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British Faith Schools in the Imagined Community

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While I was minded to share my thoughts about Yahoo banning the use of Allah in email names, the BNP’s new campaign material, or cleric Maulana Yousef Qureshi and his followers putting a $1m bounty on Danish cartoonists, this more important issue came to my attention. The issues regarding faith schools in the UK have been simmering for some time. Faith schools were criticised last year for failing to give pupils an adequate understanding of other religions. Islamic schools were specifically focused upon and links were made to terrorism in that a more diverse system of religious education would combat extremism and promote respect for others. This was in fact an exaggeration and I have not yet heard of the same principles being applied to some types of faith schools that are renowned for being closed and alienating to outsiders (I will not pinpoint any particular type of faith school so as not to detract from the subject). In the usual display of subliminal messaging, it is pictures of Muslim girls in headscarves that accompany the many of the articles on this topic.

It is high time the government decides it’s stance on faith schools as it recently deemed them too selective, while also being of the opinion that the establishment of state-funded Muslim schools was a positive step. I do agree with part of the current proposals in that faith schools should be instructed to teach their pupils about the core beliefs of other religions besides their own. Knowledge is power, and in a multi-cultural society it is important to understand ones fellow citizens. However, lets not fool ourselves into thinking that for most people having knowledge of their neighbours religion will make them any more interactive with them. By way of the very same ‘knowledge is power’ rationale, I would argue that to give monotheists a greater knowledge of the ways of polytheists and vice-versa is in part a recipe for failure if the overriding objective is to develop respect and sensitivity to others.

Another danger will be the potential for schools and their respective faiths to be ranked in terms of their compliance with these new policies. Where some Faith Schools will stop at an acceptable level of raising awareness of the core beliefs of the major religions, others will undoubtedly be more interactive with external religious productions and field trips to other religious establishments. Therefore, re-enforcing stereotypes and propagating negative connotations formed from the premise that particular religions are less inclusive than others.

My opinion is that schools should be allowed to decide whether to teach about other religions or not. It should be noted (as it has) that a more diverse religious education can be benefiting to the child. However, as with those that consider placing their children in the more exclusive public schools that many of us cannot afford, the religions of others are relatively unimportant. This does not mean we should not respect others or their religions, but it does mean that we can do this without formally allocating time and resources that may be better spent learning about our own faiths and the other subjects on the curriculum such as Mathematics, English and Science.

Seem similar articles at my blog, Opinionated Voice

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  • Bliffle, I think to state you dont think religion should be taught in any school is a bit silly. What do you qualify such a statement on? I can understand it not being emphasised as the main part of teaching, but should definatly have a role.

    I think tha tmany of you guys in america have a different system. Over here in the UK there are state schools which will teach an over-view of the major religions as part of the national curriculam. Previously, prayer was used in assembly and ,morning class, but as this was exclusively christian, this has generally ceased as those of other religions felt agrieved to participate and left out when not participating.

    THere are what we call “faith schools” which are based on particular faiths and generally run by those of specific faiths. There has always been Catholic schools and many jewish schoools, and now there are increasing numbers of jewish, islamic and hindu schools respectively. Those that attract state funding in part or full are the ones that have received recommendations that they diversify religious teaching. Eg, for Islamic schools to teach about other religions also. Personally I can see the use in this as I’ve said above, but we should not detract from the fact hat emphasis should be improving teaching the main lessons rather then placing too much focus of diversifying the religious awareness of pupils.

    It is my opinion that this recommended legislature is directly aimed at Islamic schools in an attempt to dillute the religion of Islam and point the finger at muslims.

  • Nancy

    We got a quickie overview of the main points of the major religions in history class in Jr. High, but anything deeper was left to our own initiative. From what I remember, the information was admirably neutral & balanced. But any kind of teaching of dogma (of any religion) surely is the provence of religious schools and/or the organizations themselves, I agree. Well, Britain has some funny quirks like that, altho here in the US we constantly have religious zealots trying to force public support of private religious schools.

  • Steve

    What you say is true, Nancy, about knowing a religion. However, I think finding out the truth about each religion’s machinations will reduce the number of religions people believe in, which would be ultimately unifying. The saying may go, ‘ignorance is bliss’, but it’s not always a good thing.
    Re. faith schools, I thought religious education was the the province of churches, temples, synagogues etc.???
    Though I think a religion class (or maybe an ‘origins’ class would be a better name) should be part of a secular school curriculum, otherwise, churches, temples, etc. should be the faith schools for those of all ages that are interested. I guess the fact that faith schools are a topic these days, is perhaps a damning indictment of the teaching or lack thereof in religious institutions.

  • Nancy

    Knowing about a religion doesn’t always inspire respect or ease with it or its followers. I know more about Mormonism than most Mormons I’ve talked to, and the more I know, the less I like it. Ditto the machinations of the Vatican. Just examples.

  • Not all cultures take the very American approah you do, Bliffle. That is why there are (partially) government supported “faith schools” in the UK and a system of government supported religious schools here.

  • Bliffle

    I don’t think religion should be taught in any school. It’s a home matter. Tangling up religion in Language, Science, Math, etc., is confusing and doesn’t benefit either side.