Tag Archives: Humanism

TILTING AT WINDMILLS

Damian Hinds was appointed as the Secretary of State for Education last week. The smouldering debate over faith schools also flared into flames again last week. The connection? Damian Hinds is a Catholic.

It took Humanists UK, outraged at the appointment of a person of faith to public office, less than 24 hours to get an article in the media claiming that the Catholic church, by supporting an intern, was guilty of ‘pernicious and deeply inappropriate political lobbying’ and that Damian Hinds was guilty of a conflict of interest.

It was a ludicrous claim, easily dismissed and widely ridiculed on social media. A range of organisations pay for interns to gain invaluable experience of political work: it is quite proper for the Catholic church to support a Catholic graduate to work alongside a Catholic MP. Damian Hinds followed protocol and declared the payment in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. So what is Humanists UK’s problem? Simply that Hinds is a Catholic. They can’t say so, of course, because that would breach the Equality Act.

The urgent concern of Humanists UK is that Damian Hinds might remove the 50% cap on faith school admissions, which currently prevents the Catholic church from opening any free schools. The cap removal was promised in the Conservative manifesto at the last election, but the pledge was broken soon after the Conservative government was re-elected and that was pretty much how opponents of faith education liked it. A consideration of the facts might help them to understand why lifting the cap could be a good thing.

The Catholic church would open between 30 and 40 new free schools if the cap was removed, creating between 15,000 and 20,000 new places. The growth of Catholic populations in some areas of the country, as a result of immigration, is considerable. A free school can only be opened where there is proven need and the pressure on places clearly demonstrates an urgent need. For the government this is much less about Catholic education than about not having to foot the bill for building new schools or finding 20,000 additional places in already overcrowded schools.

It’s a win-win situation for everyone, except those implacably opposed to faith education who are never going to send their children to these schools anyway. But because they don’t want them, they insist that nobody else should want them either. The arguments, of course, have to be political, because the Equality Act prevents them from opposition purely on the grounds of faith. So this is how their arguments run.

Faith schools create silos of segregation. The case of Northern Ireland is sometimes quoted in this argument. Except, of course, English society is not divided along sectarian lines and all schools are reflections of the communities they serve. Anyone accusing a village school serving farming communities, or a school teaching children from military families, of social segregation would be laughed at. Yet somehow it’s fine to level the accusation when it comes to faith.

Church schools proselytise and indoctrinate the next generation of society. Well, if that were true, churches would be full to overflowing every Sunday. Empty pews and falling attendance numbers in many churches show that young people are making up their own minds about faith and voting with their feet.

Faith schools unfairly take tax payers’ money. Parents of faith pay tax, too. In addition, their churches provide financial input to their schools which the government could simply not sustain from public funds.

Church schools bias their admissions in favour of middle class parents with sharp elbows. Read the Catholic Education Service’s recent census, which shows beyond dispute that Catholic schools serve some of the most disadvantaged children in society. Examine the figures for Church of England schools that faithfully serve the communities in which they are located regardless of social status. Of course there are parents who subvert admissions procedures in order to get their children into the school of their choice. But how is that any different from parents who move house in order to do exactly the same?

All these weary arguments will, no doubt, be given another media airing over the next few weeks. As a Christian, I find it encouraging that we have a religiously literate Secretary of State, in an age when rampant religious illiteracy roams the corridors of power at will. Instead of an Education Secretary who tells the church that it needs to get in line with modern attitudes on LGBT ideology, we hopefully have one who understands that churches’ teaching on marriage and identity is derived from the Bible, not public opinion.

The problem for opponents of Damian Hinds’ appointment is, of course, that they object to the presence of faith in the public square in any shape or form. An Education Secretary with faith raises the very real possibility that secular, liberal apologists will have to make space for the voice of faith to speak, too. Having worked so hard for so long to silence it, that must be a daunting prospect.

But here’s the most important point that the faith opposition lobby has to understand – they live in a democracy. The Department of Education loves faith schools. They said so this week in a statement: ‘We want to go further to ensure all young people have access to a good school place and we are keen for faith groups to play a key role in this. Many faith schools are high-performing and are more likely to be rated Good or Outstanding by Ofsted than non-faith schools.’ A third of all children in this country are educated in church schools, and many more who apply are unable to get a place.

So the government loves church schools and needs church money. Hundreds of thousands of parents (even those of no faith) love church schools because of the quality of holistic education that they offer.

It looks like opponents are tilting at windmills.

RAISING CHILDREN IN A DANGEROUS WORLD

Calls for compulsory PSHE and SRE are nothing new and the government is lobbied regularly about the issue from a range of sources. This week, the BHA’s Andrew Copson added yet another call, arguing that we are raising children in a dangerous world where compulsory SRE is necessary for their protection.

Reading the reasons that campaigners give is like reading a list of reasons to book in for self-defence classes: violence against women, abortion, porn, sexting, online grooming, abuse, forced marriage, FGM, sexual harassment and homophobic, biphobic and transphobic (HBT) bullying. There are a whole range of issues there, none of which relates to sex as an expression of love within a stable relationship, which is the basis of family life and therefore of societal strength.

