This past week has sped by so quickly for me–as is evident by the fact that I’m writing this on Monday rather than the usual Friday–so I only heard in passing about the incident between a police officer and a high school student in South Carolina, and I only managed to read anything about it yesterday. But I did hear a discussion about a related issue on the radio later in the week, and during this talk, the interviewee discussed the issue of police violence, in particular in relation to persons of colour. Racial prejudice in the police force was something which needed to be addressed, he said.
As I began writing this, I’d just returned from watching First Offspring play his soccer game. His team won, which was really great for them, because they played well this week, plus the last couple of games they’ve lost. Winning today was a good confidence boost for them. After all, as much as we all try to emphasise that the game should be fun, whether you win or lose, it does feel good to win. And I enjoy going to watch their team play, too. As they’re still young, the halves are only 20 minutes, so it’s an ideal period of time to stand around — the whole thing is over within an hour.
A friend of mine recently decided to leave conventional churches behind and begin her own worship at home, with her children. She described her first liturgy as being such a wonderful, fulfilling experience, and it got me thinking about the differences of institutions versus private gatherings, in particular with regards to religion and homeschooling. And that got me thinking about cults.
Now, of course, I don’t think my friend is about to start a cult. Here’s where I should probably go through my thought process in greater detail!
Well. I have never in my life used the word ‘footslog’ and probably am unlikely to do so again. I mean, finding links once a week is hardly a slog, really.
Anyway. We’ve got two weeks left of summer holidays and suddenly we seem to be running out of time to do everything. It always seems like that at the beginning of a long break, doesn’t it? You imagine all these things you’ll do, and then time gets away from you. But I think the children are looking forward to going back to school, and I am too – in the nicest possible way, of course! It’s exciting to start a new school year. Before then, though, we’ve friends to see and icey poles to eat and long summer afternoons to enjoy.
Have an excellent Sunday, everyone!
I had a different post for this week (I even scheduled it because I obviously have such mad computer skillz! That, and I’m busy and didn’t know if I would otherwise get around to it) but then four things happened: I read a poem, I read a blog post, it was the 45th anniversary of the moon landing, and the conflict in Gaza exploded into even greater tragedy, and they all came together into this post.
Welcome to the leaps of logic which exist in my mind!
Years ago, when the Handsome Sidekick and I were still child- and fancy-free, we lived in an inner city rental, where the roof leaked and the garden was in shade for about 7 months of the year. It was a trendy suburb with fairly mimimal rent (which may have had something to do with the leaking roof and the redundant clothesline) and after being there a few weeks, we adopted two cats: Sasha, and Indiana. The townhouse was on quite a busy road, so we were careful about letting the cats out—we waited until they were a few months old, and even then, brought them in before bed and didn’t let them out until morning.
You can see where this is going, can’t you?
The Handsome Sidekick started playing the new South Park game, The Stick of Truth, the other night. I was reading, but in the same room, so I would look up now and then to see what was happening. In typical South Park fashion, it’s rude, racist, anti-Semitic, and sexist. It’s immature. It’s full of toilet humour. It’s offensive.
And it’s laugh-out-loud hilarious.
It’s summer holidays here in Australia, and while my little cherubs alternate between frolicking in the sunshine and telling me how bored they are, a review of the nation’s school curriculum is taking place.
About five years ago, it was decided that we needed a national curriculum to ensure that all students in Australia were being introduced to the same core knowledge across several subjects. Now, the cynic in me would say that apparently we seem to need a new curriculum every few years, regardless of whether the current one is still working. The pragmatist in me would suggest that teachers will take what the curriculum says they should teach, and look at what they’ve always taught, and take into account what they know works and what new information has come to hand in their subject area, and combine the lot into something they can do without having to reinvent the wheel, while complying with the guidelines so that their students will pass the exams.
But I digress.
The curriculum was discussed, changes were made, and some of the new courses have already been implemented by some states. I should note here that this new national curriculum was introduced by the former government (Labor). That’s important, because since then we have a new government, and last week, the Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne, announced that due to criticism of this new curriculum, there would be a review of it. You may remember the name Christopher Pyne, because I wrote about him a month or so ago, when I was trying to convince myself to be more open-minded about what he was saying. (I’m still having problems with that).
