School values

Madeleine Bunting put forward a case for faith schools in the Guardian today. Well, I think she did, her logic pretty well escaped me.

The claim in the title “Faith schools can best generate the common purpose that pupils need” wasn’t supported by any argument that I could follow. This seems to be the crux of it:

So, with hard hat on, here goes the defence: that it is possible to justify faith schools within the state sector with important qualifications; that many of them do a remarkable job; and that it’s time the critics put prejudice aside to think more carefully about the source of their appeal to parents.

Well, I’ve thought carefully and I believe I know the source of their appeal to parents – that is, parents who don’t actually follow the faiths that they are supposedly so keen to cram into their offspring:

They have a more exclusive intake. Christian religious schools don’t have many pupils who don’t speak fluent English. They can throw troublesome kids back to the state sector. They can often get better exam results.

That’s basically it.

I find it hard to draw a connection between these facts and “faith.” The old selective grammar schools – when selection was at least based on an exam pass rather than a belief in magical entities – got better results than the schools for kids who’d failed their 11-plus.

I thought the idea of doing away with grammar schools was to heal social divisions? “Middle class” kids were certainly over-represented in grammar schools. All the evidence suggests that they are currently over-represented in the popular faith schools. And there is no evidence of a massive expansion of religious belief amongst the middle classes that might explain it in religious terms. It’s people trying to get the best for their kids, whatever it takes. Perfectly understandable in individual pragmatic terms. Whether the state should be buying votes by supporting this with our taxes is another matter…..

But supporters of faith schools prefer to pretend that religion brings some educational magic of its own. Insofar as Bunting has an argument to present, it is that faith schools are better at putting across an educational ethos.

But these are old-fashioned ideas. Walk into any secondary school and one senses how counter-cultural that ethos is. The blazers, badges, Latin mottos, the “Morning, Sir,” the emphasis on tradition, formality and obedience: it’s an institutional culture decades old. Teachers have the unenviable task of battling against a culture of self-entitlement, individualism and self-promotion to try to generate a common purpose.

Hmm. Blazers, badges, Latin mottoes… and so on? Her concept of “education” comes straight from a 1940s boarding school story.

Some schools have genuine traditions. These are usually private and cost as much as the average annual wage. Their succes sis based upon the very fact that they cost the annual wage. (Beautiful grounds, incredible teacher-pupil ratios, coy relationships with Oxbridge colleges, other rich kids to make friends with for future networking…)

To build new schools and expect them to pretend they have been going since the middle ages – in the belief they’ll bring the benefits of Eton – is so ersatz. The whole enterprise seems to be built on misleading kids. Trick them into thinking they are attending Eton in the 1930s and they will behave themselves.

It’s a Disneyworld image of education. But, if anything, this could explain the appeal of faith schools. If enough fools believe it, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, at the top end of the faith school pyramid (with lavish use of our taxes, of course.)

At the bottom end….. Catholic schools vs state school battles. Kids who leave school without ever sharing a classroom with kids from different backgrounds.

Secular humanism has not found a popular ethical narrative to replace faith; parents, uncertain how to bring up their children with a sense of responsibility for others, resort to school Christianity.

She is saying that parents who are without ethical values rely on church schools to graft these on, at the same time as imparting a belief in an all-powerful magic man? She is also implying that values rely on myths.

This is bilge in so many ways that I can’t even begin to address them. It is teaching hypocrisy by example. Great “ethical” value, hey? “Do as I say, not what I do.”

It doesn’t work, given that children are not necessarily either unobservant or so dumb that they will believe what adults tell them to be true over the evidence of their senses.

More Church and Schools

Good to see that the UK government is still coming under political pressure to drop its demented encouragement of “faith schools”.

The BBC reported

Ministers are being urged to stop faith schools in England selecting pupils and staff on the basis of their religion.
Accord, a new coalition of secular and religious figures, wants the government to stop state-funded schools engaging in what they say is “discrimination”.

Faith schools getting forced into not favouring people who hold their “faith”?

Well, that would be a start.

