Friday, April 29, 2011

Faith Schools

I know I shouldn’t do it. I know it’s bad for me, and I’ll end up with an aching head, pain behind the eyes, a heaving stomach and the desperate conviction that the sooner the world ends, the better. And yet, I can’t help myself. Yes, dear readers, your humble blogging hedgehog has been reading the Guardian again. On education. Yes, yes, I thank you for your concern and your forthright criticism of my weakness of character. I can only say that I know you are right, and have made a propositio emendati,** but it is hard, very hard.

I am preparing, have been for some time, a series of articles which will start off as blog posts and might even end up as material for a book about education. That's the idea, at least. In practice, whenever I start to write, I end up with a lot of thoughts and ideas and information that refuse to stick to the point. The result is paragraph after paragraph of disconnected ramblings that need a lot of editing and organisation just so they can make some kind of sense even here.

So to publish anything at all I have to keep it very short and to the point (much as I am completely failing to do). Here goes.

The article linked to isn't worth reading; it's just Polly Toynbee telling her readers what they want to hear, and defending her own little patch of turf as president of the humanist society, and many of the comments are ignorant and prejudiced, but some are interesting and intelligent.

Aside from the purpose of education, which is mostly a separate matter, I don't object to the existence of state schools of different philosophies or religions. There is an awful lot of education, huge sums of money, millions of people involved, many of whom are the ones paying the money, and there is no obvious reason why the government should determine that everyone must be educated in exactly the same rigidly controlled atmosphere of official morality and thought. There is plenty of room for differences of opinion, outlook and belief between different groups of parents, even within the state system.

When children are grouped together and instructed/guided by people with authority for many hours a day for many years they are going to pick up a lot of the moral and personal habits and ideals of those people. This is inevitable, and so all schools need a clearly defined ethos so that parents can have some idea of where they are sending their children.* In that sense, all schools are faith schools.

There is a place for just about everybody who actually wants their children to learn something. The real problem is not the values the school provides as a model (though I don't think I'd want my children anywhere near progressive humanism, but that's just me), but how well it transmits those values, how well it prepares the young for future life. This means competent, motivated teachers working with children who actually want to be there. Those who don't should be sent somewhere else, or just home.

*One of the commenters says explicitly, and many others imply, that schools should be a lottery, with no provision for brighter children, parents with different ideas about education, and no chance to escape, even if you pay. "Every child gets sent to its local comprehensive, end of story, " said one charming individual. he didn't actually add "...and screw 'em,"but that was clearly what he meant.

**If anyone can correct my Latin, feel free. I can't remember or find the exact expression

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