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Live webchat with Richard Dawkins, Wed 23 June, 10am-11am

(497 Posts)
GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 17-Jun-10 12:47:44

We're pleased to welcome Richard Dawkins for a webchat on Wednesday 23 June from 10am-11am. Richard is a celebrated evolutionary biologist and atheist, and author of the best-selling God Delusion.

He has presented programmes on Channel Four that range from enthusing about the Genius of Charles Darwin to arguing against religion in Root of All Evil?

His latest project is taking a long hard look at education and the role religion continues to play in it.

He wants to hear first-hand from Mumsnetters what faith and church schools are really like. How successful are they? Are they selection by another means? Are they divisive? And are they making hypocrites out of non-believing parents who go to church just to send their children to them?

If you can't make the discussion but want to contribute, please post your views here.

Thanks and hope you can join us.

optionalusername Thu 17-Jun-10 14:09:09

Welcome Richard. I am not certain whether as a student of Religion and Philosophy I should be in awe, or as a Christian (albeit a Quaker style one) should be on defence so I shall extend the welcome hand but with moderate caution grin.

We live in a Welsh town with only a faith school serving the catchment. It is not a Church school as per usual rules, but the school is set up in order to give the Church a huge say (and a financial input). I should point out it was set up some hudreds of years ago so not surprising.
The school is dependent on the Church financially, has to recruit a head from the Diocese membership, and the Vicar is Chair of Governors. A recent change of headship means that the children attend formal service three times a week and a regular Eucharist. There are a few members of other faiths in the school but not many.

My own opinions is that whilst I have no issue with faith schools as an option, in no way should they be the only catchment school.

There have been repeated incidents- a refusal to look at a children's book on Buddhism my youngest took in, using the 'teach two faiths' rule to teach only Christianity and Judaism (and the latter just a browse of the OT), chidlren being sent home with leaflets about light is good and dark is abd that seemed to tie up hugely with some theories of racism that I have read.

however, Christian though the school is, it is not good with any child differing from the mainstream provision and to be honest I have found this quite disappointing. the Vicar is great when called into action: he helped a friend with statementing, but on the whole several people have made it clear that is a school that seeks to maintain a very hiugh status and that children with SN do not feature in that. There are exceptions, notable ones amongst the staff, but the school has a very poor reputaion for this and in fact some support agencies refuse to go in as it is pointless.

Examples of incidents include a former staff member telling me autism is just poor parenting and does not warrant help, and a teacher telling me the application for a statement had been refused when in fact she had not even submitted it. We were awrded one straight off when we applied ourselves.

The emphasis on formal worship has led to extra lessons being withdrawn from some children who do not have formal statements, children everely behind on reading or class work; I have heard that the head refuses to grant exemption from worship for this purpose.

I do a fair amount of support work and this is far from unusual for faith schools. You'd think a Christian school would be supportive and welcoming wouldn't you? Seemingly a mistake.

We are looking at a different school for one child now, further away and a nightmare logistically but don't feel we could risk the school again. It hs the makings of a top school but fails anyone who is not academic.

And the odd thing is that we were raising our children as Chrostians; I say were becuase since the new worship workload both children have decided they no longer have a faith.

Apolgies for namechange- just a touch of anonmymity.

As I said before, I am not anti- faith schools, but I beleive everyone should first have the option of a non faith education: faith schools should be extras if tehre are any.

mammamic Thu 17-Jun-10 14:13:45

Our 6 yr old DD attends a Roman Catholic school. I consider myself a Christian and, if I'm honest, would have preferred a non denominational Christian school but I think these are a 'myth'

It is very important to me for my daughter to have a choice when she is older around faith and all that comes with it. I sincerely believe that unless children attend a faith school, then this is almost impossible and highly unlikely. I've met lots of people who've left they're faith but none who have come into a faith with no prior belief system at home/school.

I researched the christian schools in my area to ensure that their teachings are not contrary to mine and this Roman Catholic school came out the best for our needs. As an added bonus, it is very small (one class per year of about 24 children), it is close to where we live, friendly and well balanced. Faith is at the heart of the school but not overwhelming and the children learn about other faiths too.

Faith schools can be selective but most are funded by the diocese and only minimally funded by the local council, unlike state schools, so I believe it is right that they should have the option to be selective. I don't in any way see how our school is 'divisive'.

To your last point regarding hypocrites - it is unfair if the parents lie to get their child into a faith school or if they only want that school for convenience but if they go to church and give their child the opportunity to learn about faith etc, then it can only be a good thing.

SanctiMoanyArse Thu 17-Jun-10 14:15:29

Mam meet me- raised by atheists akin of Mr Dawkins LOL, CHroistian now.

Nice to mee t you wink

We exist but IME not within mainstream CHurches so much. Perhaps nthey are hard to get 'into' later on?

SanctiMoanyArse Thu 17-Jun-10 14:20:23

(and I would say that I want my children to be able to access a faith, not just Christinaity, but also whatever (or lack of) that appeals so I am not sure that their faiths chools gives them that at all; rather it limits those they have contact with)

My sister did the non beleiver thing; attended Church despite having zero faith to get a place. Am not sure how I feel tbh, she did become an active part of the Church community and helped with fundraising etc so not all way. I don't like the dishinesty though. AS it happens my good friend works at said school and from what I hear it's not what they think it is.

Are they selction by another means? Not if they serve a catchemnt area and have a selection criteria that considers that. They can be though, it depends on the way they work. Are they successful? IME yes if you fot a certain mould, no otherwise. Are they divisive? In would say so; I want my children around a mix of cultures.

EnglandAllenPoe Thu 17-Jun-10 14:22:02

my question: isn't any kind of faith-based discrimination illegal? why should it be allowed for schools admissions?

also - discrimination in favour of churchgoers in inherently discrimination in favour of a wealthier-than-average minority.

mammamic Thu 17-Jun-10 14:24:30

I've made my statement and now here's my question...

I have read your books and articles and find them very interesting - it's always good to have someone to give you a different view and question yourself and the world you live in, however, I've never understood why you seem adamant that evolution, science and faith cannot sit side by side but have to be separate.

evolution, science, philosophy - these are all areas that interest me, keep me growing, make me want more and more knowledge AND they sit quite nicely with my beliefs.

Why do these have to be separate in your world?

Thank you - it's an honour and a pleasure to have your on our forum - very exciting!

StuckInTheMiddleWithYou Thu 17-Jun-10 14:30:00

Given the controversy concerning Emmanuel College, do you have any concerns regarding the foundation of more Academies?

Also, how do you deal with accusations of "Millitant Athiesm"?

posieparker Thu 17-Jun-10 14:35:50

Me: I am an atheist and unlike many atheists I know I have never believed in God...not even as a child, spent many an assembly with my head held high during head down prayers.

I am a theology graduate.

I have had to put my children into a Catholic primary school, long boring story, and it was with fear and dread about the indoctrination they will be subjected to.

What I have found:

They pray three/four times a day.
One of my children now believes in God.
Having fun discussing that I'm wrong!! hmm
They are very happy and the school is very successful, like many faith schools in Bristol they do better than the rest.

My own take on the success of the faith school is that the success,, or part of the success, is the common goal, the ritual and routine. The Catholic calendar has many unifying events that the whole school is part of and parents too. Whilst this is a very middle class school, perhaps many faith schools are, it welcomes all backgrounds.

The fundamental things about my children going to a faith school is that they now have a choice to believe in God if they wish, to have faith in something they cannot touch. I also wonder if the three or four prayers a day add focus and meditation to an other wise busy day, perhaps this gives clear beginnings and endings and perhaps this is key to children and schools doing well with a little bit of God!!

Incidentally if man never had religion would we still have atheists? Not specifically as of course literally we wouldn't. But man's quest for answers would never be satisfied and perhaps, we atheists, are comfortable in our view of the world because we are disagreeing about what there is........ iyswim.

ExplodingBananas Thu 17-Jun-10 15:26:04

I am interested in this as I think with where I live my DC will only have access to faith schools. I am an atheist, although tbh I don't like that label as it sounds like a religion in itself, whereas I actually don't beleive in religion, and feel it is very devisive.

I am also interested in the funding, as I was under the impression faith schools get the same budget per pupil but some top this up with church funds.

I remember my own education in normal state schools and I was forced to sit through prayers in assembly and before lunch. It felt very wrong at the time even as a young child and like some form of discrimination.

I personally think education and religion should be kept seperate, religion is so personal and can be shared with like minded people outside school time. If children choose not to follow a parents religion because it has not been rammed down their throats at school maybe that is their choice.

Olympiarocks Thu 17-Jun-10 17:37:27

Dear Mr Dawkins,

I am a huge fan of yours and share the vast majority of your views.

I am disgusted that the money I pay in taxes goes to fund schools that inculcate prejudice and divisive attitudes in children who are too young to reach their own conclusions.

Not only that, but my children would not be welcome at the very same schools as I'm not prepared to behave in a hypocritical way by going to church to feign faith.

However, the vast majority of my friends who aren't able to afford to go private are opting to go down the hypocrisy route in order to get their children into faith schools.

While I am hugely depressed by this, there is no getting away from the fact that in many cases faith schools are 'better' - if one measures that by crude exam results and ignores the rubbish they get told - than their non-denominational alternatives. Not always, of course, but often.

