious instruction in schools. Religion in itself is a personal journey and not something to be instigated on unsuspecting young minds.

The chaplaincy program has rules and from all accounts they are followed. So far there is no unified organization capable of delivering the same service to public schools - there is no alternative that has a stable administrative body and a uniform set of industry guidelines.

This is usually the biggest stumbling block to secular thinking. It is all well and good to oppose something like the chaplains program, but the offered alternative is little more than just talk - there is no secular organization that offers services in this manner -

My atheist school was clear on its stance when it came to faith. If I did not believe what I was told then I would have been laughed at and even bullied in the play ground. In fact I bullied religious kids along with other in my school. It wasn't until highschool that things became a bit clearer, but I was still a staunch atheist...

It is true I am passionate about this initiative, and not because of any perceived religious undertones, but more because of the good it has done in school communities.

It is probably about time the anti-religious climbed down from the towers and perhaps participated more in programs, offered more guidance rather than stand back and point at others for helping.

Though the term Chaplain is used for this program, the rules of conduct are that of secular guidance and support. There are many, many organizations working in the secular world that are religious at their base. The Red Cross, Save the Children and many others.

In all my years, now as a Christian, I have heard all sort of arguments, some I even use to use when an atheist, to not only destroy what is sometimes the fabric of some communities of some theoretical ideal, but to even claim the good that is done is not beneficial.

I work with reason and logic, I have to in order to make sense of the world, but what reason and logic is involved when you deter good works based on personal hatreds...

Robert N Stephenson said...

was I better mannered that time Russ -- You do know this can be compared to say some child sponsorship programs in Africa. Because the sponsorships are run by a christian organization they must be discredited and by their very name must also be bad for the sponsored child...

-- a long straw indeed, and I apologize for this

Ramases said...

Robert, forgive me, but are you serious about this statement?

"...none of them push a religious barrow at all, and in fact school policy does not permit this, and it is tightly monitored. You could quickly be out of a job if you displayed over religious tendencies."

If you say this I can only conclude that you know nothing about this program and have not even read the basic materials about it on the link that Russell posted.

Here's what it says...

"Chaplains/pastoral care workers provide general personal and religious advice, comfort and support to all students and staff, regardless of their religious denomination, irrespective of their religious beliefs."

In summary:
* they provide "personal and religious advice" - religious advice is definitely what they are expected to provide
* they are encouraged to provide this sectarian religious advice to ALL students, regardless of their backgrounds.

If this is not an formula for proactive prothletisation I don't know what is.

As for your claim that alternative programs are not available, I think you are just proving you have no idea of what goes on in schools. I have worked with many effective professional secular school counselors. The taxpayer provider resources of this program would be much better used going to them, or alternatively to teachers who are also greatly needed.

Ramases said...

Robert, forgive me, but are you serious about this statement?

"...none of them push a religious barrow at all, and in fact school policy does not permit this, and it is tightly monitored. You could quickly be out of a job if you displayed over religious tendencies."

If you say this I can only conclude that you know nothing about this program and have not even read the basic materials about it on the link that Russell posted.

Here's what it says...

"Chaplains/pastoral care workers provide general personal and religious advice, comfort and support to all students and staff, regardless of their religious denomination, irrespective of their religious beliefs."

In summary:
* they provide "personal and religious advice" - religious advice is definitely what they are expected to provide
* they are encouraged to provide this sectarian religious advice to ALL students, regardless of their backgrounds.

If this is not an formula for proactive prothletisation I don't know what is.

As for your claim that alternative programs are not available, I think you are just proving you have no idea of what goes on in schools. I have worked with many effective professional secular school counselors. The taxpayer provider resources of this program would be much better used going to them, or alternatively to teachers who are also greatly needed.

Robert N Stephenson said...

The policy statement can be read as you choose by the looks - I have worked with Chaplains and the religious advice they do provide can only be provided if requested and in most instances requested directly.

They do not supply religious advice on anything not directly requested.

Now, it seems to me you have chosen to read the document to suit your needs rather than show how the program actually works. Maybe what need to be made clear is you standing on religion in the first place, as it is this standing that would need to be taken into consideration.

My standing is that I am a Christian who is also a evolutionist/darwinist who does not believe religious education belongs in the public school system. The idea of religion in general terms is fine with me, regardless of what that religion may be - it is a personal endevour and really a private matter.

