That's the downside, but new academies don't necessarily have to be faith schools – the idea is that any ambitious and well-meaning group of people can start a school and shape its ethos. So how about a humanist school? Taking part in an online chat about faith schools on the Mumsnet website yesterday, Richard Dawkins responded enthusiastically when a participant suggested he should set up a secular, or atheist, school. Now it's worth pointing out, given how Dawkins's comments tend to be twisted in the news (remember how him saying he thinks the Pope should face legal action of child abuse cover-ups became him saying he wanted to personally arrest Benedict XVI?), that he isn't at present planning to set up a school, and it's also worth noting that he stressed he wouldn't want it to be an "atheist" school so much as a "freethinking" school. Here's what he had to say:
“Thank you for suggesting that I should start an atheist free school. I like the idea very much, although I would prefer to call it a free-thinking free school. I would never want to indoctrinate children in atheism, any more than in religion. Instead, children should be taught to ask for evidence, to be sceptical, critical, open-minded. If children understand that beliefs should be substantiated with evidence, as opposed to tradition, authority, revelation or faith, they will automatically work out for themselves that they are atheists.I would also teach comparative religion, and teach it properly without any bias towards particular religions, and including historically important but dead religions, such as those of ancient Greece and the Norse gods, if only because these, like the Abrahamic scriptures, are important for understanding English literature and European history.”So, what do we think? Are secular schools, founded as a direct antidote to religious schools, the way to go? (In some respects it'd represent an "if you can't beat them..." approach.) Or would it represent an inadvertent endorsement of the system, and with it faith school? Should humanists and secularists simply continue to campaign against the very idea of schools that operate under the banner of a particular religion or philosophy?