So another key reason the very existence of these schools in the state system is pernicious is that they suck up the offspring of all these ambitious middle class parents - resulting in the non-denominatinal state schools having a less advantaged pool of pupils.

And so it goes on.

I have nothing - or far less - against private state schools; if someone wants to pay to have their children taught a pack of lies then I suppose that's their business. But allowing/promoting religious differences in public education seems hugely retrogressive and at odds with all attempts to promote a fair, equal and tolerant society.

I'm sorry not to be able to participate in the webchat live, but wanted to leave my thoughts. It's something I feel very strongly about.

Magiktreefairy Thu 17-Jun-10 18:17:45

Dear Mr Dawkins, just like 'posieparker' I am a life long atheist and from a long line of atheists, and yet when it came to choosing a primary school for my son to start this September I ended up choosing a Roman Catholic school. Originally I refused to even view the school, the thought of deliberately sending my son to a faith school terrified me, however, I did view it, I spoke to other parents and I researched it's perfomance and in truth I was bowled over by it. I'm not sure if it's down to their faith that they are so organised and diligent but it can only benefit the children's learning. He starts in a few months and although I'm still nervous I'm confident that he will receive a decent education within a safe and caring enviroment. I'm prepared for the many questions and already mentally constructing my responses, I want my son to be able to make an informed decision himself on his own ideals and beliefs.

Homealonewith2 Thu 17-Jun-10 20:34:37

I am a Christian who believes that the inherent values of the faith are why we see faith schools performing very well, broadly speaking. To me it is the search for God and the experience of God that leads kids (and adults too) actually to be better, kinder, respectful/worhsipping human beings, not purely self centred. Love and self-sacrifice which is central to Christ's message, encourages self-esteem, care for others and looking to God can give inspiration for change and progress on many levels including the academic one.

It is not surprising that many atheistic or non-religious parents want a part of that for their children and feel safe with it: secular alternatives can also be excellent too however. Theeducation system in England was instituted by Christians so its roots are reflected in the wide choice of church schools something I am proud of as a Christian. I think if social equality is the REAL motive behind atheist's going on against faith schools, they would be on a crusade against the fee paying private sector, but it's not really about that is it, it's the prejudice against theism (faith) that is calling the shots in this kind of debate.

It would be really unfair to accuse the schools themselves of creating hyprocrites! People may be so, but they can't blame the system for making them do it! There are great community schools as well to choose from.
The schools themselves do not encourage middle class parents either, because entry is not based on income or ability to pay.
There is no reason to abandon the system because of the ones who use or abuse it, the schools do their best to make this difficult but you will always get the determined ones who will do all sorts to get the 'best' school in their area, as they see it.

The fact is that if we take faith, any faith, out of schools it would not lead to equality or harmony. It would lead to a fascist country where the STATE dictates what our children will be allowed to believe and what teachers are allowed to say about belief in a uniform set of state schools: ie thought control. State controlled atheism or secularism in ALL schools? NO THANKS! The absence of faith would not lead to no beliefs, but an alternative ones, eg athesim or secularism. It is indicative of a free country that schools are able to opt out or semi-opt out of state control: It's fantastic not to live in North Korea or communist China in my humble opinion. You might not like all options on the table with schools, (I don't personally like the private school system) but I have to say the only way for a free society is to allow a wide choice for all the parents and kids in the country. While they are small we make choices for them, granted, and when they are a bit older they will inevitably choose everything for themselves.

To me, in a free country like ours, CHOICE is everything and that's what all citizens want, parents included. That's what we have, thank God! I am very proud of our Christian heritage, freedoms of choice, conscience and religion, and I'm proud of the huge part Christian schools still play in the education system. They provide a clear moral framework which I love for my kids who need to know they really do have to put boundaries on their own behaviour for their own sake, the sake of others and society. Christianity to me is and has long been a great positive to society not something divisive at all! Kids are taught to respect all religions and races nowadays in every school, faith or non-faith and that is why there is no argument that faith schools are nasty horrible places that bring out the worst in people and society - it's not the schools: it's people. people divide along all kinds of lines, clothes, culture, race, class,age, you name it: abolishing faith schools will not breed ideal, perfect human beings and a non-divisive society. Faith schools seem to do all they can to promote understanding and tolerance while respecting their own traditions. That is the only way to go.

I'm delighted with my son's Cof E school. It does an amazing job for parents who want what they offer. It teaches him care and charity, harmony, tolerance, and respect in the children who attend them, mine for sure are benefiting so much from the ethos. He is reflective, thoughtful and can even be quite tender about the needs of others. His school raises funds for an orphanage and worship happens every day which I also think helps them to see things beyond themselves, and to reflect on things that matter more than themselves, or money or the latest gadget. I'm not saying non faith schools can't do this but I think faith schools have done it well for decades, still are doing it well, so what's the issue here?

I would fight tooth and nail if I thought any government pressured by any pressure groups or 'celebrities' wanted to take away the choice of parents to give their child an education including 'faith'. Thanks

CelticTiger Thu 17-Jun-10 22:12:34

I am English living in the Republic of Ireland where the bigotry and indoctrination of the education system led me to Homeschool my daughter, who is now twenty and, you will be pleased to hear, studying for a science degree!I am passionately anti-religion of any kind BUT ( now take a deep breath )have been very provably clairvoyant, clairaudient and clairsentient since childhood and so, from the evidence of my own experience, I know there is much more to life than the here and now.I've read all your books and viewed TED presentations etc and am thus aware that the Dawkins hackles are probably rising here but as an ex-teacher and researcher/lecturer in education I would say true learning requires a completely open mind....I don't think church schools provide this but then , for different reasons, neither do state schools...and neither does a blind adherence to the extant scientific paradigm.There is so much to know and understand it is always a great pity when any rigid or ritualised constraints are placed around the process !

duck94 Thu 17-Jun-10 23:28:57

I too want to add that I very much admire the work of Richard Dawkins and his tireless efforts to inspire wonder at the true nature of the world.

I agree with him that there is no such thing as a religious child. Our children (like all children) were born atheists and will remain so until the time when they are old enough to evaluate the claims of any religion using the evidence which is available to them. They will also choose e.g. their political allegiance in this way, their diet and lifestyle, their partners, and so on.

Our children are not yet at school and we would avoid like the plague any school which had any element of religious 'instruction' as part of it's teaching. Schools are for the teaching of knowledge and fact (and life skills of course) - and nobody - no matter how religious they are - can claim that their religious beliefs are FACT. What business do we have to be filling children's heads with conjecture? Somebody's idea of the truth? A tiny minorities view of the truth?

I was educated in Catholic primary and secondary schools, and have nothing good to say about either of them. I am incensed that taxpayers money can be used with the aim of indoctrinating children into a particular way of thinking, and segregating them from children whose parents hold different religious beliefs. How ridiculous would a school for Liberal Democrat supporters be, for example (or rather, the children of Liberal Democrat supporters!)

I have lived for a couple of years in France where secularity is taken extremely seriously, and religion is almost taboo in public life. They have long separated religious schools from government funding. If you want your children to learn this stuff, you must pay - no way is the government going to do it for you. It is no concern of the state to give voice to any particular religious group.

And to Santymoanyarse who feels that his/her children are better off in 'a faith school' than not, I wonder how you would feel if the school were to be run by Orthodox Jews or muslims - would you still be happy? Or are these religions a bit too like the scary Christianity of old before it lost the upper hand to logic and reason in the UK, and had to become a bit more wishy washy?

I'm off to bed to read Dawkins' latest book!

BeckyLK Fri 18-Jun-10 09:34:24

So pleased that you are here firstly. My child started attending a local Church of England school aged four. Mostly because it was very small and very local, I don't think we appreciated quite how C of E, C of E could be!

At the end of the first year two thirds of the work he bought home was religious in it's themes and contents. The following year we asked for our son not to attend collective workship. During the following ten days our son was parked in the heads office initially with nothing to do and latterly with colouring books and pencils which we supplied. At the end of the second week he left school unoticed, left school grounds again noticed and was only found when he was walking back into school having thought better of walking home. He was five and walking along a busy A road.

School did not tell us he did.

Since they could not adequately supervise him if he did not attend worship he began to attend worship again. The teacher was overheard saying to him that would be nice as God hadn't been hearing his prayers. We changed school at the end of the term.

What shocked me most was the schools (teachers and the heads) complete arrogance in the face of a different belief system. Ny husbands family were buddist while we are atheist. We were patronised and basically told they had no obligation to do anything other than what they were. They taught creation but not evolution...apparently that can only be taught after age 8...when the children would have moved schools...it was incredible and terrifying in equal measure.

All three children now go to a great secular school but I still object to the obligation to performa a daily act of worship in ALL state schools. Why the hell should they, if people have faith pursue it at home or in your church not at the expense of my childs education time.

Sorry for the rant but having previously raised this with the school the LEA and other disgruntled parents of the school it is something of a soapbox subject.

Anyway the crux is what part do you think religion should play i pur education system?


duck94 Fri 18-Jun-10 10:25:13

Homealonewith2 - I think you need to get out and see the world a bit more instead of staying at home alone!

You believe that a country which takes faith in a god or gods out of the state education system is a fascist country. The mind boggles.... Perhaps you should tell that to the French and American governments (to name two obvious examples) where state sponsored religion has no part in education.

