A lesson taught by the religious instruction program Connect in Queensland schools teaches kids as young as nine to mix cordial with dangerous poison as a representation of sin.
Queensland Minister for Education Kate Jones this week confirmed that the government was reviewing the Connect religious instruction syllabus material taught in some state schools after a principal decided to suspend the program over concerns with the material.
Last week Matthew Keong, the principal of Windsor State School, informed parents that the Connect material was found to go “beyond imparting knowledge of Biblical references” and solicited children to develop a personal faith in God and Jesus. It is understood that Keong only had the power to suspend the program over the specific attempts in the program to convert people to Christianity rather than the violent and dangerous lessons imparted as part of the program.
Connect is a program developed by Youthworks, which is part of the Sydney Anglican Diocese.
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One booklet includes a prayer to thank Jesus for freeing kids from “our slavery to sin and death”, while another says students need to “understand that everyone deserves the punishment of God because we have all sinned and ignored him”.
Some of the material surfaced by the Queensland Parents for Secular State found that children were encouraged to conduct pretend beheadings in the classroom to re-enact the story of David and Goliath. But perhaps more disturbingly, one lesson taught to children as young as nine years old asks the teacher to demonstrate mixing bleach with cordial in order to show cleansing of sin.
The material reads:
“You will need to have two clear glasses/jars, water, cordial, and bleach. Discuss with the students how heaven in a place of perfection and no corruption (pure water) and there is no place for sin (cordial) in heaven. Whether it’s a little sin (add a little cordial) or a lot of sin (add more cordial) heaven would no longer be pure (it is now cordial). We are sinful and therefore can’t be in heaven. But Jesus died in our place to take away our sin (mix in bleach) so that we can be forgiven (hopefully the colour of the cordial will have gone and you will be left with a slightly cloudy, but white/clear glass).”
The lesson plan says nothing about the dangers of demonstrating to children mixing a poison in with a sugary drink, and refers to bleach as “Jesus” while singing the praises of Jesus as a requirement to clean sin (cordial).
Another lesson for the same group encourages teachers to “collect three or four newspaper headlines that show that everything is not well with the world” including stories of “relationship breakdown or other ways humans ruin the world, both physical and relational”. This is done as part of a lesson about how God needed to flood the world in order to rid it of evil.
According to the Youthworks website, the only training staff go through is a “safe ministry training” course, a single lesson observation and credit training with the organisation, as well as a working with children check. The staff tend to be volunteers from the local church. Although the content is being taught in public schools, parents also have to approve their child’s enrolment in the course, and supporters claim this shows it is only aimed at those who want their children to be Christian. As part of their school enrolment form, parents indicate the religion of their child and nominate religious instruction on that basis.
A Right to Information request, however, showed that more than 300,000 students are recorded as having no religious affiliation upon enrolment, with only 30% of all students identifying as Christian. Yet some schools record up to 80% to 100% participation rate in Christian special religious instruction classes.
“They’re not all Christian. Why are they being put in there?” a spokesperson for Queensland Parents for a Secular State told Crikey.
While the Australian Christian Lobby complains that the Queensland government is ignoring its calls to review the “dangerous (gender) fluid ideology” that they claim is part of the Safe Schools program, the fringe group has complained this week that the Queensland government decided to review the Connect lesson materials based only on one complaint from a principal. In fact, there has been a significant campaign running against religious instruction in Queensland schools for quite some time by concerned parents in the state.
The spokesperson for Queensland Parents for Secular State said the group was worried that parents were being kept in the dark about the contents of the program, and many were signing their kids up without knowing the contents of the lesson. Unlike Safe Schools — whose curriculum is freely available online — the Connect program is not easily accessible to parents, with only samples available.
“Schools are supposed to provide the program to parents if they ask for it, but most schools wouldn’t even have a copy,” she said. “We formed our group to get the message out to parents that you need to know and your school is obligated to tell you enough information so that you can make an informed decision.”
Crikey asked Youthworks Media for comment on whether the bleach lesson was appropriate, but we received no response by deadline. The company has issued a statement denying it is proselytising, despite evidence that kids are encourages to write messages to fellow students to tell them “about why they want them to know Jesus”. The Youthworks Media statement says:
“Parents choose for their children to participate in SRI, have self-identified as Christian and expect their child to be taught from a Christian perspective. The issue of proselytising has received serious attention in NSW over the past few years, and we have worked closely with the NSW Department of Education to ensure our content is appropriate for the context. Our lessons are developed and regularly reviewed by trained educators and religious leaders, and we are careful to ensure the basic tenets of the Christian faith are taught in an age-appropriate and sensitive manner.”
On the beheading re-enactment, the company said that it was simply part of a “larger smear campaign against [special religious education] by atheist lobby groups”. The group has reportedly obtained legal advice that says there is no prohibition on proselytising, only a ban on attempting to convert children from one brand of Christianity, like Catholicism, to the Anglican denomination.
The Victorian government has removed religious education, and the NSW Department of Education is reviewing religious education.