Tasmanian Times

Education

Catholic move blasted

Rodney Croome

The new direction of Catholic education raises many questions. For example, who defines “Catholic”? Will students be turned away because their parents are single, in de facto relationships or not regular church goers? Will students be expelled if they are found with contraception, come out as gay or question Catholic doctrine?

There are also important questions for the Lennon Government to answer about the new Catholic school policy. Will it weaken an Act which has been hailed as setting world-class benchmarks of fairness and equity and which was one of the greatest achievements of the Bacon Government? If it gives in to the Church now how many other demands for religious exemptions will it concede to?

Background: Catholic bias to new school plan

44% of the almost-15,000 students at Tasmania’s Catholic schools are not Catholic, the highest proportion in the nation.

The parents of these students obviously believe that there’s something valuable about Catholic education which is more important than faith.

Whether that something is discipline, ethics, or “tradition and spirit” as the St Virgil’s ads say, it’s clearly important to thousands of non-Catholic parents to have a choice about where they send their kids.

Now the Catholic Church wants the State Government to help it limit that choice.

Archbishop Adrian Doyle has said that 75% of students at Catholic schools must be Catholic or from Catholic families, beginning with the new Catholic College in Kingston, and he is lobbying to have the Anti-Discrimination Act changed so that his schools can discriminate on the grounds of religion when it comes to who they enrol.

In Doyle’s words,

“The first obligation of Catholic education is to Catholic students and their families. (But) from a technical point of view, this places the Catholic education system … in breach of the Anti-Discrimination Act.”

The new direction of Catholic education raises many questions.

For example, who defines “Catholic”?

Will students be turned away because their parents are single, in de facto relationships or not regular church goers?

Will students be expelled if they are found with contraception, come out as gay or question Catholic doctrine?

Some Catholics will ask whether the new policy will actually benefit committed Christians, or just encourage more people to pretend to religious convictions they don’t really hold?

Tax-payers will ask whether the first obligation of the Catholic education system isn’t to the broader Australian community which provides the vast bulk of its funding.

Catholic educators themselves have questioned the wisdom of setting targets for Catholic student enrolment with the Director of Victoria’s Catholic Education Office, Susan Pascoe, predicting enrolments will drop by 10%, sending smaller Catholic schools to the wall.

The problem will be even greater in Tasmania where the Church’s 75% target requires it to find Catholics to fill a massive 20-25% of current and future places.

There are also important questions for the Lennon Government to answer about the new Catholic school policy.

Will it weaken an Act which has been hailed as setting world-class benchmarks of fairness and equity and which was one of the greatest achievements of the Bacon Government?

If it gives in to the Church now how many other demands for religious exemptions will it concede to?

The Anti-Discrimination Act already has provisions allowing the Commissioner to grant exemptions if she is convinced they are necessary.

Why can’t the Church go through this process like everyone else, rather than waste Parliament’s time with special legislation?

But beyond all these legitimate questions, the basic issue remains parental choice and what happened to it?

For years the Catholic education system has defended its existence, and its substantial public funding, on the basis that it provides all parents with a choice about how their children are schooled.

If that choice is reduced, there’s a strong argument the funding it’s based on should be reduced as well.

Non-Catholic families who have been loyal supporters and full-fee payers to their local Catholic school deserve better than to be sent to the end of the enrolment queue.

Tax-payers deserve better than to be asked to fund a new kind of sectarianism that favours one religion over another.

Tasmanians deserve better than to have their strong anti-discrimination protections worn away by political expediency.

We all deserve better than to live in a society where a young person’s religious faith or background is the key to their educational opportunities.

Rodney Croome is a spokesperson for the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group.

References:

1. Percentage of non-Catholics in Tasmanian Catholic schools

Cardinal George Pell, “Religion and Culture: Catholic Schools in Australia: Keynote address to the 2006 National Catholic Education Conference”, Sydney,

September 28th 2006

http://www.sydney.catholic.org.au/Archbishop/Addresses/2006928_17.shtml

2. Number of students in Tasmanian Catholic schools

Tasmanian Catholic Education Office, “2006 Full Time Enrolments by Year Level and Gender”

http://www.ceo.hobart.catholic.edu.au/finance_and_admin/2006%20Full%20Time%20Enrolments.pdf

3. Targets for Tasmanian Catholic school enrolment and amendments to the Anti-Discrimination Act

Archbishop Adrian Doyle, quoted on ABC TV News, 28.4.07, and in the Mercury, 31.5.07

4. Catholic educators question enrolment caps for non-Catholic students

Vic CEO Director, Susan Pascoe, quoted in “Catholic school policy warning” by Chee Chee Leung, Education Reporter, The Age, April 8th, 2005

http://www.theage.com.au/news/National/Catholic-school-policy-warning/2005/04/07/1112815667606.html

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13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. DNA

    June 4, 2007 at 9:15 pm

    DD

    The evidence is here. The horse that wont drink is the same one who wont run from the burning barn.

