BIBLE-READING IN STATE SCHOOLS.
* ■s%^tfo Wg «marks;bn\ ques-v fa y the Vernier of Victoria his constituents at St. KUda last week;--; vM . , There-ja one question which is apparently stirring ,1J». electors -somewhat deeply, but which* is no; part at ; the Government pro-' gramme..- At,the same time, I think I am fW\9: t»ig iv eyou my own views in con•neet'ipn with,.the; matter and the informa.■&??s»»«* I j; have been, able to obtains It ■,iß. 3 a matter, I admit, on which "there 'may' /bean honest difference of opinion. It is in j connection/With whata's termed Scriptural teaching in our State'Bchools'h The request which is now being made is that we shall have introduced into our schools what are called- ':The Irish National Scripture Lesson 5 i Books, that these lessons should be t during ordinary school hours by the , ordinary, schoql teacher. We are not asked to extend or give greater facilities to '. the privilege which at present exists, allowing -those who think that .religion ought to be taught in the schools to have the opportunity of teaching that religion. The request made to us is that we should have to practically compel the teachers to teach religion to the pupils.—(Cries of "No»and .'»Never.'f) The only safeguard put forward re that there shall be a conscience clause both on behalf of the teacher and of the pupil. We are referred to New South Wales as an example of what we ought to do. There we find that they give about one lesson a week. -As'we have about forty-five school weeks in the year, and as on the average about a third of the scholars are away from their lessons, we see that the instruction j that would be given would be comparatively small. These books are not what many of us used to use when we went to the State schools in. this colony many years ago. These books were the 'lrish National Board Reading' Books,' an entirely different book to the one now. sought to be introduced. The 'lrish National Board Reading Books' contain many passages which might well be read in the State school without causing any objection from any sect. When those books, however, were being revised, with the view of introducing more matters concerning Australia into them, I think, unfortunately, all refeences to the Supreme Being were omitted. I think we might very fairly have continued those old lessons. Many might be misled by the close analogy in the names of the two books. The 'lrish National Board Reading Books,'after being used in our schools fc several years, were objected to on the ground that they were being used to undermine the Rohian Catholic faith, and I am told that for over thirtj years they have not been used in the schools in Ireland. Anyone who has read the report of the late Inspector-General of Schools in South Australia would come to the conclusion that the view I have always held—that it would b3 a mistake to introduce the books now sought to be placed in the hands of the State school pupils—is the correct view. Mr Stewart, our own InspectorGeneral of Schools, after seeing the books in actual use in New South Wales, reported that we ought not to encourage the movement for their use here. They are poor books, even as reading books, and I would like to aßk how many of those who have asked for their introduction have read them. The books were not suitable for the junior classes, and, instead of being read, the teacher was forced to give oral lessons, and aak any questions he might think fib. If this were not a mixed audience 1 would read some of the passages, and I will guarantee that there are few here who would like boys and : girls sitting together to hear those passages read. It is not Scriptural, teaching at all. It .is simply mere narrative, biography, and geographv, and would not lead to the reßpect of the Almighty, the children merely reading them as they would do history. I Baw another system in operation there. I saw a woman who was employed by a religious body; giving religious instruction, and the children, with their Bibles in their hands, were. listening to her with all reverence and respeot. I believe they were deriving some benefit from the information she was. givingthem, but I venture to say that the other children, who were simply reading the lessons in the books we are asked to introduce, were receiving no benefit.In fact, in my opinion, they were receiving harm and injury. In New South Wales there is no consoienoe clause for the teachers, and surely, if the teaching were understood to be religions, the State would not attempt to force a teacher who did not believe in the particular reading book to give instruction from it. The ouly report in favor of the books, according to our inspector, is that the clergymen in New South Wales say : " Well, they are better than nothing." Now, - 1 say if we are to do any good to the children, if we are to impress their minds on religious questions, the teaching must be doctrinal, and must be given, by persons who have carefully studied and fully understand the subject. Unless a teacher is in full sympathy with the whole subject the teaching he will give to his pupils will be of little, if any, value. In our servico we have a very large number of Roman Catholic teachers, and it would be unfair to ask them to give this particular