I dislike faith-based schools of any religion. To me, that is what the Temple is for. Anyone who reads me regularly knows I have strong and particular views on matters regarding orthodox religion in the context of ‘god’ and politics but also that I believe in the Universe as being divine and all things therein, as sacred. I take a secularist position when I picture the society I want to live in but I’m not an atheist.
My disapproval is not of any specific religion, religious people, themselves or religious teaching, per se. I also think the current ‘extremism’ angle is rather loaded, politically expedient scaremongering. It does not motivate this post, anyway. What does, is my general disapproval of any ideological segregation and indoctrination, particularly in the education system and especially when it is so rigid as to deny swathes of commonly accepted science, philosophical difference and equality of ethnicity, gender and sexuality.
One of the first things we should ask is who is funding Education, who should be funding it and who has and should have influence over a curriculum and teaching materials. It should not be determined by politically ideological officials, rich and powerful commercial lobbyists and religious organisations. We wouldn’t want any other politically ideological group, like, say, UKip or a commercial interest such as Tesco to run a school, would we? No, because everything would risk being weighted to that group’s group-mind to the point where it would diminish balance and undermine all else.
I know that while we have this ridiculous mix of state, private, academy, free, home and faith schools (did I miss any out?), control over the quality of education is bound to be risky, arbitrary and overly complex. I think Society is best served by a secular education. Personally, I’d phase out public funding of any school that is not within the state system and I’d endeavour to make every local state school so damned good that only a rich or fundamentalist fool would pay extra to send their children elsewhere. But I think the least we could do for now is form/re-establish the (local as well as national) authority and ability to oversee the adherence, in every school, to an agreed educational standard; withdraw taxpayer funding and charitable status immediately from faith (and any other) schools who are intentionally and narrowly selective about admissions, curricula (particularly science and PHSE), teaching materials, etc; put in place a base-line national curriculum that every school would be legally required to teach, irrespective of its status: private/public/ or this bizarre mix of both.
A lot of schooling is obviously about learning fact/evidence-based information but, if education is to do its job properly, a young mind also needs (I’d even say mostly needs) its brain space respected and encouraged as the vital tool it is for creative and critical thought.
Faith and spiritual practice are not evil. It is manipulation and enforced conformity – ideological indoctrination that is wicked. Introduction to systems of belief and open exploration are not. They are, in fact, like all the Arts: contextualising tools for understanding so much about the ‘Human Condition’ and, therefore, the world and the Self.
So, whilst recognising the detrimental effect of segregation on a community, this does not mean that Religion has no place in school, at all. Ignoring a concept that still governs over half the planet’s populace is futile, reckless and perpetuates the very problems that the remainder of the populace recognises and complains about. Understanding the orthodox religions is an important part of cultural awareness and enrichment. Communicating their literature, interpretation, historical, cultural, social and political influences on the world should be part of a good education and can be very well facilitated under the umbrellas of other subjects such as Philosophy. To me, this is Religion’s best home when it comes to the education and stretching of young minds. It can also easily be explored further through the Arts – in literature, drama, history, etc; outings, cooking, even.. Neither is there anything to stop schools incorporating from the myriad range of sacred/festival days, commemorative events and celebrations. Many good schools are already doing this, aren’t they?
If we truly value free speech then we surely must value the ability to feel, think and believe freely? Compulsory education should encourage confidence in the young to do this with teaching that is not inhibited by fear, a sense of superiority and narrowing bias. Children won’t come out the other end with the same personal understandings or opinions – that’s kind of the point – but they should all have the same access to the same platforms and vehicles of information from which their foundational views and experiences are going to be so substantively derived. This is the right of any child in a society that aspires to be open and just and an absolute need for those children who might otherwise be provided with little counter-balance to their lives outside the school gates (and not just in the context of religious belief, either). People tend to want to know that they at least know the same things as their peers and, children, who are just younger people, even more so.
“For a certainty, the man who can see all creatures in himself, himself in all creatures, knows no sorrow.” ~ Isa Upanishad