Education, education (part 2)

In the last few days a row has blown up over the inspection by OFSTED of two Free Schools. For those not in the UK, it should be explained that a Free School is one set up by teachers and parents independent of the mainstream system but funded by central government. They are, however, subject to inspection by government inspectors, collectively known as OFSTED. The system has proved popular with minority groups, whether religious or ethnic. In the case that is reaching the news at present, two Free schools have received poor results and one of them, at Durham, is expected to close after Easter. The inspectors found failings in every area, teaching, organisation, discipline and bullying. Pupils were found to have homophobic attitudes and showed prejudice towards minority groups. According to television reports, most of the parents are furious about these inspections and they are supporting all attempts to have the inspections overturned.

The interest to our blog about this row is the fact that both of these schools are so-called Christian schools. This is a code for saying that their original inspiration for setting them up is the desire to teach a curriculum that accords with a conservative Christian agenda. This may or may not include such things as the ‘Young Earth’ theory which involves a denial of Darwin’s theories. This area of controversy does not appear to have been an issue in either of the inspections. What did upset the inspectors was the fact that the version of Christianity that the pupils were being taught was closing their attitudes towards modern life and increasing their prejudice towards minorities. In short the culture of the schools resembled a Christian cocoon which was completely cut off from the rest of society.

We have not heard the last of this story as no doubt the appeal processes will rumble on for some weeks to come. But I want to reflect on the general issue of why it will always be difficult for conservative Christians to set up schools which chime in with the consensus of what education is all about. My comments will be general ones rather than anything else to be gleaned from the press reports about these two schools in particular. In my blog piece about ACE schools I wrote over a month ago, I probably made similar comments to the ones I want to make now. The comments I make now will offer some thoughts about the incidence of bigotry and prejudice that was reported in both these Christian schools. That needs to be accounted for in some way, or at least some kind of explanation offered.

At the heart of the conservative Calvinist Christian system is a confidence that the believer has been let into the secret of God’s will. Christ has revealed God’s truth in his teaching and the words of God recorded in Scripture confirm that teaching. There is no trace of the reticence that is found among less conservative Christians where hesitancy and a certain tentativeness about the nature of ultimate truth is found. The Calvinist tradition only deals in the currency of certainty and finality. Anyone who attends a church where a conservative theology is taught will know the style of confidence that the preacher exudes and which he wishes to pass on to his congregants. In thinking about this confidence about what can be known and the way it is communicated, we can see that it does not fit well into the style of learning that is at the heart of the educational process in the West at least since the 18th century. Here the educational model is based on questions and experiment. In a tradition that goes right back to Plato, knowledge comes to us as we learn to ask the right questions. Scientific experimentation originally involved there being uncertainty about what was true and valid. When the Church tried to impose dogmatic answers on area of knowledge, it generally got things spectacularly wrong. I don’t need to rehearse the sad story of Galileo here. To summarise the failure of the Roman Catholic authorities at the time; it was the assumption that all knowledge had been given to them by God so they could pontificate on every conceivable area of learning. That was wrong and it took a largely secular movement of thought, the Enlightenment, to get scientific advances back on track.

The complaint of the OFSTED inspectors about the Christian schools does not appear to have been about the actual curriculum. What is being referred to is apparently the effect of a system of teaching on attitudes to those outside the school who do not adhere to the same narrow ideology which is taught in the schools. In summary the children at these two Christian schools were imbibing assumptions about the world that gave them an unwarranted sense of superiority towards individuals who do not belong to their Christian tribe. The Christianity they learned about was not making them more generous, loving and considerate. Rather it was teaching them a smug satisfaction that their version of truth was complete and final and for this reason they could look down on anyone who did not belong to their system of belief.

In conclusion, educational values of openness to truth, the discovery through experimentation, and learning through dialogue do not sit easily with any dogmatic system, whether Catholic or Calvinist. The OFSTED inspectors appear to have stumbled upon two institutions where such a closed system was in operation. This closed system with its consequent closed prejudiced attitudes, was they believed, creating failing educational institutions. On the basis of what we have seen, this analysis must be applauded and supported.