    Bert was wrong, as Jaweh by definition and via his son would surely not faulter in this matter.

    Bert, in that instance would more likely not point his finger cockily but would realise his own failing and turn to go willingly to the best place for him …. in fact the only place left for him to go.

  2. Gerry Mander

    June 4, 2007 at 7:21 pm

    #12, Typo! I altered the first sentence – non-secular or spiritual teaching

  3. Leonard Colquhoun

    June 4, 2007 at 3:59 pm

    I haven’t worked out how No 8’s opening sentence is a logical intro to what follows. Is it meant to be read as “I have never been a great believer in the possibility of secular teaching”, in the sense that all children will be affected by the various beliefs, even if subliminally and unintentionally, of those around them ?

    Sorry, but I have to ask: Please explain.

  4. don davey

    June 4, 2007 at 5:52 am

    Bertrand Russell:

    there is a marvelous anecdote from the occasion of Russell’s ninetieth birthday that best serves to summarize his attitude toward God and religion. A London lady sat next to him at this party, and over the soup she suggested to him that he was not only the world’s most famous atheist but, by this time, very probably the world’s oldest atheist. “What will you do, Bertie, if it turns out you’re wrong?” she asked. “I mean, what if — uh — when the time comes, you should meet Him? What will you say?” Russell was delighted with the question. His bright, birdlike eyes grew even brighter as he contemplated this possible future dialogue, and then he pointed a finger upward and cried, “Why, I should say, ‘God, you gave us insufficient evidence.'”

    D.D.

  5. DNA

    June 3, 2007 at 11:18 pm

    Very interesting no.9.

  6. Barry Brannan

    June 3, 2007 at 1:51 am

    I wonder if I could get government approval to start a school that only admitted atheists? Or perhaps only people who vote for a certain political party… Seems like the Catholics are getting special treatment…

  7. Gerry Mander

    June 1, 2007 at 10:07 pm

    I have never been a great believer in secular teaching, especially from a young and impressionable age.

    There is an old Jesuit saying – ‘Give us a child for the first seven years of his life, and we will give you a Catholic forever.’

    Much of the historical strength of the Catholic Church has been built on this. So also has the strength of most other religions, especially so in the case of the Muslim religion.

    Indoctrination is often mistaken for ‘Faith’ and is a very powerful weapon in the shaping of the superego. Ideas inculcated during these formative years are very difficult to change in later life. Reason is shut out if it does not agree with the preconceived ideas.

    Depending how it is done, this teaching can easily breed extremists and radical views, which to a non-believer are abhorrant and provocative, and can engender an equally extreme reaction. The stuff of religious wars in the past and terrorism in the present.

    When advocating a single-purpose school, one should be cautious of what is being taught and how. I think it could be a very limiting factor in the future development of the child – but then, that could be the whole purpose of the institution in the first place. This is why there also such a strong political interest in the early years of ‘education’ and the training of teachers.

    It is a big subject.

  8. don davey

    June 1, 2007 at 4:47 am

    (4)
    i heartily agree with D.N.A , however as a devout” non believer ” my agreement doesn’t come from the “Chistian” point of view , but from early childhood experience regarding the actions of said office bearers of that particular faith.
    d.d.

  9. eagle eye

    June 1, 2007 at 3:49 am

    I like the catholic education system, and am giving very serious consideration to it for my children. My attitude to catholisism is similar to DNA’s. If they want to be selective of their students based first on demonstated adherance to dogma, then their call on the public purse is diminished greatly. Is it hypocracy, perhaps. Do I support Groomes claim of discrimination: of course not, gays are trying to set up gay night clubs, go for it, but not my cup of tea.
    The real shame is that there are no secular schools being run alaong similar lines, without the elitist fees and godbothering stuff.