instruction, so those who support the movement agree to a conscience clause. Then we have a large number of teachers, more "especially in the country, who aob as local preachers," lay readers, and Sunday-school teachers. If they were asked to conduct religious instruction in mixed schools they would be naturally suspected of trying to impress their own particular opinions on Scriptural matters. We have some 1,850 schools, out of which there are 1,350 with only one teacher. These are the ones remote from population, and the greatest necessity for some sort of teaohing would be in connection with them. But they are the ones which would most likely be whollv unprovided for, as it is not at all improbable that the majority of the teachers, with a view of relieving themselves of a duty whioh would not bB obligatory, would take advantage of the conscience clause. ' As to our large centres, surely with our churohes and Sunday schools regular religious instructors have full opportunities of imbuing the minds of the rising generation with sufficient Scriptural knowledge. We are now issuing what is called a - school paper, and in that we are gradually introducing some of the lessons in the books formerly used. Some objection has been taken to them, but I believe the vast majority of the people recognise that no harm can be done by the extracts. We believe the course we are adopting will do good, because they will not only be read by the children in school, but their fathers and mothers may also read them, and possibly with benefit. In 1895 when I was approached by the religious bodies, I said while the Government would not introduce a Bill on the snbject, if they got any private member to bring one forward providing for a poll of the people, we would give every facility for having the measure brought on and the poll taken. Some time afterwards one of the most respected members of the Assembly, Mr Graham—a man who could carry the proposal if anyone could carry it—introduced a Bill, and that Bill has not been proceeded with. I would like to ask why? Since then a poll has been taken in South Australia, and the people there have determined that in the State schools they will have no religious instruction.- Now, I am always a strong supporter of what is called the referendum. I urged with all the force I could, and I waß supported strongly by the Attorney-General, at the Convention in Sydney that where the two Houses could not agree and a deadlock ensued we should go to the people and ask what should be done. We have not yet succeeded in getting what we want, although I hope at the adjourned Convention. we will induce our fellow-representatives to see the wisdom of our proposal. I also trust that before many years we will have the law in force in this colony that where the two local Houses cannot" agree we shall consult the people by the referendum. If there ever was a case where we ought fairly and justly to consult the people it is in this matter. Therefore, I say that if this matter is to be settled at all, the proper method of .settling it is to send it direct to the people,. The mere introduction of these books is not what is really desired. It is simply the thin end of the wedge. And if it is once, adopted, in my opinion, before many jears pass away we shall have another agitation, "and thajb will Tie to »y$ " ; W« paye affirmed. t|ie nrjrioiple of teaching rd;
hgioirin our State schools; now we want the Bible taught in the schools by the teacher.''.. That is something which, I sav, w *;?hoda.£uard against. If we are to have.the Bible taught in the schools, 1 might fairly ask which Bible? 'lf all the leaders of religious denominations would meet L: and-agcee:ampng themselves as to the lessons tbey. L deßire to have taught they wpuld clear, the ground of muoh of the difficulty, butylnhink if we put i them togethernto.do'tbat it would be something like the'Kilkennyjcats. In the letter which they isenjjj .topple JaSf week the Bishop of Mel-' h oßcne;fiftdt.the.jßeoretary of the League say they are. resorting to other tactics. They say they will not have the referendum, because there is no time before the General Election in which they cau properly educate the people as to how they si o ild vote. But have they not asked you to sign petitions insisting upon the candidates .agreeing. Ja _, thete particular proposals m regard to the books?—(Hear, hear.) Is, that fair? LTitjust? It is not, and I h'opa.you won't pledge yourselves. Such a course. ,of 'proceeding is not one which those WHo attempt to lead Christian society in ; . thietjcolony should attempt to pursue^,,,However, if a majority of the people decide that these books Bhould be taught to their children, then, of course, the vie^ofJbhe.majprity will have to prevail, *nd ifvanyqprivate member will introduce a Bill to provide for that vote being taken we shall facilitate it in every possible way. In sijcor nine'months' time we hope to. appeal to the people on the Commonwealth Bill, and no better time could be chosen for taking-a vote on this question as well. That is the. full length to which we as a Government are prepared to go.
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BIBLE-READING IN STATE SCHOOLS., Evening Star, Issue 10446, 16 October 1897, Supplement