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

19 thoughts on “Education, education (part 2)

  1. I have now downloaded both reports from the OFSTED website. There is nothing that refers to the religious formation of the 94 pupils (Years 7 &8) at the Durham Free School but there is a telling sentence about the social development of the students. It says: ‘Students ….. demonstrate a limited ability to recognise the needs of others or appreciate that other students can have opinions that differ from their own.’ At the Grindon Hall Christian School (590 pupils and which is not threatened with closure) the inspectors were concerned that the curriculum does not teach ‘the need to be tolerant and respectful towards those who are different to themselves’. Both these comments illustrate an ideology that wider society in Britain increasingly wishes to outlaw, namely the inability to tolerate, include and welcome people who are different, whether racially or religiously. From the perspective of this blog, welcoming the stranger was the act of Jesus and so should be at the forefront of all teaching at a Christian school.

  2. “”Attitude of superiority”? Sounds like the average public school! (For those from different countries, our “public” schools are anything but. They’re the private fee paying schools. The rich kids do tend to be taught they’re better than anyone else.) Having said that, it’s not just religion that can close minds. The Soviet’s attitude to communism was so fervent that the study of genetics was set back many years. Natural selection was too elitist, you see.

    1. English Athena, I was educated at two fairly well known public schools. At no point was I ever told or given the impression that I was better or more superior than other people. On the contrary, we were encouraged to believe that our our place in society was one of service. My husband and two children were also at public schools. Three of us are or were in the caring professions. The fourth serves her community in other ways. None of us were rich kids. We were all on scholarships or bursaries. My experience of life is that people behave more in accordance with their personalities than they do with their schooling. There are those who are both gentle and arrogant in every type of school.
      Please don’t fall into the trap of this way of thinking. Christians and the churches must set an example of being open minded about others and their respective backgrounds.

      1. Well, it’s a fair point. But, look at our PM. He doesn’t “get” poverty at all. Thinks it doesn’t exist. Wholly unrealistic. I went out with a guy from a public school at university. It’s the not realising how different and fortunate you are in comparison with everyone else. I also know of people who have to deal with the parking outside two totally different public schools in two different places. the parents just block up the drives, park in the middle of the road, that sort of thing. You do get some rotten parking outside state schools, but not usually in the middle of the road! Oh, and my sister-in-law and her husband work at a public school. It’s the overweening self confidence. And then there’s the “arrangements” with Oxbridge colleges. That they will always send two boys, or whatever. So it may not always be bad, but there’s a reason so many public figures went to public school. Wouldn’t it be nice if all schools could afford to educate their children as well as Eton? And why doesn’t Eton have to follow the National Curriculum I wonder? It’s supposed to be very good. . .

  3. MR the founder of Peniel Church, renamed Trinity Church used to tell parents that he had the best school in the country, with the best exams results for GCSE and A levels, comprehensive rather than selective intake, beat the likes of Eaton etc. MR also said there had been external enquiries (parents wishing to enroll their children in the school), but were rejected because they did not attend Peniel Church – I assume he realised that he could not brainwash both parents and children unless they attended the church as well.

    As a consequence, many of those who went through Peniel Academy are extremely prideful, have an inflated ego and an overestimated sense of superiority.They themselves would not mix with those who did not attend the school nor would they allow their children to mix with outsiders’ children. Such attitude became a real problem after MR had left because those who did not belong to this elitist group left in droves and some of us found yourselves stuck with this group not by choice, but by the fact that their children were the majority particularly in the junior and infant school. I assume they did not leave, unlike some of us because they benefited hugely from the system – they were MR’s children, given disproportionate privileges, used to favouritism, applauded and patted on their backs, etc. Most of us left well before the current new people joined.

    The school’s exam results are tumbling down the league tables these days.

    1. The difference between Peniel Academy and other private schools are the fact that many of the families were originally working class, some lower middle class who ‘made it’ – nouveau riche – new money without appropriate education corrupts.What do you expect? Their parents and they learned at the feet of Michael Reid.

      N.B. I am not discriminating against working class families. I know a lot of working class families who bring up their children well.

  4. I am for tolerance and free speech. I will not insult your religion or the lack of it nor should you insult mine – let’s agree to disagree. I will not shut you up nor should you shut me up. I will not compromise my religion and you have no right to make me do so by force. You do not have to compromise your religion, but you have not right to shut me.

