A couple of weeks ago I attended a meeting at a South Tyneside primary school and saw something I found to be disturbing. This school is what's commonly known as a 'faith school'. I've never visited a faith school before.
These types of school have never bothered me much, except perhaps for their discriminatory practices where children from families with the same religious orthodoxy as the school would get enrolment priority before children from another religion or from a non-religious background. Often these schools are defended not on the basis of religion, but that of education - statistically, those who attend faith schools tend to do better in exams than their contemporaries in mainstream (not overtly religious) schools.
It could be that a culture of religious belief is responsible for the grades, or that children attending these schools tend to come from homes which value and instill aspiration, hard work, discipline and reward. Or a bit of both.
At the meeting my mind wandered during a particularly dull discussion and my eyes scanned the walls of the school hall for a bit of light diversion. I found a section on wall which could be summarised as "Postcards to God". The wall contained a number of small cards with a short bit of text on them. Here's some examples:
"I belong to God's family, I feel special."
"I belong to God's family, I feel loved."
"I belong to God's family, I feel happy."
And so on. Each card also held the name of child, and by the handwriting I would guess the age of the authors to be around 8 to 10 years old.
This is when it struck me how divisive faith schools are.
As an aside, I must admit, I don't even like the term 'faith school'. The two words somehow seem incompatible with each other. Faith is something you believe without reason or evidence. It's the ideology of ignorance. Where children are 'taught' creationism as an alternative science to evolution, as in places like the Christian fundamentalist Vardy schools. This is loony indoctrination, not education.
The subtext of the Postcards to God is one of group superiority. "I belong to God's family, I am special" logic has a flip side which implies that those who don't belong to God's family are not special, not loved and somehow less worthy.
The world of religion is full of terms for those who don't follow your particular cult - gentile, unbeliever, infidel, heathen, heretic - all pointing to those outside your religious 'family' with an alien otherness. It's fortified with lessons that those who don't believe in your god and follow the rules are going to spend the afterlife in an eternity of torment, whilst believers and martyrs will be rewarded with an eternity of infinite bliss in paradise.
Sounds pleasant, but from such ideologies killers are created, comforted and confident that their god approves of and rewards their atrocities.
We could point fingers and select religions for particular criticism. Suicide bombings by Muslim extremists are a recent manifestation of killing in the name of religion. But Muslims who have lost their marbles don't have all the fun to themselves. Scratch the surface of an atrocity and chances are religion is somewhere underneath.
The cash to run faith schools comes from tax payers, who are funding the ignorance and indoctrination of next generation of religious bigots. Schools should be where we teach our children how to think - not what to think.
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