A question on the enrolment form asks, “Do you wish the student to attend Special Religious Education classes?”
Each school should provide information about the SRE classes offered at the school. Most public schools in the Hunter provide joint Christian SRE classes run by trained volunteers from local churches using an agreed and approved curriculum. In some schools separate Catholic/ Protestant classes are offered. There may also be classes in other religions such as Islam, Baha’i or Buddhism. SRE is often described as “educating children in the faith of their families”, although children from families of no particular faith can also attend SRE classes.
Why might a parent tick ‘yes’ to SRE?
SRE classes promote moral development and teach Christian values and ethics via the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ teaching on loving others. Children are assured that they are unique, valuable in their own right and treasured by God. SRE classes provide information about the bible and great characters like Moses, Daniel (of lion’s den fame) Job (the person we refer to when we say ‘the patience of Job’) and Paul (the original road to Damascus experience). They hear stories like that of the Good Samaritan and learn the historical basis of Christmas and Easter. Being familiar with well-known bible stories not only enriches an individual’s life, but it has been said that without a knowledge of the best-known bible stories and themes, students are disadvantaged academically when studying subjects like art, law, literature and language.
It needs to be said that the method of teaching scripture has changed in recent years; school and family life has changed, too. All SRE teachers have to undergo training and the training stresses that SRE is about the children questioning, exploring and discovering. Classes are an opportunity for children to explore the ‘big issues’ of life and its purpose in a group of their peers, facilitated by a person of faith who has experience with children. Using an approved curriculum is a condition of a teacher’s authorisation.
Children whose parents tick the ‘yes’ box will encounter stories of wisdom, courage and faith, which can give them hope in difficult situations. But more than this, they will learn of tools to help when life is tough, tools like prayer and words of comfort from the bible. These tools help build resilience in children.
Newcastle GP, Dr Catherine Hollier, says, “I often see people in times of crisis. Those with hope and a faith cope better. This is borne out by medical research….People with mental illness do significantly better with a faith, ie, a spiritual understanding of something bigger than themselves.”
Dr Hollier also points out, “In our Medical Code of Conduct, doctors are to ‘care for the bio-psycho-socio-spiritual wellbeing of the patient’. The reference to spiritual health wasn’t always there.....The reason it is there now is because if we don’t also think about the person's spirituality, we are missing an important part of people’s overall health and well-being.”
In a world where self-reliance and independence are so highly valued and promoted, SRE can add a realistic balance for developing children, reminding them that they are not the centre of the universe, that forgiveness needs to be sought, learned and practised, and that there is always a reason for hope. These are good reasons for parents to tick the ‘yes’ box.
Sally Smith is the Chair of Hunter Christian SRE.