What if we were to agree that all humans have value that lies way beyond their financial capacity and academic intellect? That it is obscene to reduce people to nothing more than a unit of monetary worth? That artistic, sporting and practical abilities be as valid? That the higher intelligences such as empathy, grace and kindness be seen as strengths, not weaknesses? That education is its own reward rather than merely a means to someone else’s ends?
The point of a structured period of compulsory schooling should be to facilitate the awareness and understanding of a complex world to children, not merely the ability to pass tests and march to the beat of the latest diktats of fashionistas, inept governments and corporate drummers.
What if we decided that we didn’t want to have to choose which school to send our children to? What if we didn’t feel the need to? What if we made sure there were enough state schools at every educative level, easily accessible to every child in the country? And what if each and every one of those schools were of such an excellent standard that only fools and radicals would seek to pay extra to send their children elsewhere? What if our state schools were so blooming good that every child received the highest possible standard of education and every parent and employer knew it? What if teachers were trusted and valued as highly as are the expectations placed upon them? Any worth their salt would be clamouring to work in such an amazing public sector.
And why the rush to bring our children to employable maturity if emotional intelligence cannot keep up? (Indeed, why the rush if there are insufficient jobs to even require their labour?) It hasn’t been coined as ‘childhood’ for nothing. We are adults soon enough and it lasts, hopefully, for a very long time so why are we heaping panic upon pressure upon stress on our kids? To compete in the global race to be grateful automatons? It is part of being a child that s/he should be in a hurry to grow up but it is the job of adults to temper that impatience, not to concede and actively demand they do. If we really are all living longer then let’s make it a life worth living by getting right one of the fundamental building blocks of a confident, prosperous people.
Education is supposed to facilitate self-confidence and the ability to learn; to encourage critical thinking, curiosity and a love of learning. Thus, though school cannot teach absolutely everything, if it has done its job properly, it shouldn’t need to. Education is supposed to reveal an individual’s potential. In order for this to be achieved, schooling needs to provide the opportunity, time and space for a child to discover what that might be. Teachers need the freedom and scope to assist and appropriately indulge or signpost that opportunity. The next generation are the future, the continuum of the human race. Our children are our legacy. Not in the sense of property, but as the living arrows of Society’s bow, to paraphrase Gibran. Could there really be any task more worthy or vital?
And what if we were to decide to phase out faith-based schools? What if we said that doctrinal faith should not be prescribed to children with little or no escape or counterbalance? Perhaps our society would lose an excuse for the oft-cited sense of cultural division if the doctrines of cults were retired to their temples. The point of a secularist/pluralist society is to achieve and uphold equality under the law and in a multi-faith and no-faith country like ours, that makes Faith (which is not exclusive to Orthodox Religion) a matter of personal rather than public policy. It does not negate nor deride it but recognises that not everyone has it and that no one faith is superior to another. Religion, like Politics, is a living history, based on theory and belief. In schools, shouldn’t it be reflected, explored and debated as such, under the umbrella subject of Philosophy, rather than passed off as though its teachings were fixed by empirical data or as though it were the sole route to ‘God’ and the only expression of a spiritually and consciously lived life?
In fact, what if we decided that any school, within or outside of the state system that was intentionally selective about its admissions or adherence to a compulsory, base-line national curriculum should not qualify for funds from the Public Purse? I don’t mean barring schools from adding subjects to a mandatory curriculum – I’d have loved the opportunity to learn Latin, or even circus skills, actually – I’m talking about the ridiculous notion that a minimum national curriculum is not necessary; that schools should be able to opt out of any of the recommended subjects, particularly such issues as drugs and sex and relationships. This is not acceptable. Students need to know they share a common level of knowledge and that they are not being cheated of vital information or a major life skill.
Obviously it is not the place of a free society to dictate to individual adults the manner in which they live, so long as it does not harm another. Neither, therefore, what individuals do with their income. It follows, then, that it is unwisely authoritarian to take away the freedom to choose and pay for exclusivity. But I would happily – very happily – see governmental policies that rendered it superfluous.
I don’t hold much truck with orthodox religion but I support the right of those who do to practise their devotion in so far as it does not encroach on others. Neither am I an atheist – though I must admit to sounding like one if you miss the nuance. To me, religion seems to have little to do with God and everything to do with politics.
