Labour promotes prejudice through faith schools

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Labour promotes prejudice through faith schools

#1  Postby Simon_Gardner » Feb 28, 2010 9:48 am

The Observer wrote:Labour’s push for faith schools just promotes prejudice

Despite government reassurances we have no idea what children are being taught in those classrooms

o Catherine Bennett
o The Observer, Sunday 28 February 2010

The pious Scottish secretary, Jim Murphy, is advertising Labour as the natural choice for monotheistic man. “Faith voters massively outweigh ’Motorway Men’ or ’Worcester Woman’, or any other trendy demographic group identified by marketeers,” he said last week in a homily which signally failed to impress many of its intended targets, including Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leader of the Catholic church in Scotland.

In fact, the rudeness of O’Brien’s response suggested he might have much more in common with Nigel “dishcloth” Farage. The cleric said Labour had made “a systematic and unrelenting attack on family values”, and suggested that, in his coming visit, the pope could “really give you hell for what you have done in our country over the past 10 years”. Of course it is for theological scholars to unravel the full spiritual implications of his rebuke. Does this holy man pray for a papal telling-off for his opponents, or for full excommunication followed by the interminable torments of the all-devouring flame?

But even at its mildest, his threat seemed unjustified. Isn’t Labour’s record, in reality, one of sustained sycophancy towards religious authorities, during a decade when the British public has become increasingly secular? How else does he account for the proliferation of new religious schools during Labour’s time in office, in defiance of a majority that resents paying for them? Only last week the cardinal’s supposedly persecuted brothers were celebrating yet another victory over secularism that is so astonishing, in the context of widespread religious apathy, as to seem almost miraculous.

Just before the children, schools and families bill enforced consistent sex education in schools, Ed Balls tabled an amendment that will allow religious academies to teach sex and relationships lessons in a way that conforms with their own, absolute precepts on right conduct. Won’t this leave children struggling with contradictory messages on questions that could affect their life chances? Oh no, the minister insisted, the schools will contrive to give pupils a “balanced view” on issues where advice from DCSF runs counter to holy writ. It could hardly be called a level playing field. Unless there are new plans to enforce diversity with threats of eternal damnation.

In the case of abortion, for instance, the children will want to reflect that even if abortion is still regarded by the pope as mortal sin, it is nonetheless smiled upon by a liberal society whose offer of the morning-after pill should also be shunned by anyone who aspires to paradise, given that humans are ensouled at the instant of fertilisation. No pressure, obviously. And there may, depending on the faith school, be some exemptions. Children attending a Seventh Day Adventist establishment will discover that abortion can be allowed in “exceptional circumstances” such as rape. Admittedly, this particular church is not noted for forecasting accuracy: its founder William Miller’s prophecy the world would end on 22 October 1844 is still known as the Great Disappointment. The unfortunate Miller recorded being harassed by urchins, with cries of: “Have you not gone up yet?” On the bright side, this postponement has allowed his successors to open a state-funded academy in Haringey, where, since 1998, teachers have maintained a judicious balance between the finest traditions of PSE and the latest thinking in eschatology.

Or so you have to assume. Who, other than their pupils and teachers, knows any more about the true character of Balls’s religious schools than that each one can be expected to privilege its own faith? Divisiveness is, after all, the point. Until devout parents decide, as they will not, that their religions are interchangeable, the very existence of a faith school belittles rivals and heathens alike. And even within a church as carefully non-discriminatory as the Church of England, there can be no knowing how individual teachers talk about people who, as a token of devotion, they regard as steeped in sin. How many Anglicans cannot conceal, like Thought for the Day’s Anne Atkins, their distaste for homosexuality? A Stonewall survey on the prevalence of homophobic bullying in faith schools suggests that the answer is: a lot.

Even if, as Mr Balls promises, our Muslim schools give equal weight to the official message on same-sex relationships as they do to the Prophet’s less indulgent remarks, it is hard to see how this delicate equilibrium can survive regular religious instruction, particularly if this features the chastening experiences of Lot. Consider that, until recently, the lessons of Sodom were alive and well inside Islington town hall. In 2008 a Christian registrar, Ms Lillian Ladele, said she could not help formalise relationships between same-sex couples. Admirably, you might think, the high court ruled against her. An Islington councillor, John Gilbert, said the judgment “provides clarity for employers across the country in requiring their employees to act in a non-discriminatory manner when discharging their public service duties”. Elsewhere, conforming with this gradual separation of religion and state, Catholic adoption officials have also been told they cannot discriminate against homosexual couples, regardless of their agencies’ “religious character”; in hospitals, nurses are instructed not to offer to pray for patients.

Unless you count the anomalies that are the House of Lords and Thought for the Day, faith schools are the last place where the state actually discriminates in favour of staff with overt religious prejudices. At least, in the first two examples, it’s possible to examine their contributions. The only thing certain about faith schools is that teachers – who can be selected for superior piety – are free to apply their affiliations to every part of academic life, whether it is in a “debate” about Darwin, or a decision whether to inoculate teenaged girls against cervical cancer.

Sex and science are not the only subjects liable to benefit from divine curricular intervention. How can citizenship lessons, in schools of a religious character, ignore the case for female subordination: did Jesus (as Anglican divines in Sevenoaks have been asking) ever make a woman an apostle?

Similarly, in geography lessons, schools wishing to bring their religious character to bear on an understanding of natural disasters may want to reference the possibility of karma, or for non-Hindus, an infallible creator’s occasional use of mass homicide to instil better conduct among survivors.

Viewed in this spirit, the government’s cultivation of bigotry and segregation, under the guise of educational diversity, may also be a catastrophe from which we can, ultimately, learn. Though Labour wants yet more faith schools and Cameron is also besotted with this handy form of covert selection, a plausible bid for a school with a Satanist character could still prompt a re-assessment of state-funded indoctrination. Unless, of course, this madness is a sign that the world is about to end. There will always be arguments on both sides.
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