I was discussing the idea of faith schools with some friends recently. I spent a year in one, and that was more than enough – a view some of them shared with me and others refuted. So then I started thinking about them properly and the sort of place they have in our modern and multicultural world. Is it really that easy to seperate people by religion anymore? What about families of multiple faith? And no faith? The days when religion went hand in hand with state action is slowly fading, and its relevance to society is fading faster. Without this turning into an attack on religion, let me move on.
Faith schools then, are those which not only teach religion as a subject – such as Religious Education – but those whose curriculum is religious. Science classes are carefully moderated, so that evolution is not taught as a scientific fact, or not even a generally accepted principle. It is rather an ‘alternative’ view of the world. I’ll talk about the preposterous nature of such an assertion later.
Let’s instead examine the model of a school. We attend school to be educated, to get a fair education so that we can enter the ‘real’ world as well rounded individuals with skills that will serve us well. Key to a full education is making sure students get balanced opinions that reflect those of the wider world. So if we look at a faith school, one that shuns a scientific fact as an ‘alternative’, how does that equip children for the real world? Unless we’re looking at a job in the clergy or in theology, religion isn’t a part of everyday life – we are generally either agnostic or atheists in society. And several workplaces ban the preaching or practice of religion for fear that it may turn into a mission.
Regardless of religious background or race, we all have a right to a fair and balanced education, one where we are free to question the world around us so that we learn. In my religious school, I was sent out of the class when I asked why my teacher believed the Bible to be completely factual. Before I attended that school, I was taught that evolution was a scientific fact, but there were those who believed the world was created by a god or a series of gods. I was born into Hinduism and have always been an atheist – but always aware of the religious beliefs around me. In this school though, the very thought that Scripture could have any holes in it was scandalous enough for an 11 year old to be sent out and given a lecture on respect. I’m not disrespectful, I just happen to disagree with you, I said. I’m sorry if you got offended but I was just asking a question. You could say that this was the action of one teacher, in one school. But when I talked to my friends about their various experiences, I found that this reaction was one of the mildest. My friends had been suspended for suggesting that parting waters would be scientifically impossible, as would a storm of locusts.
So, discrimination. Faith schools completely abandon the notion of scientific fact by outright rejecting evolution. A lot of these schools are also funded by churches and religious organisations – I am firmly against such things. No educational institution should receive funding from the government, or any religious organisation. If they do, they lose their claim to giving children a well-rounded education. When the church determines what it is I can and can’t learn in school or university, isn’t that a bit scary? We need to challenge minds, encourage curiosity. Not punish it.
This isn’t some kind of rant against religion on the whole. I may be an atheist but I have so much respect for those with religion (I refuse to use the phrases ‘of faith’ or ‘who believe’, because who’s to say atheists don’t have faith in anything or believe in anything?) I just never want to see it enter the classroom again. Children are supposed to be raised in a background that fosters growth and gives them as many sides to a picture as possible, otherwise it’s just indoctrination. And if you are indoctrinating children in a faith school, don’t disguise it by claiming they’re getting a perfect and thorough education. They’re being brainwashed and punished for being naturally curious – admit to that, at least. That’s my main problem with faith schools – it’s nothing personal against religion or the religious.