But it’s not Christopher Pyne who has been in the news this week as much as one of those whom he asked to review the curriculum, Kevin Donnelly. When Donnelly spoke to the media a few days ago about the sorts of changes he might suggest making to the curriculum, he argued that the curriculum as it stands, is too secular, and went on to say:
I would argue that the great religions of the world, whether it’s Islam, whether it’s Christianity, whether it’s Hinduism, Buddhism, they should be taught over the compulsory years of school.
Please know that I’m not being at all sarcastic when I say that I really like what Donnelly has to say here. Religion is a strong influence on culture the world over. We should expose our children to the thinking behind Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam. Introducing these religious ideas also promotes cross-cultural understanding; it highlights the way humans have developed myths to explain the world around them, and how we have created values to help us to live together in that world.
But then he went on to say that parliaments in Australia all begin with the Lord’s Prayer. That’s not really a very interesting fact, and how is it relevant to whether schools should teach religion? Should we model our education system on the parliamentary one? Based on the way some of our politicians behave, I think not. He also noted that the preamble of our Constitution is ‘about God’ and if we ‘look at Federation, for example–1901–90% of Australians described themselves as Christian. So you can’t airbrush that from history. It has to be recognised.’
Well, the preamble mentions God. Once, directly, at the very beginning, and then rather vaguely in the third sentence where it mentions ‘Lords Spiritual and Temporal’, but I just read through it and I can’t agree that it’s ‘about God’. I think it’s about how a Commonwealth nation should form a government.
Donnelly’s reference to 90% of Australians identifying as Christians in 1901 is also irrelevant. Back in 1901, the vast majority also completely ignored the claim of Indigenous Australians had on the land they were settling. The vast majority believed in capital punishment. We shouldn’t be basing our curriculum on what people believed 113 years ago. What matters is what people believe now.
Donnelly argues that our heritage goes back to ‘Judaeo-Christian traditions’. Sure, if you ignore the heritage which includes 50 000 years of Indigenous history before Europeans even discovered this country. If you ignore the heritage of the Chinese immigrants who came to Australian in the gold rush of the mid 19th century. If you ignore the heritage of the large numbers of Greek and Italian immigrants in the 1920s. If you ignore the heritage of the Vietnamese refugees who fled here in the 1970s.
We are a very different nation than we were at Federation, and our education system should reflect that. Our society, and our schools, already do. It’s not about airbrushing out part of history. It’s simply who we are: a much richer, more interesting and hopefully more tolerant nation. What Kevin Donnelly says about religion is fine to begin with, and seems to encourage further learning about the varied cultural backgrounds represented in our society. But when he goes on to talk about the Lord’s Prayer, percentages of Christians and Judaeo-Christian traditions, it appears he is focussing on a very narrow definition of ‘religion’.
Donnelly sees our secular curriculum as a negative, whereas I believe it’s very much a positive. Instead of religion in terms of Donnelly’s interpretation, what would be wrong with our children learning philosophy as a subject which is taught throughout the compulsory years of schooling? Philosophy could involve the teaching of ethics, reasoning, logic, argument, and could address religion, and the question of faith. This would avoid a focus on any particular religion, and would allow all students to participate, without students or parents being concerned about proselytism.
I want the school my children attend to offer a broad education, to introduce a variety of ideas and to reflect the incredible diversity which exists in both the classroom and the wider society in which we live. We may have Judaeo-Christian roots. But we also have roots in Indigenous Australian religion, in Greek Orthodoxy, in Shinto, in paganism, and in atheism. Why limit ourselves by trying to focus on just teaching religion, when we could do so much more, by understanding where religions come from, by thinking about why gods are worshipped and where myths originate?
If we are going to overhaul the curriculum, let us embrace the secular nature of our schools, and leave the teaching of religion in homes, places of worship, or in religious schools. Let us create a public school system which encourages our children to be sceptical, to question, to engage on issues about ethics, politics, traditions and vested interests.
Imagine: a new generation of young people, who have been discussing religion, and culture, and history, from the age of five, until they graduate from high school. Imagine if they were invited to challenge their own beliefs, and those of others, in an environment which fostered respect and understanding? The empowerment, the self-realisation, which would come from this?
Now that is the kind of future in which I would like my children to live.