  10. DNA

    May 31, 2007 at 6:52 pm

    Rodney, youre all up the spout with your approach on this. A typical sort of gay ethic and paranoia. This is Australia mate. Not the USSofGayMisguidance. In Australia if you want to set up a school of fair persuasion you can. And you can be selective in accord with that peruasion. People who can’t hack what you offer wont come. Sure balance the government support they get. Egocentricity is no way to base your concept of schooling. Given that we’re talking faith here; faithcentricity is the way to go. Personally I don’t classify catholics as Christian. I believe like others that the catholics have stolen true Christianity and fudged it up to suit power mongering … way back in time. So I don’t care what happens to catholic schools so long as they are law abiding and keep their luke warm approach to faith education as cool as possible. Catholics may be lovely sincere people, like gays, except when theyre bitchy or manifesting sexual peversion as office bearers in the church; but they are taken up by the gaulish traditions and built might. If they are broken down and diluted in their perfectly respectable right to discriminate against whatever they will they will join the sludgy new age mediocrity that is spreading across the world. thus giving that more power. Heaven forbid. God knows He already has.

    Clear Light

  11. Leonard Colquhoun

    May 31, 2007 at 6:16 pm

    Beat me to it, Jason.

    Two points I’ve got (which are in today’s Mercury feedback in outline): (i) shouldn’t an organisation be able to decide who are entitled entry to its institutions, provided that no laws are infringed ?

    People banging on about ‘discrimination’ in regard to elective private organisations sometimes seem to be doing so for its own sake, not because any serious (criminal) offence has been committed. The silliness of this has been seen in Victoria where the women’s lawn bowls competition (VLBA) had to be opened to men, on the grounds of, you’ve guessed it, ‘discrimination’. This piece of stupidity has since been reversed, I believe.)

    But, (ii) if that organisation is using taxpayer-provided funds which include moneys from non-members, hasn’t it thereby, at least implicitly, surrendered some freedom of choice, on the principle of who pays piper, calls tune ?

    It has some similarities with the situation of big sports competitions which accept TV-rights money, and then find that media moguls start dictating who plays whom (these two teams are more popular), where (we don’t like that venue, so don’t use it any more), in what colours (so what if it’s Club X’s traditional guernsey, those tints don’t come up too well on TV) and when (yes, there will be matches on Good Friday and Xmas Day) – you want our TV money, we’ll decide what games are on our TV station, and the circumstances in which they are played.

    Anyway, as with any ‘right’, there is no absolute right to non-discrimination, no right to have that matter put above every other matter.

  12. Jason Lovell

    May 31, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    Personally I think its fine if Catholic schools want to determine the amount of Catholic students they enrol.

    Just so long as they renounce all the funding they receive from secular taxpayers at the same time.

    Fair’s fair, after all.

    Regards,
    Jason Lovell

  13. Tomas

    May 31, 2007 at 2:03 pm

    I don’t think that it is unreasonable for a private educational organisation that is building a school to stipulate that most (but not all) of its members to have some sort of affiliation with the organisation. I don’t know this archbishop or his motivations, but it would sound as if there may be some issue with Catholic families getting access to catholic schools. I would suggest that in this day and age, unless the archy is a closet opus dei functionary, that there would be no policing of whether the enrolled students and their families actually indulge or avoid Roman Catholic practises and rules. Most contemporary catholic schools have few, if any, nuns, priests or brothers anywhere near the teaching front or administration.

    As I understand it, the Catholic schools are becoming popular as they offer a relatively lower priced private school education (vis the Anglican and Quaker schools). If you look into other non-catholic private schools, you will find that there are many more significant overt and covert practises that control who gets access. In this case, a Hutchins, Collegiate, Grammar or Friends effectively close off access to all but the well-off by having high fees (although they would also get the same state/commonwealth funding as other schools). So, if you are concerned about inclusiveness, the rich have devised ways to make sure the riff-raff are kept away. Meanwhile, catholic schools cater for a lower socioeconomic demographic. In addition, Rodney, you really should follow up on which private schools are taking masses of refugee children at little or no cost. You wont find many, if any, in the truly exclusive private schools of Tasmania. My guess is that you may be seeing the issue through the prism of the rights of people regardless of sexual orienation, a vision not shared by the German Pontiff and his senior management, but the reality ‘on the ground’ in this area in our schools is much different to what it was just a few years ago, thankfully.

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