Thursday 20 September 2007

Religion in education: are we really happy to pay for this?

Three interesting pieces on religion and education from The Guardian:

Here's Connor Birch writing about incurring the Church of England's wrath after he expressed concerns about the 'distinctive Christian ethos' of a planned state-funded academy in his local area. The Church told Birch that his views on the proposal were no longer welcome, after it emerged that he had links with the National Secular Society. Not only was the NSS opposed to faith schools on principle (shock horror) but its website also carried a report on the case of a gay youth worker whose appointment was blocked by the Bishop of Hereford. Seems the dear old C of E can fight as dirty as those nasty 'aggressive secularists'.

And here's The Guardian's man-in-the-classroom, the always readable Philip Beadle (look up his columns on private sponsorship of schools and the myth of personalised learning ) taking the government to task for the pro-faith bias in its Standards for religious education:

The Standards Site for teachers features schemes of work for key stage 3 that could have been written by Billy Graham. Creationism on the curriculum is not happening only in the American Bible belt or outposts on Teesside: the government recommends it as a topic for study in every school. The suggested learning outcomes say that all year 9 pupils should be able to "explain the nature and meanings of the Genesis creation story for theists, creationists and others". The intent is that children "understand that science leaves questions of ultimate meaning and purpose unanswered".


The aim of this scheme of work is that children "understand that historians of science now view the conflict account as misleading". Let me unpack this disgracefully disingenuous phrase for you: the government's desired final outcome of religious studies teaching in British schools is that children realise there is no conflict between religious belief and the evidence of science. This is a lie, the extent of which hits the three criteria for a mortal sin: it is grave, committed in full knowledge of the sin and deliberate.

Finally, the decision of the Catholic Church in Northern Ireland to ban Amnesty International from its schools, after its move to support abortion rights, has got Zoe Williams wondering why tax-payers are funding this sort of thing:

It's worthwhile to stop for a minute, here, and consider all this in the context of faith schooling. We all - all we feminists, I mean - have the odd qualm here and there about Islamic schools, and whether they invest proper rigour in the propagation of gender equality, but Christians, we think ... now they're different. They provide a sound education, they don't discriminate on the basis of class, they're not exclusive, they've been doing this for years. They can have as much taxpayer money as they want.

It's balderdash. For a start, they are cherrypicking middle-class children (the Institute of Education at London University just produced this finding, after the most extensive research yet undertaken) and, much more important, in many cases they are prosecuting an agenda that is repugnant. Are we really happy to sit back and pay for this?

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