Sunday, 23 September 2007

Losing my religion

Two comment articles from recent days focus on faith schools. First on Thursday Zoe Williams argued against the state funding of faith schools:

We all [...] have the odd qualm here and there about Islamic schools, and whether they invest proper rigour in the propagation of gender equality, but Christians, we think ... now they're different. They provide a sound education, they don't discriminate on the basis of class, they're not exclusive, they've been doing this for years. They can have as much taxpayer money as they want.

It's balderdash. For a start, they are cherrypicking middle-class children (the Institute of Education at London University just produced this finding, after the most extensive research yet undertaken) and, much more important, in many cases they are prosecuting an agenda that is repugnant. Are we really happy to sit back and pay for this?

Her point is reasonable. If the state gives any organisation money, it is implicitly affirming its values and efficacy. Do faith schools really do what we want? In particular, is it good for children to be exposed to the diet of difference that is faith? Believers think they are somehow privileged, after all (ignoring for a moment a few Buddhists and perhaps the Quakers). In its currently fragmented state, do we really need yet another thing dividing people and encouraging prejudice being taught in schools?

Moreover, all faiths are not equal: atheists and agnostics are not allowed to play at the same table, as this story indicates:

A headteacher who tried to reduce the influence of religion inside the classroom by creating the country's first secular state school had his plans blocked by senior government officials who called it a 'political impossibility'.

Personally I would be perfectly happy to let my taxes go towards faith schools if there was good evidence they lead to better outcomes for children and society. But as they seem to be just another piece of Mr. Tony dogma unsupported by the facts, I tend to view them with some suspicion.

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