If people like you want to be a Christian or a member of the BNP or a believer in crystal healing or the flying spaghetti monster - whatever - then bully for you - do it on your own time and with your own money if you want. As the previous poster pointed out, you are not welcome to do it in my children's precious education time.

liath Fri 18-Jun-10 20:28:30

Mr Dawkins,

I agree with you wholeheartedly WRT protecting children from religious indoctrination. I even have serious issues with Father Christmas and lying to children about that & the tooth fairy and all that nonsense. One of my friends told me that if I told my kids that Father Christmas doesn't exist then I was destroying the magic of childhood (I haven't told them but the whole thing makes me very uncomfortable).

What is your take on the Free Schools announced today? I think this could potentially be a very worrying development and open to all sorts of abuse.

RubberDuck Sat 19-Jun-10 14:05:34

Excellent! I have a huge amount of respect for you, Mr Dawkins and am very much looking forward to hearing you talk at TAM London this year.

My question is: how can we encourage critical thinking in our children and should this vital life skill be part of the curriculum in school as well as taught at home?

I have one son (aged 9) who has always been good at not taking things at face value even at a very young age, but my youngest son (6) is of the strong opinion that if it's on television, or written down, or a teacher says it then it Must Be Truth - whether it's religious indoctrination, or an advert for stain remover.

lalaa Sat 19-Jun-10 14:33:25

Do you know of any resources we can use to encourage our children to question what they are taught at faith schools? I too had no choice but to send my dd to a CofE school and she won't even hear about other religions, let alone the option of no religion at all. She's 7 so it would be a good time to get in there!

onebatmother Sat 19-Jun-10 14:52:28

It seems to me that the issue is not simply how individual children are educated, or indoctrinated, at faith schools.

A wider question - and perhaps a more important one - is whether it can possibly be right to divide children on the basis of their parents' faith, at an age when we do not consider them in law capable of making their own choices.

This seems to me an abuse; and one from which both individual children, and the community at large would be protected, were the division to occur on any other grounds.

onebatmother Sat 19-Jun-10 14:54:53

(eek sorry pressed send too soon)

... Prof Dawkins, do you agree, and if so what can be done?

Pofacedagain Sat 19-Jun-10 19:50:10

What selection criteria is acceptable then for schools? The catchment system, which is the priority for our local CofE School, regardless of one's faith, is deeply unfair, as good schools often have catchment areas which are highly expensive to live in - therefore how much money you have can often be the determining factor.

As an agnostic with a deep sympathy for the message of Christ I am torn on the issue of faith schools. I do however find it highly irritating that all Christians are viewed as Evangelical irrational science haters in The God Delusion.

The revolutionary power of forgiveness and unconditional compassion as well as social equality are Christ's central teachings, whatever spin the mysoginistic and misanthropic church has put on his since. I blame both Christians and non Christians for completely perverting the teachings of Christ.

Pofacedagain Sat 19-Jun-10 19:51:08

put on them since.

MostlyMad Sat 19-Jun-10 20:30:05

Both my daughters attend a Catholic primary school. It is typical of its kind - highly successful (if you judge it by its results). They pray several times a day and each child is appointed a "prayer partner" (an older child) to help them with prayers. The religious indoctrination (which includes and encourages a respect for, and knowledge of, other religions) has helped the children to form a "community based" approach to their environment (both local and global) and encourages caring for others at a time when their personalities are forming. These principles are easily forgotten when there is no religious context to reference an overseeing God.
I am certainly one of the hypocrites you mentioned. I did not attend church regularly and, now that the children are established in the school (indeed one is about to go to secondary school) I no longer attend church.
I did want the children to benefit from Christian principles while they were little and to benefit from what appeared to be (from the outside) superior teaching. However, I would not be happy for that to continue into secondary education and have selected a non-denominational school. I believe the children now have the choice to continue in their faith or not and I will support them either way as they mature and begin to ask more questions.
The high results of schools such as these are because of their parents' religious beliefs and not because of any superior teaching. The teaching is no better than in non-denominational schools - but if a parent is interested in their children's religious upbringing then they are certainly interested in their education. It is simply a question of proportion - the majority of the children at Church schools have parents who care about their education and therefore support their learning from home. In non-denominational schools there may be a broader spectrum of families where some are caring and supportive and some are less so.
I would have had difficulty teaching the children about their religion (having no firm beliefs in either direction). What they have learned from their school will mean that they can exercise their own choices as adults and they may believe or they may not. How could they have had this choice without their Church school? How can you teach the principles of faith without participation?

liath Sun 20-Jun-10 00:27:53

Eek, apologies for the Mr, Prof Dawkins blush.

SomeGuy Sun 20-Jun-10 01:29:15

You are quoted here: www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article1767506.ece as saying 'intelligent, sophisticated theologians are almost totally irrelevant to the phenomenon of religion in the world today' 'because they're outnumbered by vast hordes of religious idiots'.

From watching your interview of Rowan Williams it would seem that you regard him as an intelligent, sophisticated theologian, and that our established church in England is therefore not one of religious idiots.

Do you feel that the hand of the 'religious idiots' is strengthened by the rhetoric of anti-theists such as yourself, lining up to attack literalists and their beliefs?

Is it not the case that the stridency of your arguments merely serves to strengthen the resolve of your opponents, and indeed to push believers towards fundamentalism, as their arguments are the ones getting all the publicity?

Your position as both the highest profile evolution scientist and also the most famous anti-theist implies to many believers that there is a choice - evolution or God, when the major Christian Churches in the UK have no opposition to evolution at all.

On the topic of religion in schools, I have no major objections. My son went briefly to a Catholic school, despite my colleague, a Governor, crowing about how good it was and how we wouldn't be able to get in because we weren't Catholics. Of course it is a form of selection, but selection is of course inevitable in life. The school we wanted to go to but didn't get into was further away from our home (we were near the Catholic school) and surrounded by the most expensive housing in town. A few months of Sundays in church is a very much easy hurdle to jump over than having a spare million pounds for a house in the right road.

Anyway, we weren't terribly impressed with the Catholic school as it happens, and are now in a non-selective school - albeit one that has fees of thousands of pounds a year. The major change we have noticed is that at the new school, a great deal is expected of parents in terms of reading to their children, help with homework, etc., whereas previously it was noticeable that there were perhaps two or three parents in each class who couldn't care less about education. I wonder if the previous, Catholic, school might have done better to require regular church attendance, not because a belief in God improves exam results, but because the discipline of regular church attendance is indicative of a ethic of perseverance and structure that would tend to exclude the 'couldn't-care-lesses' - the higher the barrier, the more committed will be those that jump it, and rather something relatively egalitarian than the usual 'how-fat-is-your-wallet' standard applied by successful non-religious schools.

Eleison Sun 20-Jun-10 05:10:41

On the issue of faith schools, it seems to become an issue where there is an unjustifiable scarcity of adequate schools and faith becomes one of several invidious and unjust ways of rationing a resource. Therefore wrong, both when operating strictly correctly according to its own criteria and of course when its criteria are abused by the socially literate and canny middle classes to play the system to their advantage.

Indoctrination? Clearly wrong but at my children's CofE controlled primary that is not what occurs. Rather there is acculturation -- the provision of religious culture to inform one aspect of a child's cultural literacy and help her to choose and rechoose through life. Since religion is not purely or primarily cognitive, the acculturation is partly procedural (the business of hands-together-eyes-closed, etc). Insofar as it is a cognitive acculturation it is at our school properly presented to the children as neutral between faiths and neutral between faith and atheism. So as an atheist I entirely welcome it. But that endorsement is only possible because the school is non-selective on grounds of faith and in my locality there is not unacceptable pressure on good school places.

I would also like to say that the current Dawkins Versus Faith debate is entirely unrewarding and that on the atheist team it presents a hostile caricature of faith and is philosophically facile. It makes me ashamed to be an atheist.

Pofacedagain Sun 20-Jun-10 09:42:14

GREAT posts SomeGuy and Eleison.

justaboutblowingbubbles Sun 20-Jun-10 19:22:42

Dear Professor Dawkins,

First I'd like to thank you for the huge groundswell of interest you have created in discussing issues of religion, faith and belief - as a Church of England clergywoman I know how much it has helped revive interest in the subject amongst non-churchgoers, and I know many of my colleagues give devout thanks in prayer for your work, so effective has it been in provoking people to ask hard questions about their faith and atheism...and, indeed, in creating a process of questioning and reflecting that has seen many hitherto fence-sitters return to the pews...

But that's an aside, and you probably wouldn't want to be thanked for that anyway. So, my question:

In the purely hypothetical situation that you died and found that God did, after all, exist, and even more unbelievably He/She was interested in what you had to say...

Would you
a) apologise for your lack of faith,
b) berate Him/Her for the suffering and inequalities in Creation
c) mutter that it wasn't very fair for an intelligent Deity not to provide rational proofs of His/Her existence
d) Do something else far cleverer that I haven't thought of?



justaboutblowingbubbles Sun 20-Jun-10 19:23:31

PS. Oh, and you're entirely right about faith schools. Unnecessary and socially divisive.

