Thursday, October 19, 2006

Faith Schooling!

Originally written for Labourhome

With faith schools once again being the hot potato issue, I felt it was time do do a reflective piece on this!First of all I ought to declare an interest! I am a committed Christian, fairly devout! Admittedly falling short on a daily basis but that's what grace is there for! Plus I went to a C of E Junior School. Anyways, it does therefore mean that I am wholly sympathetic to the idea of faith schools!But that doesn't mean to say that faith schools are right! What certainly isn't right is when some parents start attending church or a synagogue or a mosque, in order to curry favour and gain a place for their child, rather than out of genuine faith or curiosity.Likewise, if there is one thing the Founding Fathers of secularism did respect it was the idea of conscience, and it is only natural for parents to want to bring their child up in their own faith. Whether it is Christianity, Islam, or even a school founded on the tenets of secularism. This opens up therefore, the wider issue of parental control.One can't solve this issue here, and it is too emotive to properly discuss, but I personally feel that this is a matter for parents (to a certain extent) and the schools in question. So long as the schools do not break the law, and so long as the schools welcome all regardless of faith (and I appreciate a no of them don't), then I don't see the problem. Anything less smacks of religious or secular bigotry.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Seculary Bigotry? How is that possible?

Paul Burgin said...

Taking a narrow view of anything that does not fit into a secular worldview!

Anonymous said...

The problems associated with single faith schools will become much more severe and controversial if the Government goes ahead with its plans to bring 120 Muslim schools from the independent sector into the state sector. These are very conservative schools, and they are not gong to be willing to water down their religious ethos. These schools over-emphasise religion, many deny some elements of science, require the wearing of hijabs and in some cases jilbabs, refuse to let girls take part in sports and so on. They will demand to be accommodated. The national curriculum will not change the schools; but the schools will change the way the national curriculum is implemented. Let’s be honest about this, these schools are, in the main, run by male theocrats more interested in promoting Islam than giving a balanced education. Similarly with Christian faith schools – the churches can protest as much as they like, but the primary purpose of a faith school is the promotion of religion – why on earth have specifically religious schools if that is not the case?”

Andrew said...

I think you're in danger of redefining 'secular' as 'anti-religion', as has happened in the US in the last decade. 'Secular' education or a 'secular' state doesn't necessarily involve any hostility toward religion, just as not collecting stamps implies no hostility towards philately.

Unfortunately the issue of parental control does have to be discussed, and that it is emotive is no reason to suggest it can't be argued rationally. It may well be 'natural' for parents to want to bring their children up in their religion, but that doesn't make it ok. If Mr and Mrs Smith introduced me to their four year-old child with "This is Brian. He's a freemarket libertarian." I'd be horrified, as would anybody. There may be a case for parents telling their children how to behave, but there certainly isn't one for telling them how to think. The right of a child to think for him/herself vastly outweighs the arbitrary whims of the parents. Religion's no different from any political views, and it's simply unacceptable to impose such a belief onto somebody in your care. Plus, I'm sure you'd agree that there is greater value in coming to Christianity of your own free will rather than being simply born into it - only extreme evangelists would say that the end justifies the means. Religion is no trivial matter in today's society, and as much as I might hope my child turns out to be a secular humanist, I can recognise that reasonable people disagree. The only way to give children a free and fair choice is to provide them with the tools to think for themselves, not indoctrinate them into a particular faith and make the spurious claim they can change their minds at any time (peer pressure, religious iconography, role models, collective worship all make this incredibly difficult and often traumatic). A school with a faith-based ethos, no matter how hard it tries and often through no deliberate intent, will always be biased. There would be elements of this in any school, of course, but with a mixture of faiths, cultures and beliefs the pressure would be more evenly distributed. The point of education is to allow children to become autonomous adults capable of making their way in the world, not to churn out what the parents want them to be.

As important as the autonomy of the child is the argument that new faith schools policies would segregate children on religious lines at the age of six. Witness Northern Ireland - is there any possible defence of this idea? Religion's entirely different from race, but the comparison with black and white-only schools is valid. Psychological experiments have shown that hostile reactions can be introduced in 'normal' people simply by the use of different coloured stickers - we're built to be suspicious of other tribes, and this can only be overcome by education. We only grow as people when we're challenged by different ideas and beliefs, and it's been shown that children surrounded by a diverse mix of cultures grow up more tolerant than those who do not. Is there any doubt that the problems in Northern Ireland would be wiped out in a generation if (the children of) catholics and protestants were educated together?

