'Church and state' defines debate

If the Government was hoping to avoid a "Church and State debate" by shrouding its charter school scheme in mystery, the Post Primary Teachers Association has certainly put paid to that.

As the Standard reported yesterday, the PPTA has published a list of 21 organisations that have registered interest in the "partner schools" scheme, of which 11 appear to have religious ties. Among them is the The Sabbath Rest Adventist Church near Feilding.

Trustee Jill Friar argued a faith-based school teaching creationism was just as entitled to public funding as a state school teaching evolution. Both were theories and each deserved its time in the classroom, she argued.

We don't think so.

Evolution is widely-accepted as a founding biological concept backed by observational and experimental evidence, and a host of genetic discoveries. There's a lot more to it than Charles Darwin drawing a line between a monkey and a man.

Creationism is a longstanding set of beliefs. Such beliefs are to be valued and respected, but they have nothing to do with science class - at least not one paid by the taxpayer and from existing education funding.

The Government's determination to push ahead with the scheme may come from an honest desire to provide an alternative education to those failing or being failed by the public system. That it would be targeted by religious groups was flagged early on by opponents and this fear appears to have come to fruition.

Though New Zealand has no constitutional edict separating Church and State, we are a secular nation with no official religion.

On education, The National Statement on Religious Diversity says: "Schools should teach an understanding of different religious and spiritual traditions in a manner that reflects the diversity of their national and local community."

It is highly unlikely faith-based education providers would subscribe to such an open-minded approach, though we are told all charter schools will be required to teach a broad curriculum.

But how will we really know, and taught by whom? They will not receive the same level of oversight as public schools and their teachers won't need to be qualified.

There is no mandate from the public or educators to teach religion in schools, just as there is no public mandate for the charter school experiment.

If National is determined to fund religious studies then teach all religions, do it in public schools and in the context of theology.