Professor Michael Hand, Philosopher of Education from the University of Birmingham came to visit us. After introducing himself and explaining what his job entails, he asked us whether we thought faith schools should be abolished. Towards the end, he asked us "Do you think faith state schools should be abolished on the grounds that they indoctrinate pupils?"
Though I had though he wouldn't be biased and would give us a balanced argument, I soon came to find out that the perspective he was advocating was that faith schools should be abolished on such grounds. I didn't get the wrong end of the stick, I clearly haven't.
It is a controversial issue which was in essence a professional yet heated discussion. Some of us spoke up and voiced our opinions, whilst others amongst us, kept quiet and talked about it once he'd gone away. I chose to be one of those who thinks in her head but doesn't speak to an audience of just under 300 similar aged students.
I'd like to offer my opinions on this topic, tell you what I'm not very sure about, tell you what I disagree with and ask questions which hopefully I can have answered.
To begin with, a faith school is one which exists and is intended for students of a particular religious faith, though within such schools you may find students with no faith or students with a different faith to the remaining students. Around a third of ALL state schools are faith schools and the majority of those in England are Church of England (4598 = 22.88%) and Roman Catholic (2010 = 10%). [Figures from 2010]
It may be important to note that there are only 11 Muslim state schools in England. This figure shocked me. I'm quite surprised by this but wasn't so surprised once I realised that a lot of Muslim schools in England are independently run and not government based. That made so much more sense.
If we think about indoctrination, I wouldn't say that it means brainwashing but it's more about teaching someone else beliefs which they begin to accept without a rational and critical thinking process. This isn't specific to religion because this takes place all the time, whether we are in an English lesson or a History lesson and it isn't specific to schools because it can take place at home, in a family environment or even amongst a friendship group whilst having a conversation. It seems it happens unknowingly all the time.
The first question I ask is do faith schools actually set out to indoctrinate in the first place? Is this their purpose and do they promote religious beliefs all the time? Is this even possible? A friend of mine went to a Catholic school for a few months and during mass, she wasn't allowed to eat the bread which was blessed because she didn't follow that faith. She wasn't forced into abiding by Christian beliefs either. How successful are faith schools at indoctrinating pupils if at all they do this and can you actually do this in a secular society?
Secondly, some may argue that state based faith schools may emphasise on religious beliefs so much so that the results of traditional subjects such as English, Maths and Science may see poorer results. Is this statistically proven? Aren't teachers at state faith schools just as qualified at teachers at standard state schools. Regarding teachers, do they have the same faith as the students they teach and does loco parentis impact a childs' religious beliefs?
Thirdly, some say that faith schools are racially segregated and do not teach pupils how to integrate with students who are different to them. Is this true? Are such students not capable of joining society in the same way that everyone else seems to be doing. What makes them "different and incapable"?
If, for example faith schools were abolished, wouldn't we find that schools in particular less diverse areas will have the majority of its students following the same faith anyway but to different degrees, so wouldn't they spend their time at school with students of the same faith anyway? This would all happen regardless of being at a faith school or not.
Fourthly, whose responsibility is it to decide what school a child go to? Doesn't this lie with their parents? If a parent wants their child to follow the same religion as them, wouldn't they think that it is best for them to go to such a school? Even if they didn't, they would be teaching their child their religious beliefs at home, or sending them to an educational institute or establishment or place of worship to teach them their religion during out of school hours perhaps.
Also, if a child feels they have been indoctrinated during their school life, there is nothing that stops them from leaving at 16 and discovering for themselves what is deemed true and what is not. Or do you think it is too late for this?
That's it from me.