Whenever calls are made for compulsory SRE, the responsibility of one vital group of people is deliberately omitted – that of parents. The Bible is quite clear that parents are their children’s primary educators: Psalm 127:3 tells us that ‘Children are a heritage from the Lord’ a gift in His image, given to us by God to be nurtured, loved and raised to know God. Deuteronomy 6:6 tells us how we should teach our children: ‘These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up’. While parents often choose to entrust parts of this task to others, the responsibility ultimately rests with them to make a good choice and to help their children navigate a path through the many voices that clamour for their attention, particularly when it comes to matters of morality and relationships.

An increasingly secular state is eroding both this responsibility and right, and the push for compulsory SRE is part of this. One of the arguments is that this is necessary because some parents are abdicating their responsibility, leaving their children vulnerable. But that is not a justification for imposing a centralised curriculum on all children, particularly those whose parents want to protect their innocence until such time as they consider it right to talk about the many forms that abuse take.

Another powerful argument says that our children are in danger and that we need to teach them to protect themselves. But that, again, comes full circle to parental responsibility. Adults have created this dangerous world where children are exposed to explicit sexual information from an early age. The answer is easy – protect our children by creating a safe society, not by preparing them to live in a dangerous one. Except that to do that, adults have to accept limitations on their liberty and freedom to live as they wish.

But there’s another strand to the article, which actually has nothing to do with SRE, and that is the profiling of HBT bullying. The fact that this is now considered a necessary part of SRE is proof of how embedded the LGBT activist agenda has become. Copson argues that the role of Osfed in inspecting SRE is not viable because a BHA analysis of 2000 inspection reports showed that this form of bullying is only mentioned in 14% of the reports, although it is reported by 86% of secondary teachers.

The problem here is the lack of proper scrutiny of the data. That percentage of teachers may well have heard words like ‘gay’ being used inappropriately and, as with all name calling, should have dealt with it appropriately. But name calling does not constitute bullying. Nor does the mere perception of it. Bullying is planned, prolonged and persistent. When analysed using that definition, the figures look rather different. One study shows that in Year 9, when bullying is at its worst, only 6.2% of students who reported being bullied gave HBT bullying as the cause. The other 93.8% of those bullied gave a range of reasons, mostly relating to appearance, clothing or disability. You’re far more likely to be bullied for having red hair, than for being gay. So why should one group within a diverse society claim the bullying problem for its own?

The other argument is more subtle, but none the less corrosive, and that is the equalities agenda. The Equalities Act 2010 marks a significant departure in English law, because for the first time it establishes the protection of characteristics. English law is founded on person and property, dating from a time when there was a common understanding of personhood as being created in the unique likeness of God. The protection of characteristics offers an open door to identity politics and creates a hierarchy: that is not how God designed us to live.

So how can a Christian educator respond? The answer is to create genuine diversity in your classroom, not based on characteristics, but on personhood. Each student is uniquely made in the image of God, and deserving of respect not because of how they identify, or how they look, but because God loves them. In creating a context where each and every student is equally respected, accepted and valued just because, you are living out the principle of welcoming all in the name of God.

THE PLACE OF FAITH IN NEUTRAL SPACES

Is there such a thing as a neutral space? And if there is, does creating one lead to greater social cohesion? These questions raised their heads yet again this week, as opponents to religion in general and faith schools in particular continued with their rhetoric of hate.

The question is relevant, because society is increasingly buying into the concept of neutral public space as being fair and reasonable. Some Christians, too, find the argument seductive, or at least so powerful in its presentation that they feel obliged to remain silent about their faith. So, is it possible to have a neutral worldview? The answer, of course, is no, because we all believe some things, and in doing so we necessarily reject other things. I believe in a living God. It necessarily follows that I reject atheist and agnostic worldviews. That doesn’t mean that I reject the people who hold those views. I merely cannot believe in diametrically opposed belief systems. It’s perfectly possible to reject a view, without disrespecting the person who owns it.

This becomes something of a Catch 22 discussion. If you think, as many antagonists to my faith appear to, that I disrespect people who hold views that differ from my own, then you are yourselves disrespecting me in rejecting my beliefs. Humanists and secularists might argue that theirs is the only reasonable worldview, but humanism and secularism are belief systems just like any other. Why should their moral values and codes for life dictate public conversations for everyone? The point of a pluralist society is exactly that – plurality.

If nothing else, the fact that a staggering 84% of the world’s population admits to some kind of religious or spiritual belief is proof that humanity is keen to search for meaning outside of itself. What motivates us to believe in something bigger than ourselves? On the weight of numbers alone, religion and spirituality are entitled to a significant place in the public arena. To go further, it suggests a moral imperative for its inclusion in our education provision. If it’s that important to so many people, then children and young people should be allowed to make up their own minds about what they believe. Removing religion from public spaces denies them the opportunity to do so. That is more far more akin to indoctrination into a worldview than encouraging them to explore what other people believe as part of their own path of discovery about who they are, why they’re here and how they want to live as individuals in relationship with their fellow human beings.

After his conversion, the apostle Paul lived only to talk about God. But even though he took every opportunity to debate, discuss and persuade, he also wrote: ‘If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone’ (Romans 12:18). It’s a good platform from which to talk and from which to disagree well. So, instead of neutral public spaces dominated by identity politics, let’s develop free, open public spaces where we can each debate and discuss without fear of the sneering ridicule that dominates so much current rhetoric.