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Category archive: Religion

Saturday July 05 2008

Last night I chanced upon a really interesting BBC4 TV documentary, fronted by Huw Edwards, on the subject of Sunday Schools. 

This blog liked it too:

It’s not just learning the words to Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam, says Huw Edwards. Early pioneers rocked the boat by teaching poorer children to read, and football clubs like Everton owe their existence to the religious classes.

Mention Sunday school today and many will think of an institution that feels fusty, cosy and quaint. Some might even feel outright hostility. But others remember kindness, rich storytelling and singing - happy memories of some of the best moments of childhood.

This remarkable movement, founded in 1774 with the first class held in a house in Gloucester, has had a deeply radical effect on British society. In the early days, it was seen as dangerous and subversive to give the tools of literacy to the lower orders. In Victorian times, Sunday schools helped shape future MPs, women teachers and a large number of the current Premiership football clubs.  And well into the 20th Century, Sunday school students parading at Whitsun could turn out in their thousands, bringing city centres to a standstill.

I daresay not all pupils will remember Sunday School quite as fondly as the talking heads reminiscing in this show all did.  But a convincing case was made that Sunday Schools, in their time, made quite an impact on the life of the nation, most of it beneficial.  The sheer kindness of these places came over very strongly, which meant a great deal to children who, especially in the early days of Sunday Schools, were typically working for pay and not much of it, for the other six days of the week.

For another response, go here.

UPDATE: It’s being shown again Sunday night (July 6) at 8pm.

Tuesday July 01 2008

Indeed.  The Bishop takes a bash at eco-brainwashing in a (private) school:

Not if we should recycle, or when we should recycle, but why we should recycle. The person who wrote this is clearly intellectually challenged. Do they really believe that it is always best to recycle? No matter what level of resources is required? Who would want their children taught by someone who believed such nonsense?

If he can teach reading, writing, grammar, comprehension, manners, then maybe yes.  And perhaps yes because they also want recycling to be taught also.  The market will decide.  The Bishop’s most pertinent complaint is that the teacher didn’t capitalise a film title.

A national religion (and I do agree that this is that) is a very hard thing to resist.  Next: home-ed by anti-environmentalists.

Monday June 09 2008


London: Britain is all set to get its first fully state-funded Hindu school by September 2009.

The Krishna Avanti Primary School in Harrow in north-west London, will have Scripture Reading, Vedic Math, Sanskrit and Yoga as part of its curriculum.

On Saturday, a traditional bhumi pujan ceremony was held before starting the construction of the £13.5-million project.

“This gives Hindu parents a choice. Parents from other religions have a choice so it’s fair that the Hindu parents, too, have an option,” says Nitish Gor of I-Foundation, a Hindu charity closely associated with the Hare Krishna Movement, which will run the school.

It’s the “fully state-funded” bit that I object to.  If these Hindus were paying for their own school, I’d have no objection.  But should the British state be paying for this kind of thing?  The report linked to and quoted above notes that some British teachers unions object to such schemes on the grounds that they divide communities.  I wonder.  I suppose much depends on what exactly they teach about the other bits of the community.

Also, what on earth is “Vedic Math”?

Wednesday March 12 2008

It’s not a good time ...

A Seventh Day Adventist who persuaded churchgoers to invest millions of pounds in a City scam that funded his extravagant lifestyle has been jailed for seven years.

Lindani Mangena, 24, of Romford, east London, was described as a “modern-day Moses” for his promises to deliver profits of up to 3,000% to fellow worshippers.

At Southwark crown court judge Peter Testar condemned Mangena as “pitiless and arrogant” for deceiving more than 1,000 Seventh Day Adventists.

... to be a Seventh Day Adventist.  Here comes the education angle:

The first “faith school” from a non Anglican or Catholic tradition to be funded by the taxpayer is in crisis. A hit squad has been sent in to try to rescue the John Loughborough School in Haringey, founded by a fundamentalist cult, the Seventh-day Adventists.

Haringey council has - with the Government’s backing - sent in its own appointees to take over from headteacher June Alexis at a time of mounting concern that the school is in “meltdown”. The council has refused to confirm or deny claims that Dr Alexis has been suspended.

The school is facing the prospect of a damning report from Ofsted after the education watchdog warned Dr Alexis last year that pupils’ standards of achievement and behaviour were not good enough. Ofsted served a formal “notice to improve” on John Loughborough a year ago and the Evening Standard understands that senior inspectors have visited the school in recent weeks to see if it is making progress.

You have to wonder if these two events are in any way connected, if only by a general culture of incompetence and of vulnerability to fantasists and/or con-artists.  Miracles don’t just happen.  Someone has to work them.

Friday March 07 2008

For many this is a terribly difficult case:

A court hearing has begun over a Jewish school’s admissions policy, which may have implications for at least another 20 schools and other organisations.

The JFS in north-west London is accused of discriminating against an 11-year-old boy it refused to admit.

He was rejected in favour of “committed atheists” because his mother was not regarded as Jewish, his family’s lawyer told the High Court in London.

