A storm has brewed up over the practice, by British faith schools, of hiring only those teachers who practice that faith. But once again, a deeper issue goes largely unchallenged.
Teacher unions have complained that the hiring policies at these schools is discriminatory. The schools and their supporters have responded that it is natural to want to have teachers who share the pupils’ faith. On TV this morning, I saw one religious journalist (didn’t catch her name) saying: “If you’re going to have faith schools, then they should teach the ethos of the faith and who best to do that than teachers who share that faith?” (the quote is from memory but is faithful to the meaning).
The argument over hiring practices is to do with the last part of that statement. The real issue lies in the first part.
Of the 21,000 schools in the UK, nearly a third – 6,850 – are faith schools. They are all government funded – that is, their money comes from our taxes. All but a small minority of these are Christian, either Roman Catholic or Church of England. Around 40 are Jewish and there are just a few for Sikhs, Muslims and Greek Orthodox.
Why do faith schools exist? It must be for the benefit of the parents, not the children.
A child’s mind is unformed, unfinished. The function of a school is to assist a child along the path of becoming a fully formed individual, and to do this through education, opening their minds to new ideas. As Richard Dawkins so memorably described in ‘The God Delusion’, a child is not a Christian or a Muslim or a Sikh. Those are complex belief systems with profound implications for one’s moral and philosophical outlook and adopting them requires – or, at least, should require – deep introspection and intellectual analysis. Children are not capable of this. Becoming a Christian, or whatever, is a process that should not take place, cannot honestly and convincingly take place, until adulthood.
Religious education is a process of shutting off other avenues of thought – rational avenues. If you want evidence of that, just look at a recent investigation by More4 News which found that creationism (a profoundly anti-educational mythology) is being taught by 14 out of 19 Jewish schools that responded, all 21 of evangelical schools following the Accelerated Christian Education syllabus, and half the Islamic schools contacted. Even five state schools confessed to teaching creationism. The investigation concluded that over 5,800 pupils were being taught this irrational and insupportable fairy tale – that they are, in other words, being taught lies.
But that’s the answer to our question. Faith schools exist to teach lies. They exist to indoctrinate the children into the ways of their parents. They exist to narrow children’s minds, not open them.
Some parents argue that they send their children to faith schools because the schools have good performance records. And this is true. But it is purely because the schools have callously exploited loopholes in the law that allow them to select only the brightest children – which would be illegal for state schools. (Presumably that leaves equally faithful, but less bright children to take their chances.)
Religion should be a private matter. If parents want their children to believe in the same myths they do, then that particular form of child abuse should be confined to the home. Ultimately, we can’t stop vulnerable children’s minds being twisted and narrowed in this way, but this abuse should not be supported by the state.
So solving the issue of discriminatory hiring practices is easy. Get rid of faith schools. There is no good reason to have them.