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  • David Hines

Are Bible stories suitable for curious non-Christian students?

The Bible in Schools organisers think so

In a number of Bible in Schools handbooks, the publishers claim that their lessons reinforce the values used in the schools' own NZ Curriculum.

They specifically claim that one of the values their lessons promote is curiosity; another is diversity.

Here are the course overview pages from two of the teacher manuals:

The Launchpad manual for the first half of 2020:

This manual was produced by the Launchpad organisation which runs 67% of the religious instruction classes in New Zealand state schools. This manual covers the first half of 2020, and has 16 lessons. Judging by the session titles, most of them appear to be based on the Bible.

The lessons in the Introduction Unit are mostly about God and Jesus.

The lessons in the second unit are all about the Old Testament heroes, Elijah and Elisha.

The third column lists the values they are teaching for each group of lessons

Launchpad produces a three year cycle of lessons, so this set will probably be repeated in the first half of 2023. Occasionally Launchpad is likely to make a revision. I'll post a few of their earlier syllabuses below, for comparison, going back to 2013.

The Life Choices manual for 2013

This overview page has an identical layout to the 2020 manual, and it was produced by the same organisation, which then used its business title, Churches Education Commission. It appears to be extremely similar to the set of lessons for 2020. Again, the first is unit about Jesus and includes three miracle stories.

Again, the second unit is about the prophets Elijah and Elisha, who were also famous for miracles.

The syllabuses for 2020 and 2013 both include Easter stories.

The Life Choices syllabus is for a full year, so it includes 25 stories, including Units 5 and 6 which are also on a hero theme, but with more recent role models.

More to come -

I'll add a syllabus from Access Ministries published in 2011. This was published in Australia for use in Australia and New Zealand and included some New Zealand authors. It was presented in New Zealand by the Churches Education Commission, the same organisation which presents the current Launchpad syllabus.

Most of the Bible syllabus publishers are opposed to the public seeing their material

New Zealand schools have also had at least three syllabuses from other organisations: the Cool Bananas Trust in Tauranga, the Sunday School Union and the Connect syllabus from Christian Education Publications in Sydney. A number of church congregations have also conducted their own local programmes.

Three of these publishers refused to let members of the Secular Education Network buy copies of their syllabuses. We managed to get copies of all but two of these syllabuses. Religious studies Professor Paul Morris of Victoria University reviewed four of them for us, and I prepared them as evidence for a court case which was withdrawn at the last minute.

Religious expert says religious instruction materials are unsuitable for the purpose

Professor Morris said the syllabuses were all unsuitable for use in classes with non-Christian students. (Professor Morris last year did another major project about religion in schools: he wrote a proposal about religious education for the Ministry of Education, which has still not been made public. Religious education is a neutral presentation of a range of religions from a social studies perspective.

How I managed to get some samples of the current syllabus material

Launchpad is the last organisation to refuse to sell or give us a copy of their teaching, but the Ministry of Education now insists that copies should be made available to parents of children attending the schools. So I'm using that opportunity to ask the schools to let me have some samples, under the Official Information Act.

As of 9 November 2021, 402 schools have responded to my survey; 84 of them have religious instruction sessions and they have sent me 32 samples of lessons or overview pages.


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