The latest attack on faith schools

It seems the head of the government schools inspectorate is unhappy with the state of faith schools, and in particular, Muslim schools, in that they do not teach citizenship adequately, it seems. The speech by David Bell to the Hansard Society alleged that these schools do not do enough to teach children about a “common heritage” and their responsibility to British society. When I was at school, we weren’t taught much about British institutions at all; we had one visit to Parliament and a couple of lessons on the subject, in an English class. (I did A-level Government and Politics and a BSc in Politics and History, but these are obviously not compulsory.) I left school long before “citizenship classes” were introduced, and I think on the whole that they are a good idea if they are aimed at stopping people sliding in to apathy. If they are aimed at inculcating people with some “national culture”, they’re stupid.

Here’s an extract from the speech:

I would go further and say that an awareness of our common heritage as British citizens, equal under the law, should enable us to assert with confidence that we are intolerant of intolerance, illiberalism and attitudes and values that demean the place of certain sections of our community, be they women or people living in non-traditional relationships.

So he suggests that society not tolerate “values” which oppose homosexual relationships, which is really what he’s hinting at. In fact, it’s only in the last thirty years or so that open homosexuality has been accepted - and I’d argue that it still isn’t accepted in most of society. The whole point of a faith school is that the faith is taught, along with that faith’s concept of appropriate behaviour. There’s no book-based religion that encourages the acceptance, on a moral level, of what he calls “non-traditional relationships”. Of course, we can “tolerate” in the sense of not taking the law into our own hands, but we are still obliged not to approve of or facilitate such behaviour.

Of course, there are still some who’ll argue that there shouldn’t be faith schools at all; this is what “Lenin” has to say:

As a socialist, I don’t find it sufficient that we atheists (‘Christians in drag’ Nietzche calls us) share a land-mass with Muslims. Our children should grow up together, play together and learn together. Then it will be harder for white non-Muslims to grow up and believe in the justice of bombing Muslims. It hardly needs pointing out that the reverse applies. Separating Muslim children from other children is not the answer to the problems (of discrimination, of poor performance, and lack of opportunity) that they have. No state funding for state schools of whatever religion.

Well, the issue at stake is not just state funding for religious schools, but actually shutting these schools down, which is what was being threatened. I think there sometimes is a place for integrating religious schools, such as where they are used as a weapon in a sectarian conflict (as in Northern Ireland). But the state has to honour the wishes of its citizens not to have it undermine their attempts to bring up a child a certain way and with certain values. I’ve spoken to a lot of Muslim parents who are distressed at the sort of things their children are exposed to at mainstream schools, and the behaviour of not only other children but also teachers. (If the religious schools are creaming off the brightest children, incidentally, they are also doing their communities an enormous disservice, by leaving the less bright to sink or swim as regards religious and moral values in the mainstream non-religious schools.)

In the same entry, he alleges that “faith school” is a contradiction in terms, because educating should be about “cultivating a critical, questioning attitude, which will help people understand rather than merely adapt to the world in which they live”. And furthermore, “faith is about acceptance, an acceptance that goes beyond the evidence of our senses and the grasp of reason. One believes precisely because one cannot rationally grasp or prove. It wouldn’t be faith otherwise.”

Well, I’d disagree on this - it’s the old saw that proof negates faith. Of course, physical proof does away with the need for faith, but proof which comes in the form of a reliable authority that what is believed in is true does not negate faith. Generally speaking people send their children to a religious school because they want their children to be taught truth and not falsehood; people who send theirs to secular schools (and there are good non-religious schools, but to my knowledge, few if any avowedly secular schools, at least in this country) do so for the same reason. We don’t want our children filled with religious doctrines which we don’t share, but neither do we as Muslims want our children filled with the dogma of the secular scientific establishment - such as being taught that Darwin’s theory is, in fact, truth and not theory. It’s no surprise that a country which can believe such a ludicrous theory can also believe a theory demanding that we cry murder when a woman loses two or more babies. For many non-religious people (and perhaps even some who have a faith nowadays), the secular scientist is the priest; people are judged, locked up, even killed, and families split up based on their word.

And finally, here’s Ibrahim Hewett’s letter in today’s Guardian, which I couldn’t resist putting in:

After reading that David Bell thinks “the growth of Islamic faith schools posed a challenge to the coherence of British society”, I read the following headlines: Mental hospital ward in stabbing case ‘like Beirut’; Pressure mounts to delay 24hr drinking; Rugby league game halted amid race abuse; Feltham officers disciplined for race attack; Prison overwhelmed by gang culture; Britain’s seas in a shameful state. And Bell thinks that Muslim schools will destroy such “coherence”. Something got there before us, mate.

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