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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

New childcare legislation: prejudice against our own culture?

Wow, the world really is going to hell in a handcart.  The latest news from the government of this fine country of Australia is that as of next year, childcare workers can be personally fined for making children take part in Christmas and Easter traditions if it's 'not appropriate for their culture'.

Well, hello.  As teachers who programme the year's activities, we are required to provide a range of 'inclusive' activities to ensure that we address the cultural needs of every child from every background- except those of white and Western descent.  I am the first to believe that it's necessary to help children from other cultures, including indigenous culture, feel at home in our centres- see my postings on aboriginal inclusion and using a child's home language just for starters- but what about children from our own culture?  Are they not also entitled to be exposed to the traditions and symbols of their own society?

What this politically correct lunacy means in practice is that we can create an art activity for the whole class of painting a cardboard tube in indigenous colours to make a digeridoo, and at group time tell the whole class the tale of the Rainbow Serpent making the world, even if all those children are not indigenous animists.  We can put out plastic sushi in home corner for all the children to play with, even if all the children are not Japanese and even if some are vegetarians or vegans who may find eating fish inappropriate.  We can spend a week investigating the culture of Africa or China as a class, even if nobody speaks Botswani or Mandarin,  even if some children's parents may be potentially offended by the semi-naked bodies of traditionally dressed African women or by the concept of Communism, even if the children themselves might be frightened by a large dancing snake at Chinese New Year.

But we can NOT, as a class, run an Easter egg hunt or Easter hat parade.  We can NOT, as a class, decorate a Christmas tree.  We can NOT, as a class, hear the Christian stories of Easter or Christmas, told not with pressure to believe in them, but as a cultural enrichment to provide understanding of the background of many of the children in that class and the religious symbols that permeate their world.

Well, bollocks to that is what I say.  I am not a religious person in the traditional sense- far from it.  But I object to our children of white Australian descent being marginalised from their own culture by political correctness gone mad. 

Without an introduction to Bible stories at some stage in their lives, our children are robbed of a vital element of our literary culture.  English language and literature is rich with allusions to concepts which first appeared in the Bible- can you imagine our children in later years being mystified by a reference to the Good Samaritan, the wisdom of Solomon or original sin?  These concepts have inspired our writers and artists for generations because they have an intrinsic truth and beauty, even when separated from the surrounding dogma of mainstream religion.  All the English-speaking children in our classes, whatever their country and culture of origin, will benefit from understanding these things.

With my last preschool group I became so frustrated by the purposeful avoidance of our own culture that at Easter time I got Bolshie about it and rebelled.  I decided to tell the children the Christian Easter story, along with a simple explanation or two of how come we have bunnies who bring eggs, hot cross buns and so forth.  I read the story I had prepared with a little trepidation, unsure how the children would react- but they were entranced!  They picked up immediately on the injustice of Jesus' arrest when all he'd done was help people.  They adored the 'magic' of the resurrection.  They understood the cross on hot cross buns and churches for the first time. They wanted to hear the story over and over- face it, even if you don't believe the underlying religious message, it's a fascinating story!

At no stage did I push the religious theme onto the children.  No parent complained, just as no parent complained when we talked about the Rainbow Serpent.  What, pray tell, is wrong with that, that would justify a personal fine of thousands of dollars?

Just for the record, here's my preschool version of the Easter story.  I used pictures from various sources to maintain the children's focus- they are not hard to find and include, if you would like to print and use this story yourself in your classroom (if you're prepared to be Bolshie like me and risk a fine, that is). 

It's very important to start with a picture of a church that YOUR children will recognise- I used a picture of a church right next to the preschool- because that gives the kids an instant connection to the story which will spark their interest.  I broke off often while reading the story to discuss issues the children raised- and there were plenty! It was amazing watching the children (especially those who had never been to Sunday School) working through the information in their minds and making sense of their own cultural symbols.

The question at the end of the story allowed room for the children to express themselves and their own beliefs, if they had any at that tender age. I found that there was quite a range of views in my room!  It's important to include that question to reinforce that you're not preaching by telling the story, because making culture visible and available is one thing- insisting the children adopt it as their own is quite another, and definitely not your job as a general educator.

The Story

In Australia quite a lot of people are Christians.
Lots of them go to church on Sundays.