    Disagreeing does not equal intolerance. Please don’t put a spin on what I say.

  5. Speaking as someone that was formally illiterate, lowest of the low. I simply say this. At some point in the history of ‘The Church,’ it became state owned. It was a former Prime Minister (Not Chris Pitts) who spoke of ‘the unacceptable face of capitalism’ infecting this country. Any system of education must by its very nature approve career motivation and ambition incentive, both of which have betrayed Christ and screwed me and the people from whose ranks I am proud to have come.

    Chris Pitts

    1. The reason why I have to have a dig at those who grew up in Peniel Academy is because they act like they are upper class or close (upper middle class) when they cannot see that they are plainly not – not by the way they behaved – they are nouveau riche. I am not intimating that the upper classes or upper middle classes behave impeccably.

      Human beings are human beings. We are all the same in God’s eyes and He loves us all no matter what social class we belong or came from.

    2. By state owned, do you mean dear old Uncle Henry? The Church’s close links to government are pretty much history, now. Even when it was the Roman Catholic Church, since that was the only church, it was totally integrated into government. And it stayed that way for a long time after the Reformation. It wasn’t altogether our finest hour. But now it’s mostly just that anything the CofE wants to change has to go through parliament. And you’re right. A lot of people are totally failed by the education system.

  6. Thank you anons with connection to the Peniel school. It is thanks to a long exposure to the Peniel/Michael Reid blog that I recognised in the OFSTED report the tale-tale signs of a Peniel-type culture in these schools in the North East. There is a family pattern in these ‘Christian’ schools that equates infallible bible teaching with a superior attitude towards others. This is not strictly social superiority, it is much more a case of ‘we have the truth and you haven’t, so we are better than you in every way’. Social snobbery may come into it but at its heart there is an unseemly grabbing for power and preaching (down) to others is a way of holding a sense of power over others. It is ugly and unseemly, like a lot that goes on in certain toxic churches..

    1. They are the Nicolaitans. Google search reveals the following:

      Nicolaitans were one of the heretical sects that plagued the churches at Ephesus and at Pergamum, according to Revelation 2:6,15. Irenaeus identifies them as followers of Nicolas, one of the seven chosen in Acts 6, and as men who “lead lives of unrestrained indulgence”

  7. Thanks English Athena, I was trying to shine a light on the Christ of history. Today it seems taken for granted that we can use the present world system for personal gain, career, investment, and power position over others etc. All attempts at building real community are blocked by the outworking of a capitalist mindset in one form or another. I have grave doubts about a society (And a education system) that glories in a triumphalist view of career.

    When you see Sir Alan Sugar (TV show ‘The Apprentice), telling very young people that it’s ok to stab your competitor in the back and cheered on by a society licks the arse of capitalism, I say something is very wrong.
    This mentality has infected our society, or education system and our view of neighbourly priorities.
    As far as the church goes Stephen Parsons is the only person from an academic background to challenge it face to face.

    Peace, Chris

  8. Have you read “Marketing of Evil by David Kupelian agenda for school kids (referencing a lot of excellent reads). Also, contact Citizen Magazine by Focus on the Family back in 1989-90 Debbie Mendenhall wrote some excellent articles, they might have some excellent resources regarding what your dealing with. Know there are Video’s/DVD’s exposing agenda’s of what your writing about. Haven’t seen “Waiting for Superman, documentary on U.S. School system. Contact “World Net Daily” and see what they have to help; they are also Editor’s of “Whistblower Magazine”. Real Eye opening read is: “Battle Hymn by John Secura and Dane Phillips”.

  9. Thanks Hmmm! Looks like a good read. We need to talk more on the link between ‘achievement’ and greed, and the way education is being highjacked by a materialist mindset. Many teachers are helpless to reverse this trend. For example, if you have a child who is doing well in all subjects but is a obvious self centred prig, what action is available to the teacher to stop then developing into a career psychopath ?
    More discussion on this bloggers please?
    Peace, Chris Pitts

  10. Google: Ann Blake Tracy Ph.D research her items and contact her regarding schools etc. one of the best books on your last question is Books by Earl Jabay Kingdom of Self and The God Players etc., Also, saw shows where Dr. Phil covers what you are asking. It would be narcissism on parents part and perfectionism, always railing at a child and the negative also.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.