But, they are wrong on so many levels that, if they were buildings, they’d need the world’s biggest elevators. Demolish the lot of them.

A wise rabbi

Rabbi Jonathon Romain wrote a piece in the Guardian against faith schools. This is an unusual view for a minister of a major religion to present. So, a big cheer from this blog.

His argument refers to the danger of isolating children from others of different backgrounds, which he sees as socially divisive:

There is a real danger that the growth in faith schools today will be blamed in 30 years’ time for the social disharmony then. It is not too late to reverse that trend, if we want a society that has diversity within unity, not at the expense of it.”

The enemy of my enemy is not my friend

There are blogs for which the phrase “deeply unpleasant” might have been coined. Jihad Watch and Dhimmi Watch are among them. I’m making a pre-emptive reference to Godwin’s Law (hat tip: Black Sun Journal) and suggesting that you only have to replace the references to “Muslims” with “Jews” to be mentally transported straight back to 1930s Germany.

But beautiful irony amongst the emetic dross The title is “Wall of silence broken at state’s Muslim public school”:

……Amanda Getz of Bloomington is a substitute teacher. She worked as a substitute in two fifth-grade classrooms at TIZA on Friday, March 14. Her experience suggests that school-sponsored religious activity plays an integral role at TIZA.
Arriving on a Friday, the Muslim holy day, she says she was told that the day’s schedule included a “school assembly” in the gym after lunch.

Cleverly apostrophised. The reader is supposed to see “school assembly” as a cover for some unspeakable events.

Before the assembly, she says she was told, her duties would include taking her fifth-grade students to the bathroom, four at a time, to perform “their ritual washing.”
Afterward, Getz said, “teachers led the kids into the gym, where a man dressed in white with a white cap, who had been at the school all day,” was preparing to lead prayer. Beside him, another man “was prostrating himself in prayer on a carpet as the students entered.”

Oh. It’s prayers in a schools assembly, then. Well, I’m certainly against that. But I thought the whole point of these people was that they were all for it? Religious leaders in odd ritual clothes, silly rituals. Not unlike Christianity or Judaism then.

“The prayer I saw was not voluntary,” Getz said. “The kids were corralled by adults and required to go to the assembly where prayer occurred.”

Let me commit an breach of blogtiquette here. ROFL. LOL. LMAO 🙂 and any other net-words for pissing oneself laughing. (Get lectured about overuse of this by a middle class English youth on You-tube)

School prayer ~= a voluntary thing. Ever.

If it was a matter of choice, kids wouldn’t do it. Kids go to church or the mosque or the synagogue because their parents choose to make them. Similarly, schoolkids (in places such as England) attend prayers in assembly because they have to.

I abhor spending public money on religious schools. I hate to see school students segregated by religion. All carried out by politicians who think that winning the support of a few religious “community leaders” is worth paying for in future communal division. I pretty well abhor religion of any kind.

All the same, there is hardly a non-faith agenda at Dhimmi Watch. It’s just seizing on an issue which it would happily support if it were a conservative Christian school.

Don’t ask me what “Dhimmi Watch” means. I can only guess from the context. No, sorry. I can use wikipedia which says that dhimmi means

“a non-Muslim subject of a state governed in accordance with sharia law.”

Well, there is a huge danger of the US falling under shari’a law, Not.

This site links to Frontpage Magazine along with Jihad Watch. And from this bastion of liberal rationality (*heavy sarcasm alert*) I learn that it’s Islamo-Fascism Awareness week.

For a moment, I assumed that was am uncharacteristically clear-headed vision (given the source) that hatred of Islam was fuelling new forms of Fascism. No such luck. It is of course an attempt to fan the flames of that very monster.

It conflates every wrong ever done by any Muslim anywhere in the world into a monolithic “Islamic Jihad.” It ignores the enormous differences – even conflicts – between countries, sects, individuals. It sees all Muslims as Al-Qaeda terrorists.