HerBeatitude Sun 20-Jun-10 19:52:48

Hi just want to add my experience of faith school - I live in a grammar school area which means that the catholics who pass the 11 plus tend to go to grammar meaning that there are more places for non-faith school children in faith schools - anything betwee 20-33% in any year group.

DS is going to a RC secondary school in September and along with the grammar schools in the area, it's the only comprehensive school that still has embroidered blazers (as opposed to badges to sew on cheap as chips Asda ones) and only one uniform stockist. So breaching government uniform guidelines aimed at ensuring that low income families are not hit by horrible uniform prices.

It's the only nice comp in the area (hence him going to it) but I was genuinely shocked that it should have this policy and slightly astounded 1. that schools are allowed to flout govt. guidelines like this and 2. that a school that declares itself christian, should want to.

BonzoDoodah Sun 20-Jun-10 23:34:47

Hello Prof Dawkins - thanks for coming on here.
To answer your question first - I am a lifelong atheist and (from a very young age)was bored rigid in school assemblies where I had to listen to what I thought was a pile of nonsense that didn't relate to me at all. My children are not school age yet but there is no way I would sent them to a church run school. I find it bad enough that the state schools have religious ceremonies without having the children indoctrinated any further.

I have always been very open about being an atheist and quite adamant that I am NOT agnostic (despite people arguing with me vehemently) but it has quite often shocked people that I do not believe in god (quote "gosh but you're a nice person!!!" FFS!) I read River Out of Eden recently and am now in the middle of The God Delusion and am finding it refreshing to read someone with my point of view.

I heard you described on Radio 4 today (Sunday) as a "Neo-Atheist" and wondered what you thought of the label. And if you wondered, like me, why it has suddenly become "acceptable" (almost trendy) to say you are an atheist after years of us being seen as pariahs.

kittykitty Mon 21-Jun-10 10:04:46

Did you know that you're the most searched for Richard on Google? I started typing Richard into the search box and Richard Dawkins came up ahead of Richards Hammond, Branson and Gere.

SomeGuy Mon 21-Jun-10 11:00:35
TheShriekingHarpy Mon 21-Jun-10 14:00:36

""But allowing/promoting religious differences in public education seems hugely retrogressive and at odds with all attempts to promote a fair, equal and tolerant society""

And imposing a decree which revokes denominational schools and endorses secularism ...well how is that consistent with a "tolerant society"?

TheShriekingHarpy Mon 21-Jun-10 14:15:54

Also second Mammamic's question to Professor Dawkins - why are theism and (for example) evolution considered irreconcilable or mutually exclusive?

GetOrfMoiLand Mon 21-Jun-10 14:25:58

That is a cracking question, onebat. Will be interested to see professor Dawkins' answer.

I have also read a lot of Prof Dawkins work and hugely admire him, in both his brilliantly argued religious stance and excellent scientific writing. I also love his waspish footnotes.

I too agree that there should be no place whatsoever for faith schools and that there is no free choice. I had to make a very difficuly choice with my dd's secondary school recently, i either had to choose a poor school or send her to a catholic school. As much as I was tempted to send her to the catholic school due to attainment being far higher than teh other choices, I couldn't be hypocritical in the end and actually do it. It would have gone against what I believed in.

Very much looking forward to Wednesday.

ChuckBartowski Mon 21-Jun-10 14:38:46

I also believe faith schools are socially and academically divisive , however I am far more concerned by the acts of daily worship required in supposedly non-faith schools.

My children do not attend faith schools because of their inherently divisive nature. Luckily, we are in an area where the state schools are as good as faith schools but I do object to my child having to pray daily in the Christian faith without learning anything significant about other world faiths. If I wanted my children to be religious, they would attend Sunday school.

mustrunmore Mon 21-Jun-10 14:41:24

I really think 90% of church schools are just hypocrisy these days.

Church schools have a better reputation, even tho many community schools provide great education.

The ds's are in a church school ,and its alot more expensive. I know the donations are 'voluntary' but nevertheless, you kind of have to pay the maintenence fund etc, else there just wonr be any money in the kitty. And all the fantastic things aat our school are pta funded in the main, which means alot of hard work and also alot of spending on the events put on.

Church schools aalso have their own quirky rules eg the one closest to us allows tarot at indulgence evenings etc, but our school doesnt. We are also not allowed to dress as a witch or a devil at halloween parties, but its ok to be a zombie or a vampire hmm

I have a question for you professor Dawkins.... how do I help a 6yr old (going on 14 in his head) who is very bright, very science-minded, but who is really struggling with combining what he knows about evolution etc and what the school tells him about God? He's perfectly intelligent enough to understand the concept of people believing without proof etc etc, but every now and aagain he really wobbles, as the church school obviuosly presents God as gospel (no pun intended).

Pofacedagain Mon 21-Jun-10 15:59:22

You mean your school is teaching him creationism mustrunmore? How odd. Perhaps you can tell him that Christianity and a science are not mutually exclusive?

I never had to pay a penny extra at our local CoE school for my son and neither did anyone I know.

vinauchocolat Mon 21-Jun-10 17:10:20

Professor Dawkins I admire your work hugely. I believe faith schools are completely socially divisive and it angers me. I am not an atheist, but I'm not religious either. I am a sceptical agnost at present more atheist than anything else. (and I personally believe religion is a hijacked tool which once held some truth but now its sole function is to control humanity.)

Anyway I am always asked (for example, in hospital when pregnant) to choose a religion. There is no box for 'not sure' or 'undecided'. They force you to choose a religion. I hate this.

I am also always told 'the best schools are church schools' which, in my area (SE London) happens to be true. I am therefore told I must christen my children, and to do this I must go to church, and must bring my child up as a religious person. I believe this is morally wrong, to impose a belief system on a small child who may or may not choose these beliefs himself. I did not christen my daughter, and she very sadly died at age 18 months. The people I speak to effectively state that in not christening her I both caused her death and have condemned my innocent and wonderful child to a less than pleasant afterlife.

What I am trying to say is that we live in an alarmingly segregated society- I am the minority and I feel that I am victimised due to my non-disclosure of faith. I am not allowed access to the best schools, I am told horrible things about my daughter, I am forced to choose a faith to tick NHS boxes, and in these modern times I would be happier to be able to choose to live without a specified religion without such prejudice.

Pofacedagain Mon 21-Jun-10 17:25:47

vinauchocolat - I am terribly sorry you've had access to such appalling individuals to say such a horrible thing about your daughter. I just wanted to say there are plenty of Christians who struggle with the idea of an afterlife. And there are plenty more [the majority I'd suspect] who would not think for a second that anyone would be at a disadvantage, if there were an afterlife, because they were not christened.

I am well aware there are some hideous christians around. But they do seem to get around according to this thread, unfortunately.

Pofacedagain Mon 21-Jun-10 17:30:24

And as for causing your daughter's death - where do these awful people reside? It is an absolute perversion of everthing Christ taught.

Pofacedagain Mon 21-Jun-10 17:30:36

And as for causing your daughter's death - where do these awful people reside? It is an absolute perversion of everthing Christ taught.

GetOrfMoiLand Mon 21-Jun-10 17:31:47

vinauchocolat - what a wicked, unforgiveable thing those people have said to you. That is truly awful.

I have no problem in the knowledge that there is no god. There is a beautiful passage in God Delusion speaking about a non religious funeral service, which really touched a chord with me when I read it.

I probably contradict myself in that I adore visiting churches and catherdrals. As soon as i enter them however, it really strikes me that why do we humans believe in god, when we can create so much beauty and majesty with our bare hands.

vinauchocolat Mon 21-Jun-10 17:37:16

Yes Po they really have said those things, but I didn't mean to generalise in my post so I apologise for that. I'm sure there are far more nice Christians, and in fact I have met two very nice non judgemental vicars, but the majority of people who have actively spoken to me about it have really upset me by some of the things they have said regarding christenings. A bit off-topic I know, but it seems there is such prejudice still out there (albeit perhaps coming from a minority who lurk near me) against people who are not commited to a faith.

vinauchocolat Mon 21-Jun-10 17:40:59

GetOrf, even though I don't share their beliefs, they really made me sad because there is that tiny part of me which doubts whatever belief or non belief I have, so although I don't believe what they said is correct it has been internalised somewhat as a 'you're such an awful parent your child got ill/died/is now going to hell because of you' message! They've all been either from S London or Wales hmm

Pofacedagain Mon 21-Jun-10 17:44:05

It is a real problem though vin, because how dare anyone say something like that to you, let alone in the name of Christ. That really is evil at work, and if there is such a thing as supernatural evil [though human evil is quite enough] it resides in people like that [as well as in the banking system, greed, and the power hungry etc]Christ reserved much wrath for the self righteous and the quick to judge.

I sound like a fully fledged Christian, and as an agnostic I can't be, but it is a real problem, the way that Christians pervert Christ's teachings, and then someone like Dawkins comes along and misunderstands the crucial philosphical role religion plays because Christianty, for example, has been totally perverted by those that claim to represent it.

pernickety Mon 21-Jun-10 17:56:39

TheShriekingHarpy "And imposing a decree which revokes denominational schools and endorses secularism ...well how is that consistent with a "tolerant society"? "

Do you know what secularism is? Secularism isn't a bad thing. There are even religious secularists!

