By Angelos Sofocleous and Scott Jacobsen
In the United Kingdom, a faith school is one that teaches a curriculum based on a particular religious denomination or sect. This means formal associations with religion in education for the young. Whilst the United Kingdom may not be governmentally secular, the UK is a secular culture, and this can be an issue, even a major problem, and continues to be a source of contention among the young, adult, and elderly sub-populations. What are the issues?
In this piece we will try and address the main issues we think are paramount to the discussion about the legitimacy of having faith schools here in the UK. Here is the first: the public at large pay for faith schools, which they do without the consent of other citizens, even citizens who may have no formal religion. Now, why should non-religious citizens pay for religious education rather than a non-discriminatory education, especially for the young and vulnerable sub-populations? In other words, those without a formal religious background, or even at-a-distance advocacy, and with kids, are having their children sometimes indoctrinated into formal religious education as per the general curriculum associated with a particular religious denomination or sect, at times against their wishes.
Indeed, these schools can actively discriminate against parents that are humanist, atheist, agnostic, apatheist, and so on, by selecting children based on religious association. What is the justification? This can limit the number and type of schools available to the non-religious in the United Kingdom. Thus, in case parents want to send their kids to a specific school, they will not be allowed to for reasons based solely on religious grounds, which is a form of religious discrimination against the non-religious in a secular society.
In addition, there are assumptions about the beliefs of children in relation to the beliefs of their parents or guardians. That is, the children without particular ideological stances, economic, political, religious, socio-cultural, and so on, are asserted in the socio-cultural milieu to have the same stances, ideologically, as their parents. This is a logical fallacy, a few in fact such as “argument to the people” with the bandwagon approach, appeal to tradition, appeal to biased authority, and, of course, the fallacy of division.
The argument to the people with the bandwagon approach takes the form of many, even most, people are doing this with their children and, therefore, it is the right thing to do. The appeal to tradition is that “everyone’s done it”, and “it is tradition”, and, thus, we should support faith schools (because it’s tradition). Appeal to biased authority comes into effect when the parents, the religious, or religion’s membership are taken into account on the decision of the faith school, who are, well, rather biased on the matter. The core of the arguments come from a fallacy of division, which is that the children are a part of a family with one or both parents that are one particular religion (or lacking them) and that means, therefore, children (being a part of the family unit) are a part of that religion (or lack thereof).
It should not be promoted. Children should be encouraged to think for themselves and not just be put into a specific ideology, either if that is promoted by the state or if it’s the ideology their parents follow.
Now, in light of the qualms we just details, we will argue for the following necessary approach which will, we believe, stave off the dangers that faith schools invariably pose, a position that will hopefully substantiate as the article develops: (good) schools without religious association should be increased in addition to the decrease of independent faith schools. Schools should be a place for secular education apart from religious denomination or sects. Schools should not advocate for a particular religion. As the Secular Charter of the National Secular Society states: “Religion should play no role in state-funded education whether through religious affiliation of schools, curriculum settings, organised worship, religious instruction, pupil selection or employment practices.”
Children do not seem old enough to have ideological stances considered and chosen – let alone have them imposed upon them at youth. In fact, some say there should be no compulsion in religion and others tell the Parable of the Hypocrite, or all speak of the Golden Rule (positive or directive form, negative or prohibitive, or empathic or responsive forms) which seem like good principles to uphold, whether religious/irreligious, and worthy of enactment at the national level down to the individual (the young and the old). In other words, school should be a safe place for children apart from, at times and to a degree, the indoctrination from authority figures, whether educational or parental.
Now, in light of our suggestion just detailed, we want to preempt possible responses. some might argue that children behave better in faith schools as they have better morals. In this manner, faith schools might try to enforce certain moral values, consequently managing to impose the idea that religion is sufficient and necessary for morality. In fact, quite the opposite takes place. According to the Social and Moral Development index, religion around the world, instead of promoting equality, respect for human rights and toleration of non-religious individuals and institutions, as some say it preaches, it greatly suppresses them and in most cases it punishes them.
Children may be seen as unable to develop their own moral code at a young age, or it’s substantially inchoate, but that’s no legitimate reason to impose a specific moral code to them. Undoubtedly, they should be taught to respect, tolerate, develop their way of thinking, be open-minded and do not discriminate. And these can not take place in an institution that discriminates on students in its own admission process.
Now, there’s another reason why we think the approach we pose should supplant the status-quo: there is little evidence that faith schools will do any good for the whole community. They will decrease, rather than increase, children’s knowledge on religious education. Rather than taking religious education through humanist manners, where all religions are equally considered and are treated wholly through a sociological perspective, faith schools will be biased towards their religion, and even if they teach about other religion, there is great doubt that they will not do this in a proper way.
Moreover, there are fears that faith schools will not take the scientific approach in science classes, but instead, teach what they believe themselves to be true. This will happen as, unfortunately, there is little control or inspection on what faith schools can teach. As a result, each faith school will be free to teach children about creationism and abstinence before marriage, and also promote their homophobic and anti-abortion ideologies as facts rather than mere beliefs.
Faith schools definitely have no place in a secular country. Not only this will create segregation between preadolescents and teenagers but they will act like a dogma, imposing to them certain ideologies, rather than teach them to think for themselves. In addition, education will be put in the hands of people who are not much regulated or controlled by the state, and this creates an unsure future for our society. Faith schools, by their very own nature, will discriminate on children, their parents and teachers, as they will not accept children who themselves or their parents are not members of a specific religion, or will prioritise over religious children or parents. The same applies to teachers.
What makes our suggestion viable? Unlike the status quo, our position is not based on illogical premises and logical fallacies. What is more, our suggestion can, through manifesting secular society in education, restrain outmoded theological immorality against children, and the abuse of educational, parental, and religious authority. Schools should be open to all, have fair admission policies and respect and promote each student’s individuality. Trying to dogmatize education will undoubtedly bring disastrous results to our society and bring it a step away from being secular. As a result, a society where faith, not reason, and discrimination, not acceptance, will prevail.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. Jacobsen works for science and human rights, especially women’s and children’s rights. He considers the modern scientific and technological world the foundation for the provision of the basics of human life throughout the world and advancement of human rights as the universal movement among peoples everywhere.