The Chaplaincy program, and this is how it works, offers guidance and support to young children and YA; if, and only if, a faith issue comes up they will address it in the scope of the individuals faith. In the instance the child is an atheist then the concept of God is quite pointless and not part of any support, if the child is a Muslim then they instruct as best they can in this area and they know the two faith are not the same and instructing ion a Christian manner is inappropriate - this is how they work.

If you want to believe in something else then that is entirely up to you, and like any person quoting from text of any kind, understand the intent placed on the words and documentation.

The job description does not say teach religious advice to everyone at all, even if you choose to read it that way. It says to offer instruction regardless of belief, and that is not Christian instruction either --

It is clear that some here just don't like religious people or religious ideas - that is of course your right and the freedoms granted to you allow you to express this dislike. But being so narrow minded over you belief system is an infringement on others and more so than what some seem to believe the Chaplains program does.

I have met with over 6 different Chaplains, so better than others. I know some of the organizational body and the rules they adhere to, and I know the Chaplain who set the ball rolling in another state and helped establish some of these protective rules.

At this time there is no secular replacement for this program, and I am afraid child psychologists are not beneficial to a school environment - this was tried and tried again in the year preceding Howard's program.

This is where I see if people have wisdom, understanding and compassion, or do they just have their view and the hard nose to drive it?

I have seen first hand the benefits, seen first hand how the interactions work and they are certainly nothing to be feared...

Robert N Stephenson said...

In retrospect, often a good thing. I see this issue as not finding any real resolution to suit those who are against the concept.

I have long moved away from black/white arguments, or these days often try (fail a lot) to avoid the argument first up.

Chaplains play a role, it is now up to parents of the children, rather than the disconnected voices of parties who have no dealings with them, to have their voices heard. That is only fair and reasonable.

It doesn't matter if you agree with me or disagree with me, I will continue to have a broader view of this in the hope that one day proper and sensible dialogue will occur between belief systems.

Chaplain is just a word in some instances, but it has history and it is best people get over that. The term teacher use to mean religious educator or Rabbi before it simple mean education across all disciplines.

Any way -- I may have offended some people or angered other - this was not my intention, so please accept my apology here. I am passionate about many things of course, but sometimes sharing that passion isn't appropriate.

Russell Blackford said...

No need to apologise, Rob. Everyone on this thread (except our resident troll, whose comments have been deleted) is being fairly civil.

Sean the Blogonaut F.C.D. said...

Has there been any objective measurement of the success of this program?

Is a chaplaincy program that results chiefly in the appointment of Christian chaplains the best result for our children - meaning could a more inclusive and diverse program work better.

What sort of training do chaplain's have? Our teachers are required to meet standards, are chaplains under the same requirements. What does a secular chaplain bring to the student that a non religious person couldn't?

Robert N Stephenson said...

I don't know about objective measurement, but that would be difficult to carry out simply because of all the privacy issues involved - there are a heap of them when dealing with Children, their parents and their rights - so, even if you wanted to test the system it would be quite difficult.

The growing number of Chaplain requests suggest their is a need, and given request in public schools are coming for Head Masters and parents with no religious connection does seem to suggest the way the program has been designed is non threatening - and how I have seen issues handled (my son saw the Chaplain on an issue) it was very good...

As for qualifications they are quite high, sometimes also requiring teaching qualifications, fully trained minister (not lay preacher or even church elder is qualification enough) qualifications, which covers counseling and even social justice training - so not just anyone can be a Chaplain - and given schools also research the denomination of the Chaplain they can also determine if they are suitable that way -- as you know, there is no way you'd trust a Chaplain from the Exclusive Brethren (not that they offer people anyway)

As for secular Chaplains, in time this may be possible, but like all programs it takes time to establish the actual working model and address an issues that come from it.

I believe there is a Muslim Chaplain somewhere and the just might be secular Chaplains as well and we just haven't heard of them.

We often don't hear about anything unless the media want to go on a witch hunt over something - at the moment it is just another government program that seems to be working effectively enough to warrant extension - it is important to note that all governments want to cut programs once they have reached their end date, especially if they are failing.

This doesn't mean the program is perfect or even ideal in some cases.

For me to be a Chaplain today, I would need to do 4 years of graduate study in ministry with probably some teaching and counseling courses thrown in for good measure.