Can Special Religious Education and Secular Ethics Education Foster Growth? An Analysis of the New South Wales Primary Ethics Controversy

    Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


    In 2010, a secular ethics curriculum was developed by philosopher Philip Cam and the St James Ethics Centre and trialled in 10 NSW government primary schools. It is now taught in over 350 schools. It was introduced as an alternative to Special Religious Education (SRE) classes, which the 1990 NSW Education Act required all state schools to offer. Special Religious Education (SRE) aims to instil in students the beliefs and values of a particular religion (predominantly Christianity in Australia). This is distinct from General Religious Education (GRE), which involves a study of world religions. The now amended 1990 Education Act specifically stated that secular ethics classes were not to be run concurrently with SRE. I will draw upon Dewey’s notions of the self and growth to argue that schooling must provide students with the opportunity to critically inquire into diverse cultural knowledge and practices, including religious and ethical beliefs. SRE, GRE and secular ethics classes all have weaknesses in regards to their ability to foster such critical inquiry. SRE’s dogmatism and narrow focus renders it the most problematic of the three. An approach which integrates aspects of GRE and philosophy based ethics may be the most facilitative of growth. This perspective extends upon the views Nel Noddings and Stephan Law.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages1
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016
    EventAustralasian Association of Philosophy - Monash University (Caulfield), Melbourne, Australia
    Duration: 3 Jul 20167 Jul 2017


    ConferenceAustralasian Association of Philosophy
    Abbreviated titleAAP Conference
    Internet address


    • religious education
    • ethics education
    • John Dewey
    • philosophy of education
    • children's rights
    • philosophy in schools

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