These sites present a pure conspiracy-theory style world view. Please, stick to alien abductions, conspiritards. This stuff is a lot more dangerous than looking into unexpected anal probes carried out by ETs. It’s also a lot more prevalent sadly. The JihadWatch blog has Technorati authority of 1,798 and 43,277 links. (If you think of how feebly Technorati catalogues blogs recently, it’s probably got a third as many again.) That blog gets probably a few thousand hits a day.

This is the sort of crap that’s supporting the waterboarding and the Gitmos and the endless attempts to spread the war even further until the Middle East is a crater.

An R.E. lesson

I’ve found a page on teacher net where the faith schools have got together to issue a statement about how necessary they are, including a proud claim that they promote community cohesion.

This is my main objection to faith schools. I don’t really care that much – except because of an obscure moral objection to lying to kids – that they teach nonsense. If school students actually paid attention to anything they were told in school it would be a novelty. I assume most of the tosh gets ignored, when it’s not required for a test, and regurgitated verbatim, without passing through the brain, when it is.

I do object to kids getting separated out into religious camps, so they grow up to see other kids as the enemy. Kids are really good at fitting into a peer group and defining non-peers as the enemy. Generally, a lot better than they are at listening to what the teachers say.

(In fact, if anything, faith schools, particularly Catholic schools, seem really good at turning out atheists. Ask any non-believer who’s been taught by priests and nuns about their schools. You will usually feel you’ve been floored as collateral damage, as a result of the tsunami of anger that splashes out.)

What do the temporarily-unified faith schools present as arguments then? Continue reading

The Faust in faith schools

The BBC reported on some research on faith schools this week. LSE researchers supposedly found that faith schools got better results where there was competition for pupils. This isnt exactly surprising, league tables of exam results being so crucial now. Any school that needs to attract pupils has got to show it gets good results – something of a circular process.

This competition thing confirms that a lot of people aren’t sending their kids to “faith schools” because of faith.

It makes me think about the concept of selling your soul. Parents are selling their children’s souls to the highest bidder – the religion that can offer the best GCSE and A level results wins the prize. These must be the cheapest Faustian deals ever recorded. Didn’t the going rate used to be lordship of the earth or eternal life or something of that magnitude?

There were two interesting paragraphs, one encouraging and one depressing.

The research is published as the ATL teachers’ union attacks faith schools for a lack of accountability – and calls for them not to “discriminate” in their admissions process.

Conservative leader David Cameron and Shadow Chancellor George Osborne have recently said they intend to send their children to faith schools – a choice also taken by Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The first paragraph indicates some opposition to the apparent increasingly widespread supportfor religious schools, in our generally pretty godfree society. The second one shows how politicians – who can certainly afford to send their children to the most sought-after secular private schools -feel that it’s a better vote – winner to choose the religious option.

They know that people resent them buying their kids a “better” education. So they don’t want to be seen to send their kids to Eton any more. But, they are not going to risk their precious little Cressidas and Julians in the target-driven qualification factories that all parties are keen to turn state schools into. The faith school thing gets them off the hook, plus it hints at hidden depths of religious belief and morality.

That is, they are painting themselves of people of such deep faith that they won’t risk their children’s moral upbringing in non-religious state or private schools.

They must feel that this will make us trust them more.

It just makes them look even shadier and more hypocritical.

Dawkins links to anti-faith schools e-petition

Well this is two of our favourite blog topics in one, so I couldn’t let it pass.

On Richard Dawkins’ own website, there is a link to an e-petition against faith schools of any kind in the UK.

I know it will get a patronising refusal to pay any attention but I still think it’s worth adding your name to it, if you are a UK resident and you have a problem with paying tax to segregate kids by religion….

Although, it’ s probably fair to warn you. Google your name when the petition’s closed and you’ll probably find it with the topic of the petition and a few names of people who signed before or after you.

If you live in a notably faith-obsessed or evn fundamentalist community, you might find that your local priest or imam starts to take an unhealthy interest in your opinions. OK. It’s not exactly going to be on a par with the sort of comebacks that Kareem experienced in Egypt. But education can become a real battle-ground. “Give me a child before the age of seven”, and so on.

(Dawkins’ own blog seems self-evidently worth looking at, and I’ll probably come back to discussing it soon.)