Every time there’s a debate about anything professing to relate to ‘God’ or ‘Faith’ it’s always couched in the context of orthodox religion or atheism versus orthodoxy. The thing that both frustrates and makes me smile is that, besides neither having much to do with sacredness or divinity, both also hold positions of non-evidence-based certainty. To me, framing the existence or non-existence of ‘Gods’ in such narrow terms as described and prescribed by patriarchy and orthodoxy (no, they’re not the same thing, though it’s tempting and amusing to tease that they are, considering the massive overlap) is stale and unimaginative – and distinctly unhelpful.
Nevertheless, that is the rubric within which most of the world keeps itself confined – be it through education, governance or ‘holy’ wars.
Each religion is mostly interchangeable with another: they alter their costumes a bit and change dates and the names of people and stuff but the basic tenets; the widest meaning in the message is generally the same.
And all religions have been, are and continue to be vehicles of both peaceful and violent thought and deed. At their best, they offer beautiful interpretations of Life’s mysteries and frameworks by which to live.
And at their worst they each have their fundamentalists; extremists who have terrorised and do terrorise those who don’t share their values. Yes, the Qur’an has verses which can be interpreted as permitting or even promoting violent retribution and punishment. So does the Old Testament. No Abrahamic Faith is immune and, looking further east, neither are the Hindus, nor the Buddhists.
Most religious people are moderate people who have no drive to convert or correct the behaviour of others. Many followers of the orthodox faiths pick and choose their adherences with varying degrees of guilt or comfort, be it using contraception, eating pig, imbibing intoxicants, marrying out of one’s faith, neglecting Confession – yada, yada. One only has to witness the majority approval for secular governance within the ‘first’ world and the majority who aspire to it in other regions of the globe to appreciate this: equal, educated, free and well-informed people; people who can rely on consistent and fair laws and a sufficient measure of security, don’t want or need to be told how to live by either the representatives of elected authority or by those who claim to represent a Higher One.
And therein lies the rub, doesn’t it? It always comes down to that same, basic list.
Major swathes of the world’s populations are being sold short while religious doctrine replaces basic education and information is exchanged for censorship. If religious dogma is your main or only source of common knowledge and experience, then it is little wonder that superstition, prejudice and taboos prevail and fester. And to force it on children is in the least, a grey kind of magic. Religion within mainstream education should be facilitated through philosophy, not through doctrine. Faith schools? No thank you. Save it for the Temple.
Law, governance and culture have been traditionally shaped and dictated by patriarchy and it is as loathe to giving up its self-righteous control freakery as, say, Monsanto or certain banksters. It is curious how those who claim to be so devout are so much more concerned for the souls of others than for their own. That there is no such thing as vicarious atonement seems to have escaped from their founts of wisdom.
Of course, any moral militant can find things to hate in the modern, secularising world: the aspiration for equality; for living according to one’s individual desires and needs; for being free to draw personal boundaries, exercise preferences. And so they do. But History is replete with religious violence, isn’t it…? Terrorism perpetrated by citizen groups, ‘democratic’ governments and state sovereigns alike.
Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims: all brilliantly misrepresenting their faiths; all desirous of imposing their ideology on others; all so certain. It is politics, mediaeval style. No wonder the atheists are bemused and pissed off.
The problem here isn’t ‘God’. The problem is cultish and political bigotry and fear. It is the arrogant and ultimately fruitless notion that you are the manager of another’s soul and free will. It is the pitiful demonstration of people who look upon the world with narrowed eyes, lacking appreciation for the greater beauty, ferocity and mystery of the human animal; who cannot recognise the paradox of life: that simple things are often made complex by their explanation and that things which seem complex are often very simple.
What the bigots fail to realise is that while they are perfectly entitled to their rigidly narrow and conjured opinions – so is everyone – it doesn’t give them the right to legislate for everyone based on them. This is why a secular society is the best way to protect and govern with equal and fair effect: the only way to prove that the majority, the minority and all the individuals therein feel and know that their rights are valued equally. Secular governance doesn’t mean you have to bury your faith. It recognises that not everyone has a faith and that no one faith is superior to another.