TheShriekingHarpy Mon 21-Jun-10 18:16:59

"Pernickety" - according to the dictionary definition, the word secular means "not subject to or bound by religious rule" or "denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis" -

so if denominational schools are abolished, they revert to a wholly secular state of being.

You with me now?

SomeGuy Mon 21-Jun-10 18:20:59

I have never had to fill in a form mandating a religion in this country. Which NHS Trust was doing this? I find it quite surprising. I found an NHS form online and the choices were Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Judaism, Other, Mind your own business and No Religion.

pernickety Mon 21-Jun-10 18:35:14

Yes - but many aspects of our life are secular. Religious education ought to be, and is, covered in the place of worship. Nothing is lost if schools do not fulfil this role.

donnie Mon 21-Jun-10 18:53:35

I'd like to know how Dawkins would advise a literature teacher like me to teach A level texts like 'Hamlet', 'Paradise Lost', 'Frankenstein' or 'The Power and the Glory' to teenagers with an ever decreasing knowledge, awareness or understanding of Christianity. It is a real problem. If you c ome at one of these texts (and so many others) with total religious ignorance you are a bit buggered, really. Speaking candidly, as I know RD would have me do.

SomeGuy Mon 21-Jun-10 19:01:01

donnie, I think Dawkins recognises the place the Bible's place as a piece of literature and source of many sayings and aphorisms "You'd be rightly written off as uncultivated if you knew nothing of the Bible. You need the Bible to understand literary allusions" www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article1767506.ece

vinauchocolat Mon 21-Jun-10 19:10:42

SomeGuy in answer to your question it was at both Kings and St Thomas's in London.

BessieBoots Mon 21-Jun-10 19:13:31

Hello Mr Dawkins.
I have an important theological question which I would like answered.


Thank you.

HerBeatitude Mon 21-Jun-10 22:05:10

Bertolt Brecht, another famous atheist, always said that his biggest artistic inspiration was the bible (the bottom line in western literature).

There's no conflict in wanting people to be properly educated about just how influential and important christianity and OT was in western culture, and to understand the psyche and attitudes that went with that, while rejecting its belief system.

None of us have to believe in Zeus et al to "get" The Iliad. We do however, need to know about the religious and cultural world view in which Zeus and the other gods (and humans) are presented. Same with Paradise Lost, Shakespeare, John Donne TS Eliot, etc. I don't see the big problem tbh.

CiderIUp Mon 21-Jun-10 22:51:57

I am vehemently opposed to state-funded schools being allowed to deal in religious discrimination. As has been pointed out before, you only have to apply the idea of it to any other state-funded activity (NHS hospitals, council bin collection etc) to see how ridiculous and divisive it is.

I don't see any conflict with texts from the world's major religions being part of primary and secondary EDUCATION though.

I actually wish the schools I went to had done more RE as a general knowledge exercise. I feel staggeringly ignorant in matters of RE, despite going along with singing hymns and 'saying prayers' every single morning of my school life. Can't help thinking now (as I did then) that was a thousand or so hours which could have been better spent.

pernickety Tue 22-Jun-10 08:08:45

What a privilege it is to have Professor Dawkins come on here.

I am a life-long non-theist and here are my views.

Does any other country have a state-funded school system that can select its pupils on the basis of what the parents belive?

Even if I were religious, I would not see the faith school system as a fair system. IME the high performing faith schools are not open to educating the most deprived children in town. Faith schools may have selection by church attendance but after siblings, they allocate priority via distance to the school. The areas around the best faith schools are populated by the well off.

Those who do have a religion, don’t necessarily have the right type of faith school in their local area. There are many practicing and faithful christians who aren’t able to use C of E schools because they either do not go to the right church – the particular C of E one affiliated to the school - or do not attend a C of E church at all. In my town the faith schools seem to have received preferential treatment over the years in being exempt from expansion. There are no other one-form entry schools in my town (all other schools have had to add new buildings and admit extra pupils over the years) but all of the faith schools are small, one-form entry schools which probably contributes as much to the ethos of the school than the religious side.

All of the faith schools in my town have a uniform that is akin to a private school. Specific jumpers and ties and caps and summer dresses that can only be bought in a specific school uniform shop. The one that has a high percentage of children that go onto a (non faith) independent high school insists on shorts for boys throughout but in recent years dropped the insistence on a navy blue wool duffle coat! If faith schools really believed it were their religious ethos that produced their better results (rather than anything to do with careful selection) then, in the name of charity, why do they not exist to specifically educate the deprived children of society, regardless of that child's parents' beliefs?

My children go to a non-faith school and one RE teacher (a well-meaning Christian TA given the task of delivering this subject) was able to undo all my hard work in bringing my child up to be free-thinking, with her weekly RE lessons. They did include scant teaching about other religions but there was a greater emphasis on christianity and I was left in no doubt what the views of the ‘teacher’ were. I just don’t understand why anyone in a school has the right to tell my child, as fact, that there is a man in the sky that watches us or that there is an afterlife or that a dead person loves us. My inquisitive, deep thinking little girl stopped asking the big questions she’d been renowned for.

I would like to see RE, as a subject heading, banished all together as a primary school subject (and definitely the act of worship). Much of what they are taught in Primary school could come under the heading of history and cultural studies. I would like to see all schools ‘teaching’ critical thinking and philosophy. I would like to see the government drawing upon evidence-based (not evidence-biased) data for what makes the best type of school for ALL children.

CiderIUp Tue 22-Jun-10 09:50:03

In my vehemence earlier I forgot to say welcome to Professor Dawkins, it is indeed a privilege to have you here. Pretty much my entire degree curriculum was based around the Selfish Gene and it is truly one of the most useful books I've ever read.

Anyway, just wanted to clarify that by RE I mean learning about religions from a cultural/historical/general knowledge point of view (though obviously this in itself is fraught with practical difficulties). Something very roughly in the manner of a good quality Wikipedia entry I suppose, if that makes sense.

And yes I'd definitely add critical thought earlier rather than later to school syllabuses.

Pofacedagain Tue 22-Jun-10 10:10:55

I agree Her Beatitude, the problem is that atheists claim to know what Christianity is [homophobic/bigoted/misogynistic/vengeful hateful God etc] and simplify Christ's message to 'he told everyone to be nice to each other'. Which renders any argument philosophically facile, as Eleison said. The atheists that have a meaningful understanding of theology and christianity have a slightly more interesting take on the issue. Many bigoted/homophobic/misogynistc christians are to blame, certainly, but intelligent atheists don't seem to look any further as the bad stuff justifes their aims.

I don't know much about Islam but perhaps the same issues are applicable.

SanctiMoanyArse Tue 22-Jun-10 10:22:55

'And to Santymoanyarse who feels that his/her children are better off in 'a faith school' than not, I wonder how you would feel if the school were to be run by Orthodox Jews or muslims - would you still be happy? Or are these religions a bit too like the scary Christianity of old before it lost the upper hand to logic and reason in the UK, and had to become a bit more wishy washy'


Firstly I would ahve no issue with a faith school being run by Jewish people etc any more than Christians.

Secondly either you have me confused with someone else or misread my post:

I feel that every child should have the choice of a secular school before faith schools are provided, and I am angry that my children were puashed into a faith school simply because it is our catchment school. In faxt the school I am actively asking for invoplves driving past a higher performing faith school that is 2 minuytes from my house to drop ds4 off. It will mean 4 children at 4 different schools (2 at SNU's), noty a choice I actiuvely wpould wish to make!

I reiterate: I have no issue with faith schools if every child has access to a non faith, secular school that could serve anyone regardless of their faith first. I want my kids raised alongside Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Sikh, hindu peoples: not shoved into a little uni faith enclave whilst those with a different faith end up living elsewhere becuase of the lack of choice offered here. I was training towards being an RE etacher of the kind who believes education about all faiths stops prejudice (as opposed to the you should beleive in this variant) and would wisg that for my children and their peers (training given up on with dx's)

Is that clear enough?

Hello Professor Dawkins,
ANother fan of yours and militant atheist here, with a question on a different topic.
I'm a BHA wedding celebrant and I know some of us in the BHA want Humanist wedding ceremonies to be as legally binding as CofE or registry office ones.
My personal take is that everyone should have to sign the register to be legally married and then be able to have whatever ceremony they like - I think that's less divisive than having only Christian and Humanist ceremonies as inherently legal.
What do you think?

lingle Tue 22-Jun-10 10:54:11

Dear Professor Dawkins,

I think scientists should always be curious in a non-judgmental way about natural phenomena, including religion. When I came to see you speak a few years ago, I didn't sense much of that curiosity - more something like disdain - you seemed a bit tired of it all - do you feel that curiosity though, or not?

For me, the fascinating things about religion are:
1. Its universality (I like David Hume's account of this in The Natural History of Religion - do you like this? I think it's great). I am currently looking for something equivalent written post-Darwin - can you recommend anything?
2. Its capacity to bring the comfort needed to keep a human being going when the rational course of action might be suicide.
3. In the case of Christianity, Jesus's radical step of treating those at the bottom of society as people to be valued(what a shame Christianity went downhill after that).

Thanks for answering!

DoubtUnites Tue 22-Jun-10 11:13:20

My comment:

Our local primary schools are mainly C of E. When we sent our children to the nearest one (non selective) we expected them to learn about Christianity. Despite being atheist we did not have a problem with them learning about Christianity.

