A couple of people made reference to the thumb-twiddling in the library being not such a bad thing, I must admit I very nearly included a disclaimer in the original post to the effect that I was quite sure the kids were perfectly happy with the thumb-twiddling :-) Actually I believe my kids' school encourages reading which is something I'd have been very keen on as a kid had I been at all aware that Scripture class was optional.
My memories of Scripture are of some poor sodding volunteer coming into a classroom full of kids who saw the lesson as something they were not required to take seriously, like being a substitute teacher, only worse because you have no hope of convincing the kids that anyone cares if they don't do the work. As for the subject matter, it was pretty much exactly the same as we were getting at church in Sunday School, very much of the indoctrination of impressionable minds variety.
From what I see of the stuff my kids do in Scripture now it's also very definitely of the teaching dogma variety and not at all of the comparative religious studies style, and really why would it be anything else? These classes are largely being taught by volunteers who are doing it because they believe it's important to bring the kids into the fold not because they want to equip them to understand the various world religions. When your kindergartner comes home on a Thursday afternoon and tells you very seriously that all the houses in your street were made by God, or that Adam and Eve were the first people, or that the whole world was flooded and wasn't it a good thing that Noah was around it becomes very clear that myth is being taught as fact and that I have a problem with.
It's quite true, as Toni mentioned, that some schools positively encourage kids to visit all the different Scripture classes, my nieces have done a bit of swapping around between Protestant, Catholic and Buddhist classes at their school. Perhaps the nature of the classes is different in other schools, perhaps there are whole cohorts of enlightened Scripture teachers out there delivering lessons that invite a critical analysis of the subject matter, which incidentally is perfectly possible even with 5 year olds. Hey, my Mum has done a bit of Scripture teaching in the past, but the last time she did so (filling in for a friend) she was so disgusted with the curriculum materials and the lesson plans that she was expected to follow that she swore never to do it again.
From St James Ethics Centre on Facebook:
Those schools that have completed an expression of interest in being a pilot school are confirmed as participants in the pilot. They are Darlinghurst, Crown Street, Ferncourt, Rozelle, Hurstville, Bungendore, Neutral Bay and Baulkham Hills North Public Schools. Another school is 80% through the process. There is room for just one more.Don't suppose there's much hope of grabbing the last spot for our school.
Ariane mentioned one of my big doubts about this whole exercise - where are the volunteers to teach ethics classes going to come from? I know the churches often have a fair bit of trouble filling the volunteer roles to teach scripture and they have a presumably highly motivated pool of people to draw on. I, of course, find myself answering the question in my own head with "perhaps I should..." at which point the other half of me jumps up with a cartoon sledgehammer yelling "don't you DARE think about volunteering for anything else" and squishes the idea flat. It's all very well saying "What a wonderful idea, we should definitely have ethics classes offered in all schools" but that's not going to be much use if there's no-one to teach them.
Mind you, even if there aren't enough teachers to go around, there'll be some no small victory in breaking the anachronistic hold of the churches on that half hour of SRE a week should the trial be deemed successful and the NSW Dept of Education and Training' policy on the matter changed to allow the classes to be offered across the board.