(picture of a local church in your area)

Christians believe that the whole world was made by God, who lives up in Heaven. Nobody really knows what God looks like, but lots of people have tried to draw Him.

(pictures of God by various artists)

Christians say that God had a son called Jesus, who was born in a little town in Bethlehem on the very first Christmas Day. That was more than two thousand years ago.

(picture of star over Bethlehem and a Christmas tree)

Bethlehem is a real place in the real world, not in Heaven.

(picture of the real Bethlehem today)

Jesus' mother was a lady called Mary. An angel came and told her she was going to have God's little baby. It was like magic. She was very surprised!

(picture of angel at bedside- the kids love angels!!)

Jesus grew up. He was a good, kind person. He was a teacher who tried to help everyone. People were being really naughty, so He told everyone what the Room Rules were for the whole world.

(picture of Sermon on Mount)

The Room Rules for the world were things like:

Don't hurt other people. You want them to be nice to you, so you have to be nice to them.

Be specially kind to your mummy and daddy.

Share with other people. Don't take their stuff.

Tell the truth, not fibs.

But there were some bad people who wanted to go on being naughty. They didn't like Jesus.

They sent policemen to arrest Jesus.

(picture of Jesus being arrested)

All Jesus' friends were scared and pretended not to be his friend.

The bad people put Jesus up in the air on a big cross and left him there to die.

(picture of Jesus on cross)

Jesus' mother and his friends were very sad.

(picture of Mary crying)

Jesus died on Good Friday. When Jesus died, the whole sky went black even though it was in the middle of the day.

(picture of black sky)

Some people think that the sun went and hid behind the moon to have a cry.

(picture of eclipse of sun)

On Easter Sunday, Jesus' friends went to the cave where Jesus was put after He died. He wasn't in there!

The big stone at the front of the cave had been rolled back and Jesus was gone. He had come back to life! It was like magic!

(picture of cave with stone)

When Jesus came back to life, He went and saw His friends and told them to remember the Room Rules forever. Then He went up to Heaven to see His daddy again.

His friends wrote a book about Jesus so everyone would remember Him.

They put the Room Rules in it, so everyone would remember them too.

The book is called The Bible.

(pictures of different Bibles)

Christians read about Jesus in the Bible. They try to be just like Jesus and keep His special Room Rules.

At Easter time in Australia, we do lots of things that started with the Christians' story of Jesus,

like eating hot cross buns

(picture of bun with cross very clear to see)

and chocolate eggs.

(pictures of Easter eggs)

Christians eat hot cross buns on Good Friday and feel sad that Jesus died.

The cross on top of the bun is to remind Christians that poor Jesus died on a cross.

On Easter Sunday, Christians eat Easter eggs and feel happy that Jesus came back to life like magic.

Eggs remind Christians of Jesus, because real eggs have living things inside them that break through the hard shell- just like Jesus broke out of the cave with the big rock in front of it.

(picture of a chicken hatching)

We eat chocolate eggs, not real ones, because it wouldn't be kind to eat a real egg with a live chicken inside it.

Christians believe that if they've been good and kept the Room Rules, they'll go to Heaven too when they die, and they'll see Jesus and God up there.

(picture of heaven with God and others)

Do you think the Easter story is true?


  1. BTW, the rabbit got a mention in conversation afterwards- we talked about Spring and rabbits having lots of babies on the other side of the world. But to put the pagan stuff in the story too would have been too confusing!

  2. On the one hand, I see your point about political correctness being in this case a bit ridiculous. If it is to be introduced it should probably apply to all religions.

    On the other, I see this as a way of preventing bible-bashing pre-schools from brainwashing kids. And in this case, the lesser of two evils seems to me to be to stop it from being enforced upon children.

  3. I'm not a fan of Bible-bashing either, but I think you'll find that schools which are church-based will find a way around any legislation anyway; they are already exempt from anti-prejudice legislation (meaning they can sack people on the basis of their sexuality, for example), and no doubt if anyone tried to sue them for teaching Bible stories they would rely on that exemption in any test case.

    I'm more concerned about an entire generation losing understanding of the allusion and imagery provided by Biblical concepts. Any legislated threat to the arts and creativity presses all the wrong buttons for me- not to mention that if a religion can't stand up to a bit of competition in the classroom from exposure to other belief systems, it can't be very confident about its own worth under scrutiny.


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