However, we did not expect Christianity to be taught as fact. We did not expect our children to be told they would go to hell if they did not go to church, but they were. When our oldest was seven we asked if she would like to opt out of "christian worship at school" she decided against this because those who did were teased.

When the time came for our oldest child to go to secondary school we had three choices.

A church school which required church attendance (70% GCSE a to c )

A comprehensive in special measures (18 % GCSE a to c)

Private school (which we cannot afford)

We are unable to move so our children have one choice of secondary school. They are discriminated against because we do not go to church. My child was the only one in her class going to the comp and was teased and made to feel worthless. I was told i was wrong because i refused to lie.

I have name changed to write this. There are many many more things i could say but I would not want to identify myself and find that my children suffered as a result.

My child has hand written you a long letter themselves. I will post it to you or email it directly to your website. I feel it would not be right to post it here.

To answer your questions:

How successful are they?

Fairly because of intake

Are they selection by another means?

Of course

Are they divisive?


And are they making hypocrites out of non-believing parents who go to church just to send their children to them?


My question to you:

Why don't you start an athesist free school ?

If anyone can do something to change this ridiculous situation it is you. Please help.

TigerFeet Tue 22-Jun-10 11:47:29

Personally I'd be delighted if there were truly secular schools. I do think that faith schools are devisive and make hypocrites of otherwise morally solid people.

DD attends a state primary that is non-denominational however in the two years she has been there she has developed a keen belief in God and Jesus. Her Rainbows leader stopped me the other day to say that dd had decided to lead grace at a group picnic that they had attended, and how pleased she was because the leaders aren't allowed to. I suspect she thought that dd had learned that at home, but it could only have come from school, we are not a religious household at all even though I am from a staunch Catholic family.

However I do wonder if there were secular schools and dd were to attend one, would I then be denying her her right to a Christian education if that's what she wants? I have always said that my daughters' faith will be their own choice and I stand by that - and I suppose a secular school that taught religion as a sort of social science would give a child a broad base from which to make a decision. However dd seems happy with her faith so who am I to deny her that?

I suspect I may be overthinking this somewhat.

sfxmum Tue 22-Jun-10 13:22:25

both dh and me are atheists and we certainly wanted to have the choice of sending dd to a non religious school
I think we are lucky to be able to choose a good state school but we are fully aware that is not a choice available to all in all areas

many people advised us to baptise dd 'just in case' but if you don't teach honesty by example how do you teach it?

when it comes to secondary schools in our area our choices are pretty much religious school or rubbish school, we will probably/ likely get in, on their non religious quota (thank youhmm)
- I worry less then, as hopefully dd would be more able to consider the influences from the school in that regard and have developed a more critical attitude, as well as be able to understand our reasons, but I am not really comfortable with it

I would much rather religion would not play a part in education other than cultural reference, I can't comprehend that children are kept separate on religious grounds at such an early age
by all means let parents take their children to perform religious rituals and studies outside school hours, but I don't think it has a place in the school

sfxmum Tue 22-Jun-10 13:25:21

and just to be clear I don't want a specifically atheist school I just want a school teaching academic subjects and leaving religion asside

fabhead Tue 22-Jun-10 13:34:20

just a quick hello and much respect - your vocal criticism of Creationism often rstores my faith in humanity.

msboogie Tue 22-Jun-10 15:04:29

Another great admirer of yours here, Professor Dawkins. I am particulary grateful for the idea in the God Delusion that religious belief is NOT something that is, simply by virue of its nature, deserving of any particular respect or deference, any more than any other silly made up superstition is. I just wanted to say thanks for that because I had had never previously questioned the paradigm that it was wrong to "insult" people's religious beliefs. Now I do it with impunity!!!grin

I totally agree that no one has the right to indoctrinate any child into a religion and therefore faith schools are, to me, an abomination.

I was educated by nuns in the seventies and eighties in a very conservative Catholic Ireland from the age of 4 to 18. I don't think I ever really believed what they were telling me about the existence of God, but by the time I was capable of independent thought I had decided for myself that it was a human invention. This was not a view my parents would have countenanced from their children.

How ridiculous is that? To have to pretend, throughout your childhood, on pain of punishment, to believe in something that is plainly fictitious, simply because everyone else either believes it or can't be bothered to even stop and think about whether they believe it or not.

I should have offered it up, I suppose...

JoeBauwens Tue 22-Jun-10 16:34:57

Prof Dawkins

We live in the catchment area of three primary schools; two Anglican, one Catholic. All of these expect parents and children to be church members and attend services, despite the fact that we live in a very mixed community with a large number of different faiths.

None of these schools could easily be described as good. The Anglicans localy discourage childhood inoculation, and hold 'healing' ceremonies in the local High Street which involve a sort of weird sexual rubbing. Since the bishop's official residence is in our Parish, we assume this behaviour is sanctioned from fairly high within the church.

The Catholics, locally, strongly discourage children from seeing themselves as English or British (indeed the terms Protestant and English are used interchangably), as a result we have a large Irish Catholic community which is one of the poorest and most marginalised in the country (with the shortest life-expectancy).

Parents who do not belong to either faith are obliged to find schooling elsewhere or home school (particularly prevailent among muslim parents locally). Since many schools within the city (Birmingham) are now faith schools and do not meet the needs of migrants to the city, those schools without a faith basis are becoming highly ghettoised.

At present our son attends preschool nursary five days a week; two privatelly and three at an infant school about seven miles away. We are informed that this 3 days of state provision will be withdrawn this summer since we are from outside the catchment area, so we will need to find other provision.

We are not sufficiently well off to afford five days private schooling, as my income is low (& erratic)and my partner is a full time student. Nor are we keen for my partner to withdraw from university with a year left of her degree to run; I was persuaded to take a year out of university while funding problems were sorted out (after completing two years with flying colours) only to find I had no place to go back to - and that the university would not allow me to transfer the points I had earned (I still have to pay back the student loan though).

I will not ask you what you think of all this, as I doubt you will approve anymore than I do. However I will ask you, as one of the country's most senior accademics, if you know any way out of this situation for us and parents like us.

There have been a lot of calls recently for the founding of an athiest or humanist school; however I would have reservations about this, since it too would only cater for families within its catchment area, who would not necessarily agree with its principles, and I would not like to see humanists or athiests becoming one more group fighting to impose their view on others. I would however strongly support any move to make all state funded schooling secular in nature.

All the best

Joe Bauwens

MelMack Tue 22-Jun-10 17:10:26

Dear Mr Dawkins.

Firstly, you are a hero of mine, for making proud atheism socially acceptable. Keep up the good work.

Onto the subject of discussion: I have a toddler, and in search of better state schools have recently moved house from south London to Hertfordshire (and incurred a massive mortgage increase in the process - we were very lucky that we could). Our London choices were paying more than the mortgage difference in private schooling, religious hypocrisy or her eventually ending up at a secondary where only 19% of pupils achieve 5 A-C at GCSE (UK average 49%). Hands up the functionally illiterate! (if you can read this)

Sadly the whole system is divisive and selective by either finances or pandering to the local flying teapot society. I'd like to second the suggestion from another member above to launch good, free, secular schools - maybe this should be the next TV reality show idea, as it seems the only way of getting political pressure to pay off.

If it's any consolation, both me and my brother went to CofE schools from age 5-13, and we are now atheists and proud, so for those atheist parents who've had to compromise and worry about it, independent thinking isn't totally stamped out!

dawntigga Tue 22-Jun-10 17:44:05


HerBeatitude Tue 22-Jun-10 17:47:35

Oh my I would love it if someone started a free Atheist school in my area.

I'd be signing up for it. grin

Pofacedagain Tue 22-Jun-10 17:55:03

'The Anglicans localy discourage childhood inoculation, and hold 'healing' ceremonies in the local High Street which involve a sort of weird sexual rubbing. Since the bishop's official residence is in our Parish, we assume this behaviour is sanctioned from fairly high within the church.'

FFS, Where are all these loons? Where do you all live?

Pofacedagain Tue 22-Jun-10 17:58:00

And btw there are some lentil weaving Guardian readers who think vaccination is evil and do reiki, etc, too. Doesn't mean all Guardian readers feel the same. This thread has become 'describe the most bonkers christian you can to make us atheists looks so intellectually superior'

It is really, er, philosophically facile.


TheFallenMadonna Tue 22-Jun-10 18:21:08

What is an atheist school? Secular schools - yes! How would an atheist school differ?

I am a secularist, but not an atheist.

(And hello to Richard Dawkins!)

I feel that even non faith schools are suspiciously faith-y. My child goes to a state school. One of the reasons that we moved out of our last area was that the only school serving the area was CofE and as strict athiests I was not comfortable with this.

I know about the "daily act of worship" bollocks, but we still have regular church music groups coming to the school, handing out leaflets, playgroups helping out, while promoting their church. This happens more than I am comfortable with, and the school is not supposed to have a religious affiliation. This is all Christian, by the way, no Buddhist drummers in.

Faith schools concern me, but there are wider issues in non faith schools as well. It feels like the church is VERY prevalent in schools.

