Paul Burgin has re-published a few thoughts of his on the subject of faith schools, which originally appeared on Labour Home and which merit a response…
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.
Sorry, Paul, but I have to disagree with you here.
While it may well be entirely natural for parents who profess a particular faith to wish to bring up their children in that faith, that on its own is not a justification for single faith schools and certainly not for providing faith schools with state funding or for any of the trappings of privilege that the present education system affords organised religion, and Christianity in particular, i.e. the statutory requirement that state schools hold ‘broadly Christian’ assemblies and which make religious education a mandatory part of the curriculum, both of which apply to all state schools, faith-based or otherwise.
In part this is a question of context.
It is undoubtedly right that all children should be educated about religion in its broader social context, i.e. children should aware of religion and religious beliefs as a aide to understanding the attitudes and values of people they see around them in their local community and in the world in general, much as they should be aware of history, politics, philosophy and all manner of socially-derived topics that one could reasonable pull together under the broad heading of ‘social education’ – and if one is motivated to extend the concept a little further one could consider this to be a basic education in citizenship.
Faith schools and religious assemblies are a rather different matter as their underlying purpose is not simply to education but also to indoctrinate; although as the steady decline in church attendance tends to demonstrate such schools are hardly making a success of this particular function.
This is not about secular bigotry by any means.
People are entitled to their beliefs and parents are, likewise, entitled to at least attempt to bring up their children in line with the personal beliefs and values, howsoever those may be founded, and to seek to transfer those beliefs to their children. But the right context for that to take place is not, in my view, a state-funded school; it a matter both for the family within the family home and, if the parent chooses, for the particular religion and place of worship that the parent(s) in question favour.
In short, if as a parent you wish your children to indoctrinated into a particular faith then that is a matter between you, your children and whoever or whatever the official representative of that faith in your local area might be – the provision of religious instruction, as opposed to a social education that includes an understanding of the nature of religion, is matter for Churches, Mosques, Gurdwaras, etc and it is there than such instruction is best provided.
In principle, I have no particular objection to the provision of some measure of general state support for faith-based after-school clubs in line with local demand for such activities – it would be wrong to remove the option of religious instruction from parents in its entirety and therefore unreasonably limit their choices in such matters – but otherwise I favour a secular state education system that provides a secular education to everyone within that system and which eschews entire any measure of segregation on religious grounds or seeks to favour any one set of religious belief or doctrines over any other.
What I would propose instead is a reasonable amount of state support (i.e. funding) for the provision of religious instruction outside of giving parents the opportunity to make an active choice as to whether they wish their children to receive instruction is specific religious faith/doctrine coupled with the removal of the requirement that schools hold religious assemblies and the removal of religious education from the curriculum as a mandatory subject, to be replace by a new ‘subject’ that delivers a broad package of social education – call it citizenship education if you like as that is pretty much what I have in mind – although religious education would remain a GCSE subject for those who choose to take it, of course.
As for why I take this view, there are many reasons but perhaps the best is that firmly believe, like Thomas Jefferson, both that religion and religious belief is personal matter in which the state has no business intervening other than for the preservation of the common good and that the most effective guarantor of religious freedom (and political and intellectual freedom) is a democratic secular state in which a strict spearation of church and state is enforced.