Friday, July 22, 2005

The opium of the people

It has taken the media hysteria over Madrasas to focus attention on 'faith schools'. Personally, I don't think it is the role of schools to involve themselves in matters of religion. I think they should teach children about the different faiths in the world, in the same way they should give them an understanding of the world's geography or differing political systems. But to preach religion, or have schools designated for people of differing religions seems to me to be divisive, and not the role of school. I still have a feeling of fear and dread when I think back to my own religious knowledge classes. We were taught by a fierce Wesh Methodist brute, who, if there was such a thing, would have long since burnt in hell. He would make us learn whole passages of the Old Testament by rote, maybe three or four pages at a time, and then if you were chosen you were expected to stand up and recite the stuff from memory until he told you to stop and the next person had to pick up from where you left off. Meanwhile, he stood behind you with a clenched fist, waiting for you to falter... and if you stopped, he punched you in the back of the head. Though shalt not... my arse! For many parents, sending kids to 'faith schools' is just a method of selection. They are allowed to select pupils on the basis of religion. This is not necessarily confined to children of their religion, so a bright young protestant can get into a 'Catholic' school. The school's results are subsequently better because of this process of selection, and the desire to send their children there becomes self-perpetuating. In addition, there are a limited number of Catholics from the Indian Sub-Continent or white Muslims, so segregation can be reinforced. I don't often agree with Polly Toynbee, but on this I most certainly do.