August 30, 2005

The Guardian worries about the rise of independent evangelical Christian schools (link nicked from greengolux, who is a LJ-friend of the second degree: greengolux‘s own entry on this contains some interesting discussion).

This sort of thing is the Guardian equivalent of the Daily Mail’s “those darkies are taking our jobs while simultaneously being benefit scroungers” story. For example, they ran a story in 1999 telling us how Christian Unions are over-running our universities with trendy stealth Christians, who don’t even have the decency to wear short trousers and cycling helmets so you can avoid them at parties (when I say “you”, I don’t mean me, obviously, as I always make a bee-line for them and show them the error of their ways). Writing back when I was a Christian, I found the Guardian‘s earnestness and condescension faintly ridiculous.

With this in mind, it seems likely we can discount the stuff about how fundamentalist Christian schools are as bad for society than their Muslim equivalents and will eventually turn the UK into America. The Muslim schools are a part of a sub-culture which is currently getting a lot of press because it can draw people in from a significant minority, and hence is able to hold itself aloof from the surrounding culture. The Christian schools are on a smaller scale, and the UK’s culture is much less explicitly Christian than the US’s. It would take more than a few specialist schools to change this.

What is offensive to me is the idea that the National Christian Schools’ Certificate is be acceptable for entrance to nursing training, as “Christian” here means teaching creationism. Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to be sufficient for any sort of university entrance (note site’s careful wording about how UCAS‘s material “includes details” of the NCSC).

Apart from being biological flat-earthers, though, some of the schools are doing well by their pupils: OFSTED points out that at Emmanuel School, Exeter, the pupils at are well behaved and happy and the parents are involved in their children’s education. That’s not to say they’re perfect, as a report of another Christian school failing academically shows, but even there, the inspectors did not criticise the pastoral care given by the school. It’s unlikely that the pupils at this school will have the Hellmouth experience that some large state schools will give their pupils.

These schools are doing some right things, but for the wrong reasons. It is good that parents are involved in the children’s education, and that the children are happy, and can work at their own pace. Some of the disagreement expressed in the Guardian article with rote learning is probably directed at the desirable learning of the basics which, if some people are to be believed, has become unfashionable.

But, behind it all, lies an insular Christianity which draws a sharp line between the church and the world, and, as a consequence, wishes to insulate children from opinions with which their Christian parents disagree. Kids ought to learn critical thinking (although I’m not sure how far they do so in the state system), and not just their parents views, because, as one of the Guardian‘s interviewees says, “Nobody owns kids… you hold them on trust”.

It may be that these schools are providing a strong culture of the sort which will actually benefit their children: if so, that culture may well propagate, and maybe I’ll be wrong about how much Christians can accomplish with a handful of private schools. I can’t help feel that the rest of us would deserve it: the happy and safe environment in those schools is something we ought to be able to provide, based on everyone’s desire to get the best for their kids.

What I actually think will happen, though, is that these schools will produce a few of the short-trousers sort of Christian, and a fair few people who will realise they’ve been screwed over and reject evangelical Christianity after they leave home. I do worry about the kids who are sent to these schools, but to be brutal about it, they are few in number, and the state system can do a lot worse. We will not be over-run by Christians if they don’t know basic science and have never had to enter into a debate about their views.