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  • David Hines

State schools are losing interest in Christian hymns and prayers for their assemblies

David Hines 6 November 2021

P:reliminary results from a survey of state schools show that only 9% of them are using Christian religious observances in their assemblies, compared with 26% in a similar survey I conducted in July last year. That's the result from the 401 schools who have responded to the survey so far - out of about 1620 - since the survey link was emailed to them on September 20.

The proportion holding religious instruction sessions has dropped to 21%, down from 22%.

Over the same period, there has been an increase in the numbers using Christian karakia. Ninety percent are using karakia overall. Twenty percent are using Christian karakia. That contrasts with 15% last year.

This is the fourth survey I have conducted on religion in schools since 2012, when the Secular Education Network started campaigning against it. At that stage 40% of state primary and intermediate schools had these programmes; now the figure is 21%. The steepest part of the decline came in last year's result, and schools said there were three factors in the decline:

  • The Covid-19 lockdowns commencing in 2019. All schools stopped the classes for the lockdown and some didn't resume when the lockdown ended.

  • Another factor was the Education and Training Act 2019. It reviewed all education legislation, and one of its clauses dealt with religious instruction switched it to an opt-in system. The previous opt-out system meant parents who were unaware that their children were included in these sessions didn't opt them out; but the new act meant the parents had to be told in advance, and had to give written permission in advance.

  • A third factor was the guidelines about religious instruction issued by the Ministry of Education in early 2019. They recommended an opt-in system, but it was not compulsory.

Christian lessons focus on miracle stories

As part of the current survey, I am also inviting schools to send copies of the Christian instruction study material.

One of the schools sent us an overview page of the Bible teachers manual, describing the 13 lessons they taught in the first half of 2020. The material was sent to the school by the Launchpad organisation which claims they are a values course.

These stories have a very one-sided set of values, if they are values at all:

  1. Seven of the 13 lessons are Bible miracle stories: two are about Jesus stopping a storm to save his friends who were afraid their boat would sink; and Jesus coming back to life after he was crucified.

  2. The second set of lessons is called "Biblical Champions" and features stories about the prophets Elijah and Elisha. Their miracles are not specified in the chart, but the Bible has copious stories about them, including resuscitating a dead boy, curing a foreigner of leprosy, being fed by ravens, and going to heaven in a flaming chariot.

  3. The third column shows the values which are supposed to be taught in each block of lessons. The ones about Jesus are said to include inquiry, curiosity, respect and diversity. These are said to reinforce the values of the schools' NZ Curriculum.

But are Bible miracle stories good advice for children?

Elijah's mother warned him not to play with fireworks

  1. The most spectacular of the Elijah stories shows him preparing an ox for sacrifice on an altar, then praying to God to light the fire himself. God responds by sending a spectacular bolt of lightning. 450 prophets of the foreign god Baal tried to do the same thing, but failed, and Elijah ridiculed them, saying their god seemed to have gone to sleep. The lesson manual suggests this was an example of Elijah making the right choices.

  2. One of the healing miracles was said to be an example of caring for sick people.

  3. It seems to me these are very inappropriate advice for children, especially considering Launchpad encourages non-Christian children to attend. The values list for these stories include “diversity”, but it seems to me that all these miracle stories are denying diversity, because they suggest that these Christian heroes were superior to people from other religions.

  4. The 2018 census shows that over 50% of children in primary school age have no religion, and so they are not likely to be impressed by the miracles.

  5. The collection of stories in this lesson book is very similar to the Life Choices syllabus, written in 2013. It was produced by the same Launchpad team, but back them they used their business name, the Churches Education Commission)

  6. The 2013 manual also features the Jesus fixing the storm, the resurrection, and miracle stories about Elijah.

This link takes you to the two syllabus summaries, so you can make your own comparison.

Christian volunteers teaching children about health?

I was surprised, reading the Launchpad website last month (October 2012) to see that they now claim to support the Ministry of Education's health syllabus as well as its values, so I asked the schools to send me a sample of these Christian health lessons. The health syllabus includes teaching about sex and gender issues. So far, 30 schools have sent me sample health lessons.

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