Monday, January 12, 2009

Yesterday's schools

Funny old world, isn't it? There we were, only last week, talking about New Zealand being a secular country and so there being not that many pricks for Atheists to kick against. And then it turns out that the Human Rights Commission is writing guidelines for schools, guiding them on matters to do with religious education and ceremonies, and in so doing " paving the way for pupils to get out of any religious activity."

Correct me if I am wrong, but that does not seem much of a secular country to me, where the human rights of non-religious students have to be given special consideration and where, it seems, there is a presumption that schools contain religious content. And this is not the private schools we are talking about here: although we subsidise half their teachers' salaries, they will be able to continue doing what they like. The children of the rich do not have human rights in this respect. No, what we are talking about here are the public and integrated schools.

You might be wondering why, in a country where about ten percent of the population attend religious services regularly and over forty percent declare themselves to have no religion, there is so much religion going on in schools. In the case of the integrated schools the answer is easy: the state simply allows various religious groups to run their own schools at public expense and without much let or hindrance: they can teach their weird views about sexuality and science; in fact, they must do so, in order to maintain their "special character" and thus their state funding. If they decided to abandon their religiosity, they would have to give up their places at the public trough.

You might wonder why this sort of thing is promoted. The short answer is that, in the early 1970s, the Catholic schools were falling down and so the Papists stitched up a funding deal with Mr Kirk, one that came as quite a surprise to the Labour Party. Having given the left-footers lots of public money, the Ministry of Education felt duty-bound to give the same terms to other religious groups. Thus we are now funding the fundies, as well as some rather posh Anglican and Presbyterian schools.

And then there are the public schools which choose to promote religion. There are primary schools which adopt the State-administered Bible in Schools programme and there are secondary schools which aspire to be posh schools and so have dour assemblies with hymns and prayers. And then there are all the celebrations of diversity, where everybody gets to pretend to be Hindu for a day. And all this in what is supposed to be a secular country.

Call me curmudgeonly if you like, but shouldn't we doing something about this? Should not all children go to school for education and nothing else? Why cannot the students leave at home whatever religious beliefs their parents hold, while their schools do no more than teach them, not presuming to inculcate religious beliefs into their charges? Would not everything be so much simpler and so much more just if we had secular schools?

Just a thought.

Pentangle:

6 comments:

Gordon said...

No surprise really - schools are all about social engineering, not education.

StephenR said...

Teaching kids to share is social engineering, but no one complains about that...

Idiot/Savant said...

StephenR: except Libertarians.

As for the substantive point, the problem is that while there is a longstanding legislative framework for state primary schools (education must be "entirely of a secular character", the school has to legally close for religious lessons, and students can opt out - a framework which protects secular education while providing for the freedom of and from religion of students), for historical reasons there are no controls on secondary schools. Hence the need for guidelines.

Paul said...

The legal closure of primary schools for periods of religious instruction is a legal fiction. It was introduced, at the behest of religious Enthusiasts, in order to circumvent the Education Act.

Far from protecting secular education, the Bible in Schools programme is based on a presumption that children need instruction in the Christian faith, which must be provided in Primary Schools. It should go, as should all forms of religious indoctrination in public schools. The guidelines should not be necessary: non-religious and non-Christian students should not be regarded as outsiders in the first place.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if John Key can still afford to throw more money at the privates too?

This is all BAD BAD news - although I have heard that attempts to indoctrinate the teens in religion in Catholic schools is breeding a generation of agnostics. Wonder why?

StephenR said...

Wonder why?

Sounds like a rhetorical question, but I genuinely have no idea. 'Indoctrination' has worked all over the world for centuries, why would this approach now produce agnostics?