I wasn’t going to write about Cory Bernadi today. I had something else on which I was working, and there were other reasons, as well. I haven’t read his book, so I’m basing my thoughts on this morning’s article, plus others. I also figured that there is going to be a chorus of indignant voices raised in response to this article, so why add mine to the mix?
Well, that’s never stopped me before! And the article this morning really ticked me off. If I write about it, I’ll get it out of my system, and then perhaps I can focus on other topics, which I feel are more worthy of my time.
I know that the ABC has likely cherry-picked quotes to ensure the article is read and shared by the greatest number of people. On the other hand, the quotes are certainly not out of character for this politician. Formerly the parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, he resigned and headed to the back bench after claiming that allowing same sex marriages could encourage bestiality.
Now he has written a book in which he has managed to offend a whole new group of people. Or perhaps that should be ‘groups’. Or perhaps that should be ‘huge great swathes of the population’.
Bernadi argues that the abortions in Australia are a ‘death industry’, and that ‘traditional families’ are superior to other kinds, such as stepfamilies (and basically any other in which the parent/s are not married, or heterosexual, or whose children are not conceived ‘naturally’, or are not biologically theirs). He also claims that one of the threats against Christianity and traditional values is the ‘green agenda’, placing the value of animal and plant life over that of humans.
I was trying to identify what exactly it was that I found so annoying about Bernadi’s arguments, or at least those quoted by the ABC website. I mean, he’s gone to so much trouble to list his issues with what has gone wrong with our country, it seems a shame to choose just one to refute, doesn’t it? But in fact, all his arguments boil down to one assumption.
Bernadi is like every other right wing idealist, in that he seems to believe that all the problems of our modern society would go away if only we were to return to some golden era, where men were men and women were women and they married (and never divorced) and had children and all was right with the world. A time when there were none of those pesky homosexuals, when abortions didn’t exist, when everyone went to church, when humans were confident of their rightful place in nature (at the top of the food chain, and not part of it).
Wouldn’t it be nice to go back to that time? Wouldn’t it just make things so much simpler? Oh, if only! And we could be rid of this confusing mess in which we find ourselves, which is destroying us from within!
But there was never such a time. There might have been, for some members of society, but only because they chose to ignore that there have always been unhappy marriages, or infertility, or unwanted pregnancies, or unhappy people unable to have the relationships they really wanted. The problems with our society are not because of some failure to attend church, and not because people are divorcing–or not marrying–or having children via IVF. The problems we face are because we’re humans, and we bicker with each other, and are greedy, and take a long time to learn from our mistakes. But we do evolve. Ever so slowly, but it happens. And in our evolution, we begin to ask questions about equality, and our place in the world, and how we treat others, and how we want our future to look.
Cory Bernadi wants to court a small part of the population and argue that their worldview is under attack, when all that is really happening is that this worldview is having to share the stage with others. Perhaps the saddest part of this is how he throws his religion into the mix. In a country like Australia, where church-going is hardly the Sunday past-time of choice, (whether or not they believe in a Christian god), most people are not going to be swayed when he claims that our country is suffering because we have strayed from the path of Christianity. And I can’t help feeling a little dismissive of his views, when he says that faith and Christianity are under threat by environmentalists and Islam. Under threat? Just how fragile is his faith, if it cannot withstand challenges such as other religions or a different political perspective? The last time I looked, people from different faiths and political persuasions challenge each other all the time. Sometimes–wait for it–they can even respect each other, and get along.
Other times, they fight wars.
What does Cory Bernadi want to do? Get along, or fight a war? Considering the way in which he has clashed even with members within his own party, considering he has already lost one job and is willing to jeopardise his place in his political party, I guess he is willing to fight. I think he wants to foster a strong conservative future for Australia; I believe he is fired up and ready to step up to defend his faith and his right wing values from the rest of us, who obviously have lost our way, because we simply want people to be able to live their lives and be content. Cory Bernadi is ready to stand up for that in which he believes, and do whatever it takes to battle this out.
Call it typical Australian apathy, but I’m not sure many of us can really be bothered taking him seriously enough to fight back. Lucky for us, we’re in the majority.
Now let’s see what we can do about that green agenda, and same sex marriage, shall we?
