Recently I had the great pleasure of flying to the United States of America. Although this is not my first adventure in the USA, the contrast to Australian culture was more striking than I rememberâperhaps I'm becoming older and stuck in my ways already!
Where does this identity come from? Why is America so different? With many hours of flying, and still some more still to go, I began to ponder these questions in relation to religious education in Australia.
I found myself drawn to an example from music history and culture class. This theory suggests nations develop 'personality archetypes' which shape their culture.
Indeed cultures around the world have legends of great importance which shape the way they see themselves and other people. Sometimes these legends take the form of characters in stories, while at other times they take on a personality reaching beyond any one tale.
Consider the stoic stockman with his swag and his billy, the legendary Australian figureâself-reliant, pragmatic, happy to keep to himself but willing to help those who've fallen on hard times.
Does America have an equivalent? Is it the sheriff? Or is it the settler heading out west? Perhaps it's Washington or Lincoln?
As often portrayed in popular culture the cowboy resonates strongly with themes of liberty, strength and justice.
These themes connect to significant events in US history such as the colonisation of the frontier, America's war for independence, the American civil war and America's entry as a world super power in World War II.
Given this connection it shouldn't be a surprise that characters like Star Wars' Han Solo or Indiana Jones captured the imagination of more than one generation.
These characters form part of the feedback loop of modern cultural identity where history lessons resonate with characters children see, who in turn influence how they perceive their history.
What about generations growing up in our own country, what history do Australian kids learn? Who are the characters they relate to as heroes?
At this time, when scripture in schools is constantly under attack, it seems we should be fighting even harder for children to have access to community-led religious education. This opportunity it vital, so children can learn the history of the world they live in and meet the heroes so many of us aspire to.
Role models of faith
Beliefs are of paramount importance to any community and a key part of childhood education. Parents are a part of the community a child grows up in and have a claim to what classes their children attend. However, these decisions appear to be moving further and further into the hands of the state and federal powers, outside of the community in which we live.
As control leaves our communities, our society grows blander and homogeneity sets in. Let our children be taught the history of their community, support religious education in schools.
Sam Gillespie is a composer and a computer programmer based in Sydney.
Sam Gillespie's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/sam-gillespie.html