Monday, December 20, 2010

We can't let schools teach kids anything they don't already know

Ok, now here's a thought: given the amount of stuff in the school curriculum that kids learn that they'll probably never use, how about making it part of their education to learn about the religious traditions of some non-Christian faiths?

Doesn't seem like a particular outrageous concept. After all, given that we live in a fairly diverse society, you don't want your kids to grow up thinking Ramadan is something like a papadam, or thinking Passover is a some kind of ball game.

Or perhaps it is outrageous, judging from this story in Australia's most popular newspaper this week.

Schools should embrace Ramadan as well as Christmas - Muslim leaders

SCHOOLS that celebrate Christmas should also embrace other non-Christian religious festivals, Muslim leaders say.
Keysar Trad, president of the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia, called on the Victorian Education Department to include the traditions of other religious faiths as part of the formal school curriculum.
"Schools have religious programs - but generally they're elective, they're not compulsory," he said. "To have an awareness of these festivals can be very enriching for all students, including people who go to secular schools."
His comments follow Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu's recent move to protect Christmas celebrations at state schools so that all children can enjoy the "simple pleasures" of the holiday.
Mr Trad called on Mr Baillieu to extend the same level of support to other religions as well. "When the Premier of the state makes a statement in that manner, one can't help but feel that he is giving an official stamp to one religion to the exclusion of the other," he said. "To be a Premier for all Victorians, I look forward to his instructions to schools to teach about the important religious festivals for all faiths."
Mr Trad added that Muslim people should be able to take leave from work during Eid, the three-day holiday that marks the end of Ramadan.
Sherene Hassan, vice-president of the Islamic Council of Victoria, also endorsed the incorporation of Ramadan and other religious festivals in the classroom.
"Conversations about increasing awareness of different cultures and religions are already taking place and have been happening for some time among educators," she said. "The ICV believes this is a positive way of fostering respect between children."
Sheikh Mohamadu Saleem, spokesman for the Australian National Imams' Council, said that schools could hold anything from lessons to full-blown celebrations, depending on the number of pupils of that particular faith.
"Christmas here is celebrated, although the majority of Australians are not Christians but probably consider themselves to be secularists or atheists," he said.
"Exposure to other cultures in a multi-racial country is a good thing, especially in schools."
Mr Baillieu and the Victorian Education Department declined to comment when contacted by the Herald Sun.
Now what they are suggesting is hardly radical at all, whether you agree with it or not. But check out the tone of almost all the 491 comments attached to the article:

Jooles Posted at 12:34 AM December 15, 2010
Nope! Not even remotely interested. Muslims came to MY country, I didn't go to theirs. When THEY embrace our cultures and other religions openly and equally in THEIR countries, then we will do the same. Until then, I'm not interested. In fact, not even then. Who cares about Islam? Not me and not many many people around me.
Comment 1 of 491

Gate-Keeper of Vienna Posted at 12:42 AM December 15, 2010
Inch by inch, creep & creep, push & push....this bunch of supremacists has no interest whatsoever beyond one simple outcome - final and absolute victory. There is no second prize, there can be no compromise of any kind. It is written in their blood-curdling prose - read it yourself.
Comment 9 of 491

Mary K of travelling Oz Posted at 6:35 AM December 15, 2010
We can and should accept and respect other religions but dont need to learn about them.I do not think that imported religions should be able to take time off from work during "Eid". Australia cannot, and shouldn't give them or any other religions the holidays they have during their special time, as they are now living in Australia!
Comment 89 of 491

Preston W. of Rowville Posted at 7:10 AM December 15, 2010
do schools in muslim countries celebrate Christmas? No? Well, if you don't like our way of life you can always try elsewhere!
Comment 117 of 491

Mick Ellis of Narre Warren Posted at 7:11 AM December 15, 2010
How many christians blew themselves up in 2010? How many christians declared war on islam? We celebrate christmas as a time of peace and giving to all. Will islam open thier hearts to non-muslims during ramadan in the same way. I know they won't. I've heard muslims singing the turkish national anthem on Anzac day just to be disrespectful. Islam cannot co-exist peacefully with other religions it's not in there nature. They kill thier own as punishment they will never respect anyone else.
Comment 118 of 491

Aussie of Melbourne Posted at 7:41 AM December 15, 2010
How about, no? If you want to celebrate Ramadan, go to an Islamic country. Simple. It seems people come to Australia to infiltrate it, not because it's a better alternative. "Tradition" is now being branded "discrimination". What a pathetic joke.
Comment 154 of 491

Andrew Posted at 11:59 AM December 15, 2010
What next? Main Kampf in school?
Comment 436 of 491
The paper also ran an attached poll, asking "Should schools that celebrate Christmas embrace Ramadan and other non-Christian festivals?"
Of the 6271 respondents, 87.56% answered No.

