Thursday, 24 January 2008

Poll: Should parents fake faith to get their children into schools?

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There's a bit of a debate going on at the moment, much of it in the pages of The Times, as to whether it's acceptable for parents to pretend to be religious in order to get their children into faith schools. Earlier this month the newspaper reported that the Catholic Church in Britain had seen a dramatic rise in baptisms of children of school-going age – a phenomenon that has been dubbed the "Year-Five Epiphany".

Conservative leader David Cameron yesterday defended such parents, saying “I think it’s good for parents who want the best for their kids. I don’t blame anyone who tries to get their children into a good school. Most people are doing so because it has an ethos and culture. I believe in active citizens.”

The issue was discussed on last night's Newsnight, which posed the question: "All parents want to ensure they are getting the best education they can for their children, but is lying about your faith a step too far? And is David Cameron right to condone it?"

And now, in today's Times, "God correspondent for The Oldie magazine") smugly compares herself to the "Prodigal son's older brother" as she bemoans how opportunistic parents are invading her Catholic religion in order to get their children into decent schools: "Lots of prodigals [are] returning to the fold these days, and miraculously it's always when they have children. I've lost count of the Catholics I know who were ostentatiously anti-clerical a few years ago but who have rediscovered the charm of Mass attendance once they have children and find that baptism and churchgoing are pre-requisites for a church school."

What does she expect? If the government of a broadly secular country continues to hand the education system over to religious organisations, of course parents are going to do all it takes to get their children in to the best schools. It's not as if any of these people actually want to sit through two hours of tedium every Sunday, it's just that they don't have any real choice. My parents had to do it to me and, while it meant the quality of my childhood Sundays were dramatically reduced, I ended up working for this publication, so it clearly didn't convert me. I'm not sure any of this makes it right, but given the current situation it's bound to happen.

That's my view anyway. I'll throw Newsnight's question out to the readers: Is pretending to be religious to get your child into a good school a step too far? Have your say by commenting on this blog post and voting in the opinion poll at the top right of this page.

11 comments:

artificialhabitat said...

The debate misses the point entirely - obviously many parents will always do whatever they can to get the best for their children.

The problem is, as you point out, the stupid state of affairs where it's even necessary for them to do this at all.

Paul Sims said...

Exactly, and it seems like the Times columnist wants it both ways. She wants our schools to be run by religions, but at the same time wants those schools to only be attended by the children of good church-going parents.

The Hogfather said...

I agree entirely with the remarks above.

The other problem is of course that it is the parents who decide the faith of their child in the first place, and not the child!!!

Surely, society should be trying to encourage parents to let their sons/daughters decide for themselves (when they feel they are old enough to make that decision).

Jackylhunter said...

I am a parent and an atheist, I send my children to a catholic primary school. they were both baptised to ensure that they got into the best school in the post code we live in. I do feel cheated a bit that I had to do this, but my children come first. I don't see anything wrong with it particularly either, they get a better education and this, hopefully, sets them up to be more likely to be able to think for themselves.

I don't attend church, my children do if it happens during school time. I do what I am asked of as a parent and support the school, including in teaching religious education. Basically, I don't mock the religious education that my children receive. I also do what any parent does, I provide other alternative information about religion and faith. In fact the other day I was having a conversation with my seven year old son about Humanism the other day, he likes reading the blog over my shoulder. (incidentally, he thinks that Humanism makes sense)

I don't think parents should suddenly get "faith", and pretend they are religious. People should stand by their convictions. I do, and my convictions are hierarchical, and those convictions which are that my children should get the best possible education available come higher than the ones which say I don't believe this or that religion. Why? Because as a parent I take an active role and I can teach my children my beliefs as well. Then my children can decide.

pete moss said...

Our local community school ('normal school' to me) is better than our local CofE school. But as it is oversuscribed we could not get our son into it, even though it's only 500 metres from our house.
It annoys me that, as a humanist, I had no grounds to have my child attend a normal school rather than a religious one.

George said...

If parents want to claim to be religious in order to get their kids into their preferred school, good luck to them! I can't remember which freethinker it was who upon being chastised for saying grace said something like, "I will never utter a falsehood, but I have no difficulty with meaningless statements." I think the same sentiment applies here - it only becomes a moral issue if you give the religious beliefs of the institution any credence.