For me, it’s easy, from the legal point of view if not the moral or the religious.  The High Court shouldn’t have to bother with this.  The school doesn’t want him and shouldn’t have to take him.

Plus, why would you want your child to attend a school that you are taking to the High Court for being, as you see it, irrational and nasty?

Monday February 25 2008

A couple of commenters on this mentioned these maths-based cartoons, and in particular, these two cartoons (this and this):

image  image

I can recall it being proved that e to the i pi equals minus one (as he preferred to phrase it), by the then senior maths master at Marlborough, Mr Quadling.  (Very good name for a maths master, don’t you think?) “Therefore”, he added, “God exists.” He was just kidding, and quoting someone.  But it is interesting how mathematicians reach for God so regularly.  Michael and I touched on the religious vibes that are emitted when something completely “pure” is worked out, guaranteed useless, but then it later turns out to correspond exactly to some circumstance in nature or, even more weirdly, to some man-made, man-discovered contrivance like colour telly.

Saturday February 09 2008

I’m mostly watching the rugby today, so my thanks to Johnathan Pearce, who has just done some edublogging for me, here:

Children are naturally inquisitive and rebellious against authority - thank goodness - so my reservations about some of the people who want to school their kids at home are not very large, although I do not dismiss them lightly. I sometimes hear in discussions about home-schooling the old canard about how children educated this way are less well ‘socialised’ than their supposedly more fortunate, state or private-school peers. I doubt this: having myself suffered the joys of state schooling, with all the charms of bullying and indifferent teaching that went with it, the idea of encouraging a possibly more individualistic culture as a result of home schooling is to be welcomed (my education experience was not all bad: I got a good degree in the end, so must have done something right). Many people who have been subjected to more than 11 years of compulsory education in a boarding school or some state school never recover their self-confidence as adults. In any event, the whole point here is that education should not have to follow one ‘ideal’ system at all. As a libertarian, I say let education evolve where it will. Does that mean that Walmart or Barclays Bank should be able to run schools? Yes, why the heck not? I look forward to reading headlines like this: “Education Ltd, Britain’s largest listed schooling company, launched a daring bid for Lycee France, the Paris-listed school chain which has boasted the highest examination result tests for the last five years. The deal, if it goes through, would produce a group to rival that of School Corp, America’s largest education chain by market cap.”

My sentiments exactly.

Commenters raise the specter of home-schooled children being dumbed down by Christian Fundamentalists, rather than smartened up by, you know, us.  Midwesterner responds thus:

My sister has home schooled all of her children in a state that gives home schoolers carte blanc. By state law, the government bodies are forbidden to even test home school children unless they are entering the school system and are being tested for placement.

She is a fundamentalist, the wife of a fundamentalist preacher. She believes in creation and kept computer internet connections out of her house until very recently to prevent access to child inappropriate content. Her definition of child inappropriate.

So how bad did things turn out for those poor helpless children. Four of them have reached college age. All four have gone to college and graduated with full academic scholarships. All in ‘hard’ sciences. 2 have bachelor of science degrees, one is going on farther, the other one just graduated and may go on later. One is now working on a PHD in some extremely mathematical micro electronics. One has a health related degree and wants to work in the 3rd world.

All of them can pick and choose their jobs and are actively recruited by headhunters.

Yup. Sure is dangerous letting fundamentalist parents teach their own children. A lot safer to turn them over to the teacher’s union.

Heh.  Also: pardon his French.

Wednesday January 23 2008

Education arguments are big news here in Britain, especially in what used to be the broadsheets.  The headline at the bottom of the front page of today’s Times reads “Tory fudge on faith” (online it’s a bit more long-winded):

Parents who pretend that they have Christian beliefs in order to win places in church schools are doing the best for their children, David Cameron believes.

The Tory leader refuses to criticise the “middle-class parents with sharp elbows”. Asked for his views on the families accused of playing the system, he says: “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.”

Mr Cameron will learn this year whether his own daughter has won a place at a state-funded Church of England school in Kensington, West London.

This month The Times reported a surge in late baptisms into the Catholic Church, further evidence that some parents may be finding religion at a convenient moment in their children’s education. Fears that middle-class parents are adopting religion to get their children into popular schools have led some Labour MPs to call for an end to the expansion of faith schools.

And I will now beat my free market drum.  The thing about markets is that demand creates supply.  But if the state is creating supply, there’s never enough of the nice stuff, and an oversupply of the rubbish stuff.  Hence all the political unpleasantness.

Today I had a brand new sofa bed delivered, from Peter Jones, with big, comfortable arms on which to rest my sharp middle class elbows.  This particular sofa bed is one of their most popular items, so the delivery men said, as they assembled it in my living room with practised ease.  Yet no blunt-elbowed lower class persons were denied sofa beds by my ruthless playing of the system, nor did I have to convert to Christianity.  Nor did the Leader of the Opposition need to defend my acquisitiveness, because nobody thinks I did anything wrong.  No fakery.  No fudge.

That is how education should also be delivered.

Faith fake fudge from Cameron – and I have a sofa bed delivered
Ms Gibbons learns about another culture
A bad national system versus the consent principle