David is on sabbatical until August 17th and will not be replying to comments: This is his latest article in the Scotsman and some of the correspondence that followed”
IT’S time for politicians in Scotland to stand up to the secularist education establishment argues David Robertson
Tony Blair once issued the mantra “education, education, education”. It seems as though Scotland’s political parties are beginning to wake up to the fact that all is not well in Scotland’s education system. There is a real and well-founded concern about declining standards, lack of aspiration and above all a kind of educational apartheid which means that if you are rich enough you can either send your child to a private school (as do one third of Edinburgh parents) or buy a house in the catchment area of a “good” school.
As well as the cold facts and figures there are the ongoing stories which indicate a failing system. I think of a brilliant German lecturer who gave up her career to become a secondary school teacher only to give up in despair after a year of what she termed glorified babysitting. Or the primary school teacher who, after her first year, became disillusioned because the local education authority moved teachers around more as a paper exercise and without apparent awareness of local conditions and the needs of the teachers and pupils. Or another who resigned after being assaulted for the third time – by primary pupils! The lack of parental involvement, the remodeling of schools into centres for social engineering rather than education, the low morale amongst many teachers, and the obsession of politicians with figures and targets, are all indications of a struggling system. So what is the solution? Perhaps we should swallow our pride and consider what other nations do.
The United Nations Charter on Human Rights declares in Article 26 that “everyone has the right to education”’ and that “education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages”. It also states as an absolute principle that “parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children”.
The ECHR Protocol 1 Article 2, states “in the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and teaching, the state shall respect the rights of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions”. Although this is now part of the Human Rights Act which the government wants to abolish, there is an opt out which Britain has which states that the government recognises this “only so far as it is compatible with the provision of efficient instruction and training, and the avoidance of unreasonable public expenditure”.
But the question is whether the current system does provide the most efficient instruction and training. And it certainly does not allow choice. The Scottish state education system with its one-size-fits-all mantra is driven by a centrist secularist ideology which means that for most parents we simply do not have the choice that is our right. For a country that desires to be “progressive”, it seems that we are ignoring what other progressive countries do.
In the Netherlands, for example, more than two thirds of government-funded schools are independent, most of them Catholic or Protestant schools. Why could such a system not exist here? At the launch of the new Solas magazine in Edinburgh, it was clear that the people present, politicians, church leaders and others, recognised the importance of this issue. We believe that there is an overwhelming need for it and that if politicians would just break away from the straitjacket of their ideologies, the EIS and local education authorities, and instead engage with some creative thinking, they would be able to do great good for Scotland’s pupils.
The recent attempt to whip up anti-Creationist hysteria was not so much a concern about the teaching of science, but rather the fear that somewhere someone in Scotland was teaching that the creation might have actually had a Creator. We have moved within a lifetime from a country where schools had regular acts of Christian worship and promoted Christian values, to one where in many areas prayer is banned and any talk of God, except in the most mocking terms, is frowned upon. I have experienced personally and heard many stories of children from Christian homes whose faith has been openly mocked in class.
However our major concern is not so much with protecting Christians as it is with serving the poor. If churches were allowed to return to the vision of John Knox (where there is a church, there should be a school), then a huge army of volunteers and resources would be unleashed for the good of all, not just the privileged few. Christians build and support schools. Atheistic secularists take them over, cuckoo like. We call upon the Scottish government to give us back our schools, to establish a voucher system or equivalent, and to give parents choice. Will any politician take up the challenge?
• David Robertson is director at Solas Centre for Public Christianity http://www.solas-cpc.org
David Robertson (Friends of The Scotsman, 7 July) strongly believes that Scotland would benefit from having more schools segregated on the basis of religion.He says people have a right to segregated schools and the state has a duty to provide them. He acknowledges that a plethora of religiously segregated schools will mean a huge increase in the cost of education, but he claims a voucher system will deal with that.The timing of his article could not be worse. The Greek economy is at crisis point due to overspending and an accumulation of debt, and the UK is likewise being forced to cut back its public spending to bring its debt under control.Providing segregated schools for all the various beliefs held in our society – Presbyterian, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Humanist etc – would require a huge increase in spending on education.Such an increase, simply to satisfy the prejudices of those who favour segregation, is not the sort of policy that will appeal to anyone of sound economic sense.
But the argument is not just financial. The well-being of society and the nurture of social harmony are also involved. In a society like ours where people of differing beliefs live and work together, children should mix with others of different outlooks and learn how to respect and tolerate difference.Children who go to school together have a better chance in later life of knowing how to get on with people of very different outlooks.We should take heed of what happened in Northern Ireland. There the education system is split between Protestant and Catholic.Sociological studies carried out by the Coleraine University have shown that children in that segregated system soon adopt “them v us” attitudes and regard the other side with suspicion and distrust.Furthermore, patterns of social behaviour acquired in childhood shape later adult life, such as making friends across the religious divide. Years of segregation, ignorance and distrust preceded the terrible violence there in the 1970s and 80s.The case against religiously segregated schools and in favour of integrated schools which respect all faiths and beliefs is strong and it is grounded in evidence.
Perhaps David Robertson should take stock of the arguments and then try to put into practice the faith that he professes – if you love your neighbour, you will send your children to the same school.