The admitted ethos of every faith school is to provide an education of the character of that particular religion, and sometimes that's undeniably counter to modern values. Faith schools are currently lobbying for exemptions from legislation designed to prevent discrimination against homosexuals. How are schools going to explain this to their children, without implying there's something wrong with homosexuality? There is no defence of such an abhorrent teaching, and there's no place for it in an education system.

There are arguments against faith schools all round, but there is certainly no case for the 100% state funding 'trust schools' will receive. The state has no business supporting the indoctrination of children.

The arguments against faith schools are not anti-religion and should not be contstrued as such. A 'secular' education system would educate on the major religions (and non-faiths) without indoctrination. It would definitively *not* advocate atheism, as some people seem to think. What's the problem with that?

Anonymous said...

Andrew,

Very good piece.

Anonymous said...

As a way of assuaging guilt following the Iraq war, we went full on for faith schools - "everybody have one".

Now I'm afraid this is policy seem to have bitten the Labour Party on the backside!
Especially as ministers (including Ruth Kelly who drove some of the above measures through), now seem to be going down the full integration track.

I think the only way for a fair playng field is simply to abolish all faith schools and bring them into the faith sector as, dare I say it - comprehensives!

Paul Burgin said...

Phew, bit of a dive in the deep end here, but here goes!
anon, I agree that the primary purpose of these schools is to teach religion, but so long as they comply with the rule of law then I am fine with them! Obviously though this tends to raise deeper issues and questions.
Andrew, thanks for pointing out the difference between the UK and the US, which has a different cultural look at these things. Thing is though, if you ever have children how will you react when, at a young age, they decide to become a Christian?
I am not 100% happy with schools of other faiths, but I also recognise that tolerance is important and that if things are to be fair, then Christian schools should be on a level playing field. So long as those schools obey the rule of law, are open to people of other beliefs, proclaim, but do not force feed those beliefs, and are open to discussion and ideas, whilst keeping their integrity, then I am content.
For me, what makes the issue more interesting is whether one regards secularism as a faith of sorts in itself!

The Labour Humanist said...

I think your point would stand up better if there was a proper choice for parents and that parents could choice a secular education for their child.

Sadly, our Christian Socialist education minister, Andrew Adonis, said in the Lords this week that non-church schools would still be forced to conduct christian acts of worship because that is the (much abused word) "ethos" the government believed they should promote.

I don't agree with Blair's agenda for schools (makes me pretty mainstream labour!) because the choice argument is bogus. Christian parents can choose church and non-church schools. Muslim parents will soon have a similar choice. But secular parents (which would include many Christians as well as Humanists) have no such choice. If church schools were truly about choice then non-church schoos would be given more freedom on their ethos, but they're not, so we can only suspect that the real Blair/Adonis agenda is to use schools to create more believers because they probably feel believers are better people than us non-belivers.

Andrew said...

"Thing is though, if you ever have children how will you react when, at a young age, they decide to become a Christian?"

*If* this happens, I admit I wouldn't like it much. But I like to think I would argue rationally against their ideas, and that would be it. My child isn't 'my' property, I just safeguard them until they can stand alone - I don't get to tell them what to think. I don't get to have a problem with my child choosing to be a Christian to any greater extent than I do anybody. And quite frankly any opinions of young children don't mean much, because they haven't the intellectual maturity and experience that comes in the teenage years (by which I don't mean to say they're stupid, just not yet versed in life) and will undoubtedly change, providing they aren't indoctrinated. I don't mean over religion specifically: just in general.

"if things are to be fair, then Christian schools should be on a level playing field."

Given the current policies, this is certainly a valid argument.

"So long as those schools obey the rule of law, are open to people of other beliefs, proclaim, but do not force feed those beliefs, and are open to discussion and ideas, whilst keeping their integrity, then I am content."

But how do you proclaim your beliefs without force feeding them, when the whole school is based around them? When children will be under severe peer pressure not to question? When religious iconography is a part of the structure of the building? When the school bans gay groups from using their facilities? When teachers, who are so often role models, clearly have little time for alternative outlooks? It's far from impartial. I don't understand why the autonomy of the child doesn't trump all this anyway.

"For me, what makes the issue more interesting is whether one regards secularism as a faith of sorts in itself!"

Isn't secularism just the recognition that in a society of multiple, contradictory faiths, the only rational way to govern is to take an impartial role towards religion? Do you mean atheism, or perhaps more accurately secular humanism?