I don't share Dawkins' fear of indoctrination either; I was raised Catholic and sent to the local Catholic junior and secondary schools. Despite their best efforts I managed to become a nonbeliever before I left.

Incidentally, as to quality of school - whilst the secondary school (comprehensive) had a reputation for discipline overseen by an overtly pious teaching staff, its quality of education was a joke!

George said...

Cameron: "I don’t blame anyone who tries... Most people are doing so because it has an ethos and culture."

Sorry, had to read this quote several times - it's just bollocks! Does he really think that faith schools with low performance rankings will nevertheless find themselves similarly courted by parents prepared to suffer accusations of hypocrisy by flouting the fundamentals of the very ethos they claim to find so attractive?

All he's actually saying is that like it or not, if you want a good education for your kids these days, faith schools are your only option - even if you have to tell porkies to get them in. This is merely confirmation of the fact that religious institutions manage to hold parents and children to ransom over access to a fundamental
public resource, and do so with considerable governmental support.

Sore_loser said...

I suspect as a rather too proud and pompous person, I would find it infuriatingly demeaning to have to pretend to profess a religious belief in order to secure the future of my children. It's a mistake for our social system that the education of our children is affected at all by the superstitions of the educators. Clearly, this cannot be entirely avoided, but it should be recognised as a Bad Thing, and measures enacted to discourage such problems.

I identify the following criteria upon which to make the judgement of whether or not a parent should lie about his/her faith in order to help his/her child:

1) If the parent chooses not to lie, and this is applied universally, either a stigma will be attached to the selectiveness of religious schools and this practice may decline, or a religiously indoctrinated elite will be created from the children of "true believers" and their access to superior education.

2) If the parent chooses not to lie, the child may lose access to the best available education in subjects that matter (i.e. have a significant impact on the political decision-making ability and employability of the resulting adult) such as language, history, art, mathematics, IT and sciences.

I disagree with the notion that if you do not believe in the superstition in question, it is morally acceptable to submit to the authority of one who professes and derives authority from such a belief. This is by default granting authority to one whose claim to authority you regard as being highly questionable. Whether this is a worse outcome than securing a good education for one's children is also highly questionable, but it should be noted that deciding to do so is not without moral cost.

Sore_loser said...

I suspect as a rather too proud and pompous person, I would find it infuriatingly demeaning to have to pretend to profess a religious belief in order to secure the future of my children. It's a mistake for our social system that the education of our children is affected at all by the superstitions of the educators. Clearly, this cannot be entirely avoided, but it should be recognised as a Bad Thing, and measures enacted to discourage such problems.

I identify the following criteria upon which to make the judgement of whether or not a parent should lie about his/her faith in order to help his/her child:

1) If the parent chooses not to lie, and this is applied universally, either a stigma will be attached to the selectiveness of religious schools and this practice may decline, or a religiously indoctrinated elite will be created from the children of "true believers" and their access to superior education.

2) If the parent chooses not to lie, the child may lose access to the best available education in subjects that matter (i.e. have a significant impact on the political decision-making ability and employability of the resulting adult) such as language, history, art, mathematics, IT and sciences.

I disagree with the notion that if you do not believe in the superstition in question, it is morally acceptable to submit to the authority of one who professes and derives authority from such a belief. This is by default granting authority to one whose claim to authority you regard as being highly questionable. Whether this is a worse outcome than securing a good education for one's children is also highly questionable, but it should be noted that deciding to do so is not without moral cost.

erin said...

I work at a private Christian school that does not require parents of student to profess any faith. For this reason, we have many children of various religions attending our school. Most commonly, we teach children whose families practice Indian religions or are non-religious.

I don't believe that faith based schools should only admit students with a particular religion, providing that their families allow the children to receive the religious training provided. Being a Christian, I ask myself, "Why miss the chance to offer religious education to children who would otherwise not learn about Christianity?"

However, I find it immoral for parents to lie about their beliefs to acquire schooling for their children. I guess it's somewhat noble to sacrifice your convictions for your children, but I personally would rather have parents who stood by what they believed.

Lesley Dove said...

We are the slightly odd position of my daughter being offered a place at the new Catholic secondary school in the area - which we are objecting to and rejecting as we did not ask for this. The secondary school allocation system in Richmond Upon Thames borough has gone crazy! I want her in a good school but absolutely not a religious school. I find it quite shocking that some humanists would even consider pretending to be something they are not! Plenty of non-religious schools are quite good enough.