Friday, 10 September 2010

The Richard Dawkins Humanist Conservatoire

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Regular New Humanist contributor Francis Beckett, a long-standing critic of faith schools and recent education reforms, has a piece in today's Guardian in which he describes the school he would set up if he had the opportunity under the government's new free school legislation. Wonderfully named The Richard Dawkins Humanist Conservatoire (we used to have schools, which became colleges, and then they became academies, so why not conservatoires?), Beckett's school would be the exemplar of secular, inclusive education. And there's even a mention for New Humanist:

"As a humanist school, we will pride ourselves on our teaching of religion. Other faith schools have agitated for and been given the right to discriminate against teachers and pupils who are not of the correct religion, but we will not. Our children will learn about all beliefs. Children can cope with the fact that adults believe different things. And we see nothing but good in the idea of a Muslim learning mathematics from a Sikh, or an atheist being taught English by a Catholic.

So, no spying to find out whether a prospective parent had been guiltily sneaking into church. No demanding evidence of a subscription to New Humanist. Personal letters confirming faithlessness from Dawkins himself will get you nowhere. Even being the object of a fatwa will not get you in. If we are oversubscribed – which I confidently expect we will be – we will take pupils strictly on the criterion of proximity to the school."
It's a lovely piece, and may have you longing for the opening of a Dawkins Conservatoire with a catchment area near you. It links to something I wrote about recently – in light of the new academy school legislation (which we learn has been enthusiastically embraced by religious groups), is it time humanists and secularists went ahead and set up their own schools? In other words, if we can't beat them, should we join them? (Beckett even says this in his piece.) When I last wrote about this, the majority of commenters seemed to oppose the idea, on the grounds that it would mean going along with a bad system.

This seems like a good time to pose the question again. If humanists could set up schools like Beckett describes, would you welcome it? Or would it still be an inadvertent endorsement of faith schools?

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