David Robertson is wrong in saying church schools were taken over by “atheistic secularists”. There were very few atheists then and they had no influence on education. Religious services and indoctrination remained compulsory at the insistence of churches. Many teachers were “Christians”.When I was at school in the 1940s few parents had any interest in religion but they were not given any choice about what was taught in schools.That many eminent scholars did not believe in the existence of any “gods” or “creation” was not disclosed to us. I never heard the words “atheism” or “evolution” or of Paine, Hume, Huxley or Darwin.Questioning of the “Christian” teaching was unheard of and non-attendance at daily services was punishable.These and the scripture lessons were deadly boring and of no value to us as well as being a gross waste of pupils’ time and public money. That there were many basic disagreements among “Christians” was not mentioned. Nor were any other religions. I have since studied the works of eminent philosophers and Bible scholars. As a result I am an atheist but willing to allow religious people to think as they like and to indoctrinate their own, but not other peoples’, children.
Those who are interested in the subject and creationism can study these outside school.Mr Robertson opposes “secularism” meaning freedom to follow the religion of one’s choice or none without state interference. Does he want a theocracy like Calvin’s Geneva?
It is always disappointing when people write letters arguing against your position when they then argue against a position that you do not hold. Les Reid (Letters, 8 July) states that I admit that “a plethora of religiously segregated schools will mean a huge increase in the cost of education”.The only problem is that I admit no such thing – in fact, I believe it is likely that more choice will mean that education will be cheaper.Nor do I argue for religiously segregated schools – I was arguing that all schools should be open to all, but that not every school should have the secular humanist philosophy as its ethos.
He says if I love my neighbour I will send my children to the same school as them. If I love my neighbour then I will want their children to have the opportunity for the best possible education – something which the Scottish education system no longer provides.It’s fine for the middle classes who can afford either to send their children to private schools or move to the catchment areas of the better state schools, but my concern is with the education of all – not segregated education according to wealth and social status.
Euan Bremmner (Letters, same day) argues against my position that today’s schools have largely become vehicles for atheist propaganda and social engineering by citing his experience from the 1940s.Things have changed somewhat since then! I regularly come across examples of children in school being indoctrinated with hour-long showings of Richard Dawkins videos mocking their faith.It’s ironic that he accuses me of wanting a theocracy like Calvin’s Geneva (which I don’t) while at the same time arguing for a one-size-fits-all education system in which all schools except secularist ones are banned!
It is sad that your correspondents both set up straw men before proceeding to knock them down, rather than dealing with the arguments that I actually made – namely that it is a basic human right, recognised by the United Nations, for parents to have their children educated according to their philosophy or faith.The atheistic secularists who do not recognise that right seem to want a Stalinist-style system where, unless you have money, all children are educated in state schools which teach only the state philosophy.
It’s time for Scotland to move out of its backward, regressive system and become like more progressive nations such as the Netherlands, who do allow choice and freedom in state funded education.
St Peters Free Church
Saturday the 11th of July –
David Robertson (Letters, 10 July) says I and others attribute to him views he does not hold, He then does this himself.
No one has proposed “one-size-fits-all” schools”. I support choice but that should be within one school.In many areas the population is too low to support more then one such. In the others, having pupils travelling to several schools from one area would cause many transport problems with transport.I know of schools pushing religious propaganda (because that is what parents, not pupils, want) but of none using “atheist” propaganda.
Richard Dawkins is a scholar, not a propagandist, since he supports his views with evidence and asks others to do likewise.Pupils can and should question him, as they should those who disagree with him, including parents.If, as Mr Robertson says, they feel he is “mocking their faith” then their minds are closed as a result of propaganda, and not being taught to think for themselves, which should be key aim of education.No good parents want their children to hear and read only what they themselves believe. I am grateful my parents never sought to have me indoctrinated either in religion or politics and left me free to think for myself Mr Robertson should also explain what he means by “atheist secularists”. The inference is that there are “theist” secularists. He says he is not a theocrat, so he must be one of these
For the six years of my secondary school education, in the 1950s in Glasgow, during the first period in the morning, designated as RE (religious education), I never received any religious education.That period was for chatting, catching up on homework, reading comics, or whatever any religious education I received was at our local Church of Scotland Sunday school.
Robert M Dunn
It is quite astonishing that an official of the National Secular Society (Alistair McBay, Letters, 10 July) writes against the United Nations Charter on Human Rights in declaring that parents do not have a right to have their children educated according to their faith.Mr McBay not only goes against this basic human right, but also against logic and reason, when he paints the nightmare scenario of 300 Christian denominations in Scotland each having their own state-funded schools.Of course such a scenario would be ludicrous but that is not what I was arguing for.Does Mr McBay not know of the Dutch system whereby a national curriculum must be followed, and there must be more than 200 pupils?
There are almost no denominations who would get those kind of numbers – Christians would actually have to work together!He does not seem to realise that Scotland did have a state-funded Christian school system (officially it is still supposed to be that) which worked perfectly well.
However, now that it has largely been taken over, cuckoo-like, by the atheistic secularists, it is time for the churches to reclaim the schools they handed over to the state.I agree of course that schools are for teaching, not preaching. The trouble is what is taught and from what perspective.
Mr McBay does not seem to realise that all schools are “faith” schools, in that they all have an ethos and basic philosophy. Why should the only philosophy allowed be a state-mandated secular humanism?Why not allow parents their human right to choose which philosophy/faith their children are educated under?
I would even be happy for the National Secular Society to have schools based on their philosophy – providing they could actually get 200 parents in the same area who wanted that!
David A Robertson
St Peters Free Church