JoeBauwens Tue 22-Jun-10 19:09:54


I'm fully aware mainstream Anglicans don't go in for strange faith healing ceremonies, but the ones running 2/3 local primary schools do. Perfectly nice, sane Anglicans in other parts of the country, who don't wished to be tarred with the same brush, would be well advised to write to the Diosence of Birmingham and ask them exactly what's going on.

"The fact is that if we take faith, any faith, out of schools it would not lead to equality or harmony. It would lead to a fascist country where the STATE dictates what our children will be allowed to believe and what teachers are allowed to say about belief in a uniform set of state schools: ie thought control. State controlled atheism or secularism in ALL schools? NO THANKS! "

But what is wrong with secular schools with no church affiliation teaching a wide range of religions/morals/beliefs/philosophies? I don't see any examples of church schools giving a wide rounded religious education...

tiawomt Tue 22-Jun-10 19:14:04

I am a scientist and a non-believer according to the religious experiences or views i have ever come across. I think that in our development as a species we still have a lot to learn about our place on this planet and within the universe. This includes the question of our being which is currently provided for by godly beliefs just as it was by the ancient greeks, druids etc in past millenia.

The beliefs (religious and non-religious) that are supported by and which can define a community can be a valuable part of its success and the human state of mind - until they become extreme...

I would like my children to have the opportunity to learn as much as they want about how the people of this world work, be that, for example, in a medical, business or religious sense. In the modern multicultural country that is now the UK, this should be easy to achieve, but given the biased views that are still prevalent do you think this is possible in a mono-faith based school environment?

Pofacedagain Tue 22-Jun-10 19:56:11

I would have no problem with secular schools that taught the importance of the values of Christianity [compassion, respect, tolerance and social justice and equality] and other world religions. Christianity does not have exclusive ownership of these values but I would argue was certainly responsible for entrenching them in the Western world.

What I would really like though is a way of teaching children in which science and philosophy and the mysteries of our existence are all interlinked. A holistic approach. And that is certainly missing at present. I like this article by John Gray on Secular Fundamentalism.

2 out of 3 c of e primary schools are run by vaccination-despising street healing types Joe Bauwens? Are you sure about that?

Pofacedagain Tue 22-Jun-10 20:02:58

For example, this research by scientists linking quantum mechanics and the possiblity of an afterlife is fascinating.

JoeBauwens Tue 22-Jun-10 20:16:05


Sadly, yes, I'm sure about that. I've no idea to what extent this philosophy permiates the schools, but I don't intend to find out. As a non-Anglican I am not allowed to send my child there anyway, but this still worries me a great deal.

The Anglican church does have a tendency to try to be all things to all men, and at the extremes tends to embrace either new-age weirdness, or high Catholic ritual. I happen to live in an area where new age weirdness has one out (possibly a reaction to a powerful local Catholic church).

It may well be that 90% of the local Anglican community are completely sane and do not endorse this sort of behaviour; however they are not comming out and saying so, so any observer from outside the church is likely to conclude that this behaviour is condoned by all.

sfxmum Tue 22-Jun-10 20:37:49

''I would have no problem with secular schools that taught the importance of the values of Christianity [compassion, respect, tolerance and social justice and equality] and other world religions. Christianity does not have exclusive ownership of these values but I would argue was certainly responsible for entrenching them in the Western world''

I would beg to differ with that assertion
compassion, respect, tolerance and social justice and equality often survive in spite of religious doctrine although to be fair some branches of some churches, particularly those working closely with the poor and excluded are stronger on those values

and the talk of of fundamentalism atheism, please s that even an argument?

Pofacedagain Tue 22-Jun-10 20:46:32

You misunderstand me sfxmum. I have said many times that many Christians often work actively against the teachings of Christ. However I think it is fair to say that the idea of unconditional compassion was one that Christ was quite revolutionary in bringing to the fore [even if he nicked it from the Buddhists] It is rather hard to know what might have been but he was certainly one of the first to propose the values that modern liberal society holds dear. did you read the article? It is quite interesting.

I strongly disagree with you about the 2/3 primary schools being run by nutters JoeBauwens. If that was the case intelligent people [often atheist] would not be queuing up to try to get their children in. I certainly would not allow my children to go to a school where creationism was taught.

right will try to bugger off now.

zerominuszero Tue 22-Jun-10 20:51:29


Like many here, I'm a big fan. However, another thing I am a big fan of is the political view of libertarianism. So my question for you is: can one be a libertarian and still wish to ban faith schools?

As much as I loathe the idea of faith schools myself, I still have a niggling feeling at the back of my head that, really, as a libertarian, I have to accept that parents should get the schools they wish for. After all, I would like to see schools that, say, teach Shakespeare and if the state decided that the teaching of Shakespeare was unnecessary, I might feel compelled to set up my own school that tackles King Lear.

So can I really complain when religious parents want to set up their own faith schools (or let the state do it for them)?

Please do keep up the good work Richard,

Zero Minus Zero

JoeBauwens Tue 22-Jun-10 20:59:19


I'm not claiming that 2/3 primary schools in the country are run by nutters, just that two out of the three primary schools for which I am in the catchment area are run by the Anglican church, which, locally, seems to endorse faith healing & discourage the use of conventional medicene. The third of the three schools is run by the Catholic church.

What I was objecting to is that in order to get primary schooling where I live you have to 'choose' to join one congregation or the other, despite the fact I live in a very mixed community with several dozen different faiths.

I doubt anybody would lie to get their children in specifically, just as I doubt I will ever hear anybody say they moved to Birmingham to get the best education for their kids. The problem is the attempt by the churches to use the schools system to blackmail people into joining & thereby abandon their own faith.

Pofacedagain Tue 22-Jun-10 21:07:29

ah ok fine. grin

Humanitarian schools then perhaps the best idea. Secular just seem to stand for nothing.

smittenkitten Tue 22-Jun-10 21:09:00

Professor Dawkins

so excited to have you here. Don't know if I'll be able to make the actual chat so wanted to get my question on.

As an atheist converted by you (are you keeping a tally?), obviously I am deeply annoyed by faith schools, but there is a requirement for collective worship in all state schools. What do you think are the most effective ways we can go about getting this eliminated as it is archaic.

My son starts school (not a faith school) this september, and I was horrified when we visited and the children sang us a song about Jesus!

thank you for your wonderful, enlightening work, and thanks in advance for your thoughts on my question.

Pofacedagain Tue 22-Jun-10 21:12:11

Or humanist schools though that infers an active rejection of spiritual belief.

Romanarama Tue 22-Jun-10 21:19:47

Prof Dawkins, you are a hero of mine too. I have no experience of faith schools and am an atheist, though I teach my children about the bible stories and the history of Christianity in particular, and of other religions in a rather general way. I think this knowledge is an important part of understanding history and literature, and also of having some notion what their numerous committed RC relatives are on about.

My sons are at French school. It is completely secular, but there is no suggestion that atheism or secularism is being pushed onto children or families. Religion (and anti-religion) are absent from the education system. This is perhaps the aspect of the school that I like the most.

I am reading "The God Delusion" at the moment. It certainly doesn't say that the whole Christian church refutes evolution, but it does argue that supporting evolution while preaching Adam and Eve at the same time is confusing for many, and that the Christian church is responsible for the huge numbers of creationists in the US and elsewhere.

JoeBauwens Tue 22-Jun-10 21:32:02


Secularism does stand for nothing (sort of). A secular school teaches things like Maths, Science & Languages, but leaves parents to arrange their own religious education (or lack of). This is the system used in the US & France; neither of which seems to have collapsed into godless anarchy.

A humanist school, by contrast, would actively teach humanist values but might potentially object to parents taking children to church or sending them to Sunday school (ditto Mosques, Koranic schools etc).

Although I am a humanist atheist I would be very uncomfortable with this, as I believe in freedom of belief.

Having said this, were there to be a humanist school where I lived providing an alternative to the available schools, I would probably fight tooth and nail to get my son into it.

Pofacedagain Tue 22-Jun-10 21:37:45

No I don't mean a secular school needs to provide a religious education, though I think it would be crucial as a reference for most of our creativity historically [sacred music, literature and art]

I just mean I think a school should have a set of values that it actively promotes, along the lines of compassion, tolerance and social justice.

TheFallenMadonna Tue 22-Jun-10 21:47:51

Non-faith secondary schools IME promote the values that you suggest without reference to religious faith. None of the schools I have worked in have a religious undercurrent in the way my children's non-faith primary has.

jonicomelately Tue 22-Jun-10 21:51:48

I sent my DS to a Catholic school (I attended one myself). I then pulled him out and looking at it from the outside in, the view is pretty scary. There are a tight-knot group of families who have a very close relationship with the Parish Priest. They are not the warmest, friendliest types but seem to wield a lot of power (front rows of the pews at church, Parish council, school governers etc).

When you attend baptism classes, marriage classes etc it's run by these people. They seem to find it OK to teach us how we should run our families on issues such as global warming (we're all using too much energy and should remember to turn off lights when we leave the room but it's OK for them to have at least four children hmm. One particular man tells people (who are preparing for marriage) not to have IVF as these children are more likely to have special needs. He then represents sn children as black balls (don't ask me why) and 'normal' children as white balls.

