If ever a cluster of errors combined to make a bad policy, it must be the provision of religious chaplains to Public schools. The mere provision of money only guarantees the creation of vested interest making rational consideration of the issues difficult. There is a real danger that we have witnessed a deal that will go badly for the Federal government in the longer term and also for the church and Christianity.
The key issue in the provision of any service into our schools must be the question of minimum qualifications required. If a person has the appropriate degree and experience to deal with the complexities of a modern school environment, the question of religion or lack thereof, would be of little interest.
What purpose could be served for the funding government by favouring the appointment of people of a religious commitment? Whatever the answer to that question, it seems to be way outside of the concern of education. If no particular purpose can be identified, the exercise looks a like a vote buying exercise, aimed at the fundamentalist end of the Christian church. Religious chaplaincy in Public schools began as an initiative of the Howard Government that in its last term made an art form of vote buying.
The church too has made an error. It has been bought cheaply. The program remunerates the chaplains at about half the rate the church itself would pay for an ordained person and at about half the rate a psychologist would cost the State. Not withstanding that there may be many stories of well intentioned, good people making a worthwhile contribution to particular schools; a policy to pay peanuts is a policy to employ monkeys. If government really believe in this program, they should fund it properly. If the church believed in the program, they should insist that it be funded properly. It looks like a quick fix from every angle.
Even if you believe the State should fund some kind of religious presence in schools, there can be little to justify the placement of uneducated people in the role. The task of helping children to think critically is an important task that could be undertaken by a theologically trained person or person trained in philosophy but surely a minimum qualification would be a Masters degree. With an undergraduate or no degree at all, what capacity would a chaplain have to help people examine issues and weigh arguments and encourage critical thinking?
How easy is it to anticipate that many parents who have chosen not to send their children to a religious school, resent the tax payer funded presence of a religious figure in the provision of their children’s education. If the church has learned any lesson in the past 300 years, surely it is that the damage done by government sponsored religion ends in tears for all stakeholders. This exercise of chaplaincy in Public schools exposes an arrogance on the part of the church to suggest it’s learned nothing from history.
I’d be happier if government provided funding and allowed local principals to decide how best to meet needs felt locally. I’d rather employ a “Grandma” to love kids and tell stories of old days than a person whose faith was easily threatened or who had nothing but baby answers to life’s questions. If I was a school principal, I’d employ an events organizer who could turn many school occasions into classy celebrations for people of all faiths and none.
ABOUT REVEREND GRAHAM LONGRev Graham Long is the Pastor and CEO of The Wayside Chapel. For the past 10 years, he has provided love and support to people on and around the streets of Sydney's Kings Cross who are homeless, mentally ill, drug addicted and often forgotten by society. Through the Wayside Chapel, Graham has created a community with 'no us and them'. A community free of judgement for people just to 'be'.