Now to understand the reaction to this story, a few contextual factors must be taken into account, including the way the story was presented and who is in it.

Firstly: Keysar Trad is the main Muslim leader quoted, and a large photo of his grinning face accompanies the article. Trad is widely seen as a dodgy individual, and he quite simply is a poor spokesman for Australian Muslims. He routinely attaches himself to questionable causes, and every time I see him interviewed on TV he just exudes every negative stereotype the public has of "the shifty Arab". I'm sure he does some good work somewhere, but if the Muslim community in Australia value good PR, they need to shove this guy right to the back.
Because the paper makes him the primary feature of the article, straight away readers are going to have negative associations. And they managed to find the shiftiest-looking photo of Trad available (although in fairness, that's not hard to do). I wonder why they didn't instead choose the much more benevolent-looking Sherene Hassan? Simple: because one suits the image of Muslims that News Limited wishes to focus on.

Secondly: Is this issue one of across-the-board religious tolerance, or is it solely about Islam? Certainly it is being raised by Muslim leaders, but what they suggest encompasses non-Christian religions generally, not just Islam. So the headline, invoking Ramadan, seems to be designed to put a sensationalist spin on the article.

One of the fears that seems to resonate through the comments attached to the story, is that this is "the thin end of the wedge"; Muslims are trying to gradually Islamicise Australia by imposing their customs onto everyone's daily life. Now, I don't doubt that there are some in the Muslim community who do have that agenda. Is it really what the majority of Muslims want? I'm not so sure. Is it the underlying agenda of the Muslim leaders quoted in this article? I don't think so. But for a significant section of the public, the entire Muslim ummah is seen as being engaged in a sneaky campaign to turn the world into a giant Caliphate, and this sort of thing fits right into that theory.

The problem is, that in the case of this story, the nature of the messenger obscures the actual issue. It is worth discussing the role of religion in the school system. Shouldn't young people be taught about religion, at least in an anthropological sense? Since it is such an influential factor in the lives of most of the world, should we not have a better understanding of it? For example, what's the difference between a Sikh and a Muslim and a Hindu? I bet at least half of graduating high school students in Australia would struggle to give an answer to that. Now given that Christianity is by far the most widely practiced religion in Australia, it follows that it should be taught in more detail - it is fundamental to understanding the moral and legal basis of Australian society. But likewise, I think it's essential for people to have a basic understanding of what the major religions are about. Should they celebrate all their holidays as part of the school curriculum? Perhaps not, but it certainly wouldn't hurt to learn about them.

The other recurring theme in the comments is that most Muslim states don't teach Christian traditions in their schools, so why should we teach Muslim stuff in ours? Which is sound logic, if you are they kind of person who doesn't think we we strive to be a better society than any other. Hell, why don't we base all our legal principles on what the Saudis do?
I don't want students being proselytised to in the classroom, unless they are attending a specifically religious school. But neither do I like the idea that we should keep religion out of the classroom entirely. Even if religions are mostly a bit nuts, it's still important to understand what they're about. Because, like, school is like, for learning and stuff, innit?


  1. Again completely agree. Whilst perhaps a 3-day holiday may be hard to do, certainly teaching respect regarding other religions is essential. It get's pretty cool, when you see Diwali (aka Deepavali) being celebrated in places like Singapore, or like in India when Muslim, Christian and Hindu festivals are all celebrated.

    Its funny when some Australians feel that they're entire culture is going to change due to simply educating more, and again, as depicted in some of the comments to the article, the blatant indifference to Indigenous Australians (lol @ Jooles's comment).

  2. I am not certain of the Australian school system, but isn't there a Religion class offered in high schools? If you want to learn about different religions, you can take a world religion class.