Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A Modern Vision

All the pundits seem to be predicting that Blair is going to need Tory support to get his education reform bill through. It looks like there are around 40 Labour MPs, maybe more, ready to vote against. That'd be extremely embarrassing under normal circumstances. Blair, however, seems to have thicker skin than a school dinner custard. Even a tiny moment of introspection on the implications of the fact that he's had to rely on his political opponents to secure his proposals would be too much to expect from this prime minister. He seems to be impervious to self-reflection of any kind.

It's actually a theme which runs through this whole government. Ruth Kelly takes it to the extreme.
Education Secretary Ruth Kelly has written to Mr Willetts asking why the Tories are only imposing a two-line, not a three-line, whip telling MPs how to vote.

She says it shows the party cannot persuade all of its MPs to unite in favour of the bill.
It's absolutely astonishing. Am I the only one who's starting to think there might actually be some sort of serious psychological dysfunction at work here? Pehaps we shouldn't be criticising. Perhaps we should be more concerned with finding an effective treatment for this worrisome condition.

Anyway, mental illness aside, what about these proposals then? As mentioned before, they don't apply in Scotland so this is not directly relevant up here in the north. I'm not convinced that competition between schools is the way to improve standards and I'd be worried about it leading to the creation of the "two tier" system. I've not really looked at the thing in enough detail to be sure about how it'll work in practice though.

One area which should be of concern is that this will enable the expansion of state funded faith schools. More years ago than I'm happy to admit to, I had a badge which said "Skate for the Baby Jesus!". It had a picture of a vicar smoking a pipe. Skateboard culture had been influenced by punk attitudes and was most definitely "alternative" in its approach. The badge was two fingers to the establishment.

Approximately ten years later, my youth and my skateboarding a distant memory, they built the first decent skatepark in Aberdeen. And by "they", I don't mean the council who had frustrated all our efforts in that direction in the past. No, it wasn't the council. The park was built by evangelical fundamentalist Christian missionaries from America. It was very popular. Disturbances in the town centre fell markedly.

The Christians put up a large tent next to the skatepark where they held services in an attempt to convert the ungodly young people of Aberdeen to the love of their Lord. Their motto was not "Skate for the Baby Jesus" but it could so easily have been.

Now, it seems, the state is going allow groups like these to take over lots of schools. It has already begun. These new proposals will allow more of the same. State schools, still largely state funded, with attendance legally required by the state, will teach young children that God created the world in six days, or whatever else their foundation happens to believe in. In this modern vision, the state will be an equal opportunity promoter of religion. Rather than promoting just one religion, which would be wrong but at least consistent, the government is going to promote them all. We'll have state funded Christian schools, Muslim schools, Hindu schools, Jewish schools. There are quite a few wealthy people who seem quite keen on Kabbalah. What about the Madonna Foundation? Proudly teaching Kabbalah and the use of sex in marketing to the young people of England and Wales.

Far fetched? Dispatches showed that teenagers in one of the Reg Vardy sponsored state school were being taught that the Earth was 6,000 years old. They were taught evolution basically in terms of "this is what you need to know to pass your exams but we, the teachers, do not believe that it is true". The headmaster, on camera, refused to accept that Genesis, or indeed any part of the bible, might be allegorical.

More of this?

I'm worried about the kind of society such a school system will create. It seems to me to be a recipe for intolerance, discord, and narrow mindedness. Education should be about teaching children the value of critical thinking, not about indoctrinating them with a particular religious ideology. It should be about bringing children together, not segregating them based on the religious beliefs of their parents. Surely history has by now taught us the dangers of such sectarian divisions.

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