If I'm honest I still have a faith. That's just a personal thing which I've wrestled with long and hard because I know it defies logic etc. I don't deny evolution etc because I'm not insane. On a very simplistic level I think what Jesus said and did resonates with me and seems kind and truthful and we would all be better if we followed a moral code which broadly follows these principles. Let's face it there are a hell of a lot of worse things to worship (footballers, celebrities etc although you no doubt disagree). However, I have moved away from the Church in recent times and as a result don't like a school which so closely aligns itself with it.

I think the thing I dislike the most about Christian, particularly Catholic teaching is how fatalistic is teaches you to be. I see people in my community accepting their lot and hoping answers will drop out of the skies. I don't want my children to adopt this.

The guilt is also terrible. I still struggle with this at times. Every Sunday I feel I've failed by not attending Mass. It's how I've been conditioned. As I child we had to stand and explain to the class our reasons for not attending Mass.

I've no question as such (does that make me stupid?) but you have asked for our experiences. I could tell you more about my school days which were filled with religious people of the kindest and the cruelest natures in equal measure, but I don't want to bore you.

I admire you Professor Dawkins and watch this with immense interest.

lal123 Tue 22-Jun-10 22:04:23

Sorry I haven't had time to read through this whole thread. Being brought up in the 70s/80s in Northern Ireland I have a particular interest in "faith" schools as virtually every school at the time was either protestant or catholic. They serve(d) to completely separate children and indoctrinate them in the respective culture and to my mind continue to undermine an inclusive community there.

Whether faith schools cause intolerance or are a symptom of wider intolerance in communities is an interesting question.

I look forward to the webchat very much.

Sal321 Tue 22-Jun-10 23:20:53

My experience of religion in schools is primarily from the perspective of a teacher. I am now looking at local options for my own children who I would like to be taught about the diversity of beliefs but not that any of them are fact. I have watched 5 year olds being told by the local vicar that "Jesus died for you" which I think is a confusing and odd message for this age group.

My concerns are:

The suggestion that faith schools draw on faith to instil values in children - as an atheist raised by atheist parents I am confident that I have as strong personal values as anyone else and contribute to society more than most – yet this myth survives.

That teaching faith as fact in contradiction to the messages given to a child at home is likely to undermine the teacher’s credibility in the child's eyes.

That in some, generally rural, areas the only primary provision is CofE and to send your child to an alternative would block them from having local friends and cause significant inconvenience.

That in opting out of faith schools the requirement for worship remains.

AbricotsSecs Wed 23-Jun-10 01:32:39

I'm marking my place for tomorrow's webchat

I am ridiculously excited - at the risk of sounding like a simpering loon I must tell you that the God Delusion had a pretty profound effect on my life as it was basically the death knell for any lingering traces of childhood belief in an interventionist god who hears my thoughts or gives acrap if I steal grapes in the supermarket

- For that I would like to say a heartfelt thank you.

Mr Dawkins

I have experienced faith schools myself and attended CofE schools and my siblings attended a Catholic secondary school thanks to my Mums last minute conversion. This was done in desperation as she did not want them to have to attend the local alternatives which had very bad reputations. My siblings coming from an atheist background found attending a Catholic school extremely difficult. They had little or no religious knowledge and found the rules and expectations that go with a Catholic school difficult to manage.

I believe that education should be secular and the only religious content should be in Religious Education lessons convering all beliefs taught with equal measure.

I think it is ridiculous that we find people pretending to have a particular faith in order to gain entry into the most popular school. It is simply another way of seperating people and sorting them into the haves and have nots. Those with parents willing to compromise their beliefs in an attempt to give their children a head start in life and those who can't and have to accept going to a less impressive school.

I think we have to ask why these religious schools are so desirable and why they get such goods results. I think the answer is that they are so oversubscribed that they are able to pick and choose who gets in. Most of these schools will have students from stable, middle class families. Therefore they are likely to be better behaved and recieve a huge amount of encouragement from home to do well. The remaining schools in the area will recieve a large amount of kids from troubled backgrounds and those who failed to get into their school of choice and therefore do not want to be there anyway.

Surely if all religion was removed from these schools we would find that the results began to even out across the range of schools as a more even intake of abilities was achieved.

I also do not like the divisive effect that religious school have. The way it defines society at such an early stage into them and us. Those who are with "that particular God" and those that aren't. We should not be highlighting these differences at such a young age but celebrating them. Bringing people together in education to learn about all different faiths. I have taught Religious Education and the most rewarding and memorable lessons were the ones where the Hindu students and the Muslims students told the class what their particular faiths meant to them.

Anyway this is just my opinion.

Ooh - just read some more of the posts on here. Some people are suggesting that removing religion from schools would leave schools vunerable to being dictated to more by the government and could lead to a fascist society.
I live in New Zealand were almost all schools are secular. My daughter goes to one and it is certainly not fascist in any way! Its fab - all encompassing, friendly, fun, moral and just generally great. They dont have a daily act of worship but they do have assemblies with no religious content. And yet still my daughters seems to be growing up with a good idea of the difference between right and wrong.

cauliffe Wed 23-Jun-10 05:11:39

Mr Dawkins,

I wholeheartedly agree with you on the divisive and destructive role religion plays in society. I also think that it should not be something we teach children to believe, I think that they should instead be taught about different world religions in an unbiased and factual way.

I have experienced religious education in both Scottish and English secondary schools (both of which were in state comprehensives) and have to say I much preferred my experience in Scotland. We were taught about a variety of religions in weekly lessons, and though there was a focus on Christianity, it was only slight.

However, the religious education I received in England was deplorable. Instead of weekly RE classes we had an annual 'RE Day', which amounted to indoctrination rather than education. The school contracted in a Christian organisation called 'STEP' (http://www.stepschoolswork.org/) to host this day. Every year it was filled with emotive monologues about the volunteers own conversions and the kindness of Jesus. It really angers me that this is the ONLY religious education offered to children at my school. The same group came in year after year, with the obvious intent on converting pupils. That the school considered this to be education is laughable. Most of the pupils at the school were white and from middle class CofE backgrounds. If only one religion is covered in RE, it most certainly should not be Christianity, but rather a religion such as Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism, or Hinduism that is less familiar to the children. I really cannot put into words how angry it makes me that RE at this school was so limited in scope, and that the 'teachers' were intending to convert rather than teach.

In my opinion religious education is important but it must be executed correctly. Firstly, it should cover a wide variety of world religions (and perhaps historical religions). Secondly, it should do so in an unbiased manner.

Another problem which I think is little addressed is the indoctrination which occurs in primary schools. Though neither of the primary schools I attended were 'faith schools' prayer and hymns were a regular occurrence. We were also given the opportunity to go on a week long school trip which was provided at a Christian adventure centre, and of course this involved Christian videos and discussion of god in the evenings. I think this kind of religious influence on schools and children is completely unacceptable.

I also have an enormous problem with state funded faith schools. It seems completely absurd that taxpayers money goes toward schools which do not welcome all children. Furthermore, I do not think the state should fund any form of religious indoctrination. Children receiving a state education should not be labeled or encouraged into religion.

I think faith schools are 'better' academically because in selecting for religion they select for middle class children. Parents who lie about their religion in order to gain a place are also more likely to be middle class. In addition I think the church funding these schools receive also has an influence on performance.

Perhaps an answer to faith schools would be the creation of secular schools. These could apply to be categorised as faith schools in order to benefit from the increased freedom faith schools have in setting their curricula. However, instead of teaching religion the schools could teach ABOUT religion, but devoting much more time to philosophy, ethics and scientific reasoning.

I've really enjoyed your books by the way, your books about evolution are both accessible but also fascinating. Also your interview with Ted Haggard provided a few laughs/sobs of frustration. Thanks for fighting the atheist corner!

cauliffe Wed 23-Jun-10 05:28:29

Sorry - in all this Dawkins based excitement I forgot to say that I think science education in schools isn't good enough. More time ought to be dedicated to science, and importantly explaining scientific reasoning and proof. There was very little of this in my science education (despite two a-levels), and I think it is just as important as teaching about photosynthesis or whatever.

Also I think a more thorough science education would leave people less vulnerable to the 'answers' offered by religion.

<sneaks back out>

I would very much like to see the removal of a faith worshipping requirement in non-faith schools. I would be prepared to campaign towards this, or help out/donate in some way.

How do you think we could go about this?

As a bigger issue I would like to see th elimination of all faith schools, but failing that, it would relieve me somewhat if the ones that claimed NOT to be faith schools were actually not faith schools.

pernickety Wed 23-Jun-10 08:14:59

Like Sal321 - I very much resent the implication that religious affiliation instils values in children. There seems to exist amongst people this idea that children are not good children until they know and accept Jesus and god. I think these people are afraid of children who do not defer to an imagined higher power, maybe because they are so conditioned to doing that themselves.

And like PfftTheMagicDragon, failing the abolition of state-funded faith schools, how can we parents harness our collective voices of dissent to get the undercurrent of christianity out of our non-faith schools?

slug Wed 23-Jun-10 09:34:57

Morning Professor Dawkins

Can I start by saying my husband went a gentle shade of green when I mentioned you were coming on here. He is a scientist and is jealous that I get to talk to all the interesting people.

When we were looking for a primary school for our daughter we were faced with a dilemma

The five schools closest to us are all religious. Apart from that we could have sent her to a state school that is the LEA's dumping ground for children that have been excluded from other schools or one, heavily oversubscribed state school. All the religious schools demanