Cloud over banned books lifted

NEWS | Anne Lim

Wednesday 10 June 2015

Christian author John Dickson has received a letter from the NSW Department of Education and Communities confirming that it has no concerns with the content of his book, A Sneaking Suspicion, which had been subject to a ban, later revoked, from the Special Religious Education (SRE) curriculum.

The lifting of the ban by the Minister for Education, Adrian Piccoli was slammed as a politically motivated move that still left “dangerous” material in the classroom by Greens MP John Kaye and the Victorian group, Fairness in Religion in Schools.

John Dickson

John Dickson

Dr Dickson wrote to the Department requesting that it either outline its concerns with the book or to confirm that it had no concerns with the content.

“I wish to assure you that the Department does not consider the content of your book to be inappropriate when used as part of the authorised high school SRE curriculum,” Gregory Prior,  Deputy Secretary, Schools Operations and Performance, wrote in reply.

Author Michael Jensen, whose book You: An Introduction was also banned then reinstated, said he expects to receive a similar letter.

Dr Dickson said the letter not only reassured him that there was nothing inappropriate in a book that had been used in SRE for many years, but also refuted “unfair” claims by critics of SRE that the ban was lifted because of political manoeuvring by the church.

Mr Prior indicates in the letter that the Department’s primary concern was “the use of the books in the context of a multi-stage or multi-age class, where the delivery of the material may not be suitable for some students in the class. I am glad to advise that the Department has no concerns about the content of the book and has been assured by the Archbishop of Sydney that your book is being used as part of the sensitive, age-appropriate delivery of SRE.”

Dr Dickson says the worry was that young children in composite classes in country schools might be reading commentary on sexy songs, for example, but the Archbishop had assured the Minister of Education that the book was only used in year 8 and 9.

“As so often with the critics of SRE, I feel that they slightly overplayed their hand and that’s going to leave a bad taste in the mouth of fair-minded people, whether they’re supporters of SRE or not, and maybe even more widely among the decision-makers,” Dr Dickson said.

The prominent Christian author had said when the ban was issued that he expected it to be repealed. “My confidence in the Department was not misplaced. I think they made a valid knee-jerk reaction to protect kids, just in case – and good on them. I want them to be like that. But then I also want them to thoroughly review their decisions and the material, like they’ve done, and quite openly say we have no concerns with your material.

“So I’m actually pretty happy with the Department. I was never annoyed with them because I thought it was all just a big misunderstanding. I knew my own little book and was just really confident that, in the light of day, clear heads would see the reality.”

Dr Dickson believes that good will come out of the controversy as the debate will probably be more measured next time around, on both sides. “I suspect that SRE is in a more secure position today than it was a month ago or two months ago,” he concludes.

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