I remember one time, my parents and I were travelling in the car on the way home from somewhere. I remember travelling in the car with them a lot, when I was young. We lived on a farm, so even going to the local town meant a good 45 minutes in the car. So obviously, to pass the time, we often talked together. One of the interesting things about my memories of these conversations is how many of them were about ideas. We didn’t really talk about what was happening on the farm or at school. We talked about more abstract concepts.
On this particular occasion, Dad was talking about church, and mentioned something he’d said in a sermon. ‘Could I give sermons when I grow up?’ I asked him. ‘Could I be a priest?’
It was the mid-80s. We were Anglican Church-goers, and the idea of women in the priesthood was not new, but it was by no means widely accepted, especially not in our small West Australian diocese. My father was a deacon by then, having assisted as a lay person during services for some time. But even though women did help in the service occasionally, and were involved in other areas of the church family, they were not in leading roles.
Yet my father didn’t go into any of this. He simply told me that if I wanted to be a priest, then I could. By the time I was grown up, he suggested, there might be lots of women who were priests.
Obviously, by that stage, the church and I had parted ways entirely. But that wasn’t really the point–it was that he was demonstrating that he believed that women could be priests, in a culture where that wasn’t necessarily advocated.
And when I think back over my child- and young-person-hood, there were several incidents, where my father reinforced this notion. He was passionate about education–he still is. It was expected that my sister and I would go to university, and that we would have careers before we had children. The world was our oyster. We could do whatever we set our minds to. When he was travelling a lot, involved in agripolitics, Dad needed a farmhand to take care of the farm while he was away. He hired the daughter of a local family, and she worked for us for a couple of years. See? I felt like he was saying to me, to everyone around us. Of course women can do anything. Even farming.
My father has always enjoyed talking with women. I remember sitting in the kitchen with him, and my mother and a female family friend, while we discussed international politics, economics, history. I think he enjoyed talking to anyone, really, but most of my friends’ fathers didn’t seem to sit in the kitchen talking about the fall of the Berlin Wall. Especially not with women.
And once he had showed me that the world could certainly use more strong women, and that I could be one of them, he would turn this around on me. I’d bring home a report, I’d do well in a competition, and he would shrug, then say, eyes twinkling, ‘Yeah, it’s alright I guess. FOR A GIRL.‘
Because he could throw that line at me now, knowing that I got the joke. It’s not that others had moved beyond that attitude, that prejudice. It still existed. It still does. But it was his way of pushing me, and of praising me without having to say the words.
Of course, my mother was an important role model, and I don’t want to diminish her involvement in raising children who questioned authority and the status quo. It’s just that often, when I’ve thought about feminism in terms of how I want to parent my own children, I’ve focussed very much on showing them how strong women can be. How women and men are multifaceted, how we can choose our own directions, regardless of what our culture has to say about how we should behave. But it’s not just up to me. It’s not just up to the mothers to show their sons and daughters where the potholes lie along the landscape, and to teach them how to look out for them, when they’re out on their own. It’s up to fathers, too. Because if only the mother is doing this, if only the mother is insisting that women should be treated with respect, that the housework and the out-of-housework can be the responsibilities of everyone, that women can go to university or get a trade, that women can have valid opinions, and become leaders of nations or companies–or churches–then how believable is it, when the men are not, so to speak, singing from the same hymn book?
My father showed me that he believed that women could be whatever they wanted. He and my mother supported me to travel overseas, to go to university, to choose a career I wanted, rather than one which was dictated by any traditional interpretations of what women should or shouldn’t do. In their day, women often felt that their only choices in life were to be teachers or nurses, or to begin a family and stay home with the children. My sister and I grew up knowing we could be anything.
So… I became a teacher who now stays at home looking after her children.
Does this make a mockery of my entire upbringing? Of course not. Because I’m a teacher who did a double degree in German and Philosophy, and who worked in retail and volunteered at the soup kitchen. I’m a parent who wrote a thesis on German Green politics, and travelled on her own around Europe, and waited tables and edited a friend’s autobiography. Thanks to my childhood, I bring to my current position a wealth of other experiences, upon which I call everyday, whether I’m working in my home or out if it. And if I had wanted to, I could have been a priest or a farmer, and I still could. The gift my father gave me was one of potential, and I’m excited that both the Handsome Sidekick and I get to pass it on to our daughters, and our sons.