Anonymous said...

Paul,

How can securalism be a faith. A secular person is someone who judges the world and events on facts, and doesn't place blind faith in something that cannot be proven.

Andrew said...

FYI (I wasn't clear on the definitions) 'secular':

1. Worldly rather than spiritual.
2. Not specifically relating to religion or to a religious body: secular music.
3. Relating to or advocating secularism.
4. Not bound by monastic restrictions, especially not belonging to a religious order. Used of the clergy.
5. Occurring or observed once in an age or century.
6. Lasting from century to century.

noun:

1. A member of the secular clergy.
2. A layperson.

Whereas 'secularism':

1. Religious skepticism or indifference.
2. The view that religious considerations should be excluded from civil affairs or public education.

Which I guess means that both can be interpreted as anti-religion, or just not part of religion. Words are pretty useless when they have to be defined with every usage, aren't they?

Jonathan said...

"How can securalism be a faith. A secular person is someone who judges the world and events on facts, and doesn't place blind faith in something that cannot be proven."

There are an infinite number of facts and no-one can no them all. In addition there are a lot of things that are not yet known e.g. how does memory work? what caused the big bang? etc etc.

Therefore we all have a worldview through which we interpret the facts available to us. Individuals discover some facts which they find to be true in their experience which alters our worldview, so there is kind of constant feedback loop as our worldview develops.

A secularist might grow up with some facts they find to be true which point towards not believing in God. From this they decide that strict logic is the only way to find truth (their ontology - way of knowing). They will then interpret new facts through this prism.

A Christian/Muslim/Sikh might grow up with some facts they find to be true which point towards believing in God. They might find that some facts are true in their life which create paradoxes when expressed in strict logical terms - hence they develop a different ontology to the secularist and view new facts through a different prism/worldview.

In all cases people are taking 'steps of faith' as their world view and ontology is not absolute - it is always developing and susceptible to change as new facts are discovered - either by an individual or by human kind as a whole. Faith is not (or should not be) about believing something that has no factual basis, but about someone's best guess about how they are going to live their life based on their available 'facts' as filtered through their ontology and worldview.

Going off the subject of faith schools I know, but couldn't resist the question.

Anonymous said...

If you want your child to grow up a muslim, a christian, a sikh etc. Take them on the relevant day to the relevant church, mosque etc. Barring religious education as a subject we should keep religion out of education as much as possible.

Andrew said...

What? How, exactly, does one view facts by other than strict logical terms? Viewing facts through a different worldview is a meaningless phrase - things are true or they aren't, and if we can't determine either way we say 'don't know', often with a practical approach of 'it's not true'. Anything else sounds a lot like 'wanting things to be true so saying they are' to me. If you've seen 'facts' that suggest the existence of god, why can't I understand them as well as you? Reality exists, anything that has an effect is detectable and arguments can be made based on these observations that hold true for anybody. Anything else is playing with words, surely?

Paul Burgin said...

To Labour Humanist who said:

"Sadly, our Christian Socialist education minister, Andrew Adonis, said in the Lords this week that non-church schools would still be forced to conduct christian acts of worship because that is the (much abused word) "ethos" the government believed they should promote."

Part of that may well be because Christianity (as personified in the Church of England) is a state religion. Not a situation I agree with but there you go!

Andrew, words like safeguarding are the very ones that religious parents would use. Some would want to control their child's way of thinking, but many would want to "safeguard" their child, not want to enforce their faith and leave them to make their own choices as they are growing up!

Anon, secularism is a faith in so far as it is a system of belief in the agnostic/humanist/athiest sense. Perhaps I am using the wrong language but I think you probably get my point! In any case I think Jonathan puts it well!

Andrew said...

"Some would want to control their child's way of thinking, but many would want to "safeguard" their child, not want to enforce their faith and leave them to make their own choices as they are growing up!"

If we agree it's wrong to tell a child what to think, why faith schools? With all the problems of segregation and the impossibility of providing a fair and balanced religious education at a school based up on a particular faith, why not an impartial education system that provides religious education, but not instruction, and let the children make up their own minds?

Jonathan said...

"Viewing facts through a different worldview is a meaningless phrase - things are true or they aren't, and if we can't determine either way we say 'don't know', often with a practical approach of 'it's not true' "

OK, an example.
A little while back a friend of mine seriously injured her ankle - she was on crutches and was told she would be for at least a month. She got prayed for and 2-3 days later she had been back to the doctor who said the injury had healed and she didn't need crutches.
I say: cause and effect - causes: people pray, God chooses to intervene, effect: ankle better.

