Monday, February 08, 2016

God Schools?

I often hear Christians harping on about education in this country, their spiel goes something along the lines that CofE schools are "good" because everyone wants to get their kid into the "church school" and exam results prove their superiority. Honestly, I think they say these things hoping that this assertion somehow legitimises their otherwise highly dubious superstitious beliefs, of course anyone with an ounce of intelligence will know that no amount of good deeds, charity or educational intervention proves anything one way or the other about the truth claims of any religion any more than crossing paths with a black cat brings you good luck; it's too trivial to think of opposing examples that show the real world simply doesn't work like that.

So, are the schools good because the religion is good? And does having a religious "ethos" (a trendy word for gentle indoctrination) in a school improve a child's chances of getting a decent education? The old correlation-causation argument springs into my mind at this juncture but never mind, that isn't the point I'm making and anyway, many studies over the years have shown this to be more like wish thinking than fact. I'm more interested in what the underlying motives for a religious person to run a school are, and whether there is any evidence that church schools can be, in some aspects, bad for our society.

In general (state) church schools in England are (relatively) good, I concede that point, and many people lie about their religiosity in order to get their kids into certain schools. I know several people personally who have done this; people who aren't religious in the slightest (quite the opposite) suddenly start attending church on Sundays in order to weasel their way into the best (local) state schools. Of course, when you think about it, this simple fact is the real reason why church schools tend (statistically) to do better. Anyone who gives a monkeys about education wants to get their kid into the best school so the best schools end up selecting on the basis of wealth, mobility and parental drive; ironically it's a perfect example of natural selection in action. The best schools end up becoming surrounded by middle class enclaves and because places are a finite resource this tends to exclude people outside of this socio-economic niche. In reality then, good Church schools tend to select against the poorest and least enabled pupils AS WELL AS on the basis of the beliefs (or faux beliefs) of the parents (even though they swear blind they don't), an educational landscape that's hardly something to shout about in my view.

One obvious way in which faith negatively impacts education is in the area of science education. Even though things like evolution are part of the official Biology syllabus in all schools (or should be) it's obvious to even a casual observer that this subject remains on the naughty step as far as schools of a "faith" variety go. It seems a fundamental hard-wiring of most religious people that they are not happy until YOU believe it too, a more obviously insecure state of mind it's hard to imagine. We only need look at the Twitter interaction in the image at the top of this post to see this mind-set in action. Head teacher Christiana Wilkinson of St Andrew’s Church of England school in Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire, made this ludicrous Bible comment in response to London Head, Tom Sherrington, he was urging teachers to stick to science when teaching, er, science. Her ignorance is out there for all to see and she was quite rightly ridiculed for it, but the point remains, Tom Sherrington knows there's a problem and Ms Wilkinson promptly obliged and confirmed to us all that there is.

Of course a Twitter account may well be created to express personal opinions and Ms Wilkinson has every right to hold a deluded opinion, but it seems to me that it must be highly likely that the motivation for people like her to run schools is in order to perpetuate these ideas, ideas she so publicly clings to despite hundreds of years of evidence to the contrary. Someone so eager to make a fool of themselves without a scintilla of research on her part is clearly highly invested in some flavour of anti-science dogma. I know for a fact that particular teachers at my own kids' school proselytise the Christian religion telling them things like Noah's ark is a true story, Hell is real and Atheists have no morals, the usual bull. Some kids buy it and some don't but fortunately these days we have the internet, and it's trivial for them to fact-check. Pushy Christians can't get away with the usual baseless assertions, one teacher told my Son that there was "more historical evidence for Jesus than for Julius Caesar", a quick Google shows this to be fatuous cobblers, which of course it is and even a youngster can now check that for themselves. It seems that science isn't the only casualty of Christian dogma, history gets the occasional kicking too. Fortunately the levels of (unforced) religiosity amongst youngsters in this country is falling, perhaps easy access to information is helping in that process and when teachers are intellectually dishonest and/or wilfully ignorant it can be more easily exposed and challenged. Ms Wilkinson has certainly learnt this lesson, since tweeting her silly point of view she has removed her posts and deleted her account, like the song says, I guess "all the knowledge in the world is of no use to fools".

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