Regular readers will know that I’m not a great fan of analysis based on generations (Boomers, X, Millennials and so on). Most of what passes for insight on this topic consists of the repetition of unchanged cliches about the rigidity and hypocrisy of the old, the laziness and irresponsibility of the young, and so on, applied to whichever cohort happens to be old or young at the time.
But there are some genuine differences between cohorts, typically determine by the time they have entered adulthood. One of these is religion.
According to the 2011 Census, just under 52 per cent of Australians then aged between 15 and 34 (todays 20-39 year olds) declared a Christian religious affilation. Given that religious affiliation drops significantly in early adulthood, it’s safe to conclude that only a minority of 20-40 olds will have declared such an affiliation in the most recent Census (if it ever comes out). By contrast for those aged 55-74 (now 60-79), the 2011 proportion was 75 per cent, and that probably hasn’t changed much.
I was reminded of this by Peter Dutton’s attempt to refight the War on Christmas, prompted by a talkback radio caller whose grandchild‘s school eschewed traditional carols for a secular celebration (emphasis added). It’s noteworthy that the call did not come from the child’s parents, who might reasonably expect to have a say in the way their children’s school is run, but from one of their parents/parents-in-law, who should have no such expectation.
This is one issue where, based on age cohorts, parents and grandparents are likely to have difffent views. As we’ve seen, the age cohorts in which we find most grandparents are overwhelmingly Christian. But in an average school, parents will be about evenly divided between Christians and non-Christians. Assuming that Christians are over-represented among parents choosing explicitly Christian schools, that means that they must be in the minority among parents at state schools (the story doesn’t make it clear, but the natural inference is that the school in the talkback call was public).
Of course, many non-Christians are attached to the standard Christmas tradition, itself a mixture of pagan relics, Christianity and consumer capitalism. But not many would want to impose explicit Christian religiosity on parents and children of other religions or none.
So, the obvious policy question is: should non-parents (of the children in question) get to dictate school policy as Dutton seems to think? If so, does this go both ways? Would a future non-Christian majority (likely by the 2030s), be justified in imposing secularism on all schools, whatever the wishes of the parents and teachers?