You might say something along the lines of 'human body is an amazing thing, placebo effect of prayer, other medical explanation'.

In each case we are interpreting the available facts through our different worldviews. Because my previous experiences and understanding points towards the existence of a God capable of intervention I interpret someone praying (fact) and someone's ankle getting better (fact) in the way that is most consistent to me.

Because your previous experience and understanding points towards the non-existence of a God capable of intervention you interpret the facts in the way most consistent with your worldview i.e. it is far more likely that there is another explanation.

Anonymous said...

Controversial as this subject is makes it difficult for people to agree on what is the 'right' action for government to take with faith schools. Questions over the issue of faith schools, or even more broad, the question of the role of religion in education and society, is a never ending debate. With the recent controversey over the veill and the current political atmosphere how will it ever be possible for wide scale public acceptance of faith schools, even if they prove adventageous?

Also, this subject was brought up in the recent poll found on the home page of the Labour Party website if anyone is interested in more information.

Andrew said...

Sure, your praying example holds water, but I need to know how you got to your 'worldview' in the first place. I can show the chain of evidence that lead to mine. You can't assume the two 'worldviews' are on an equal footing, simply because they both come up with explanations - after all, there are an infinite number of possible explanations. I'm sure you'd think the same of somebody who interpreted the healing process as the result of tiny invisible pixies who sew up holes - you'd want to know why they think that, and wouldn't say 'it's your worldview' and leave it at that without evidence, surely?

Jonathan said...

Andrew, I completely agree - not all worldviews are equal and your pixie example is a good one. It's healthy that we should challenge each other's worldviews and expect our own to be challenged and therefore evolve.

The point is that all people make assumptions in their interpretations of facts. You hopefully think that your assumptions are better than mine or otherwise you'd be better off sharing my assumptions.

Call them axioms, call them assumptions, call it faith: we all need to acknowledge we have them before challenging others'- including those with a secular worldview.

Andrew said...

Yes, I think we agree that challenge and debate is of course necessary for progress. However...

"The point is that all people make assumptions in their interpretations of facts."

I don't think this is true. I think this is another way of saying that people who don't believe in a god are basing their belief on some kind of faith, and that isn't fair. I don't believe there is no god, I strongly suspect it because I see no convincing evidence to the contrary. I am starting from a position of "don't know" and looking at the evidence, and I don't see how this involves any assumptions.

It's reasonable to say that you believe in a god because of evidence - a personal revelation, say - but assumptions/axioms/faith that god exists aren't valid ways of thinking. Otherwise the claims of the pixie-fanciers would have just as much validity as anything else. You said that 'not all worldviews are equal', but how are we to judge which are worthy of consideration if not by evidence?

Jonathan said...

Sorry for the delay in replying.

Maybe I should have used the term 'event' rather than 'fact' in some places. I was thinking in terms of the way that we interpret events that we come across or hear about in our everyday world.

You strongly suspect there is no god, just as I srongly suspect that there is. This is our working assumption on a day by day, event by event basis. It feeds into what information we take seriously when we hear it, our opinions and views.

Neither of us can be 100% sure about our working assumptions, but there is no neutral position - we cannot go through life without one so we work with our current best guess (which evolves over time). People who don't think about such things much fall into a default position conditioned by family and society.

I came across this quote at the end of Brief History of Time this week, which reminded me of this thread:
"We find ourselves in a bewildering world. We want to make sense of what we see around us and to ask: what is the nature of the universe? What is our place in it and where did it and we come from? Why is it the way it is? To try to answer these questions we adopt some 'world picture.' Just as an infinite tower of tortoises supporting the flat earth is such a picture, so is the theory of superstrings. Both are theories of the universe, though the latter is much more mathematical and precise than the former. Both theories lack observational evidence: no one has ever seen a giant tortoise with the earth on its back, but then, no one has seen a superstring either. Howerver, the tortoise theory fails to be a good scientific theory because it predicts people should be able to fall off the edge of the world. This has not been found to agree with experience."

What I would mention two things in relation to the above quote one is that we cannot *not* have a theory (used in a broader way than Hawkings) for our day to day lives, and that not all good theories about life have to be expressed scientifically (ie. there is a role for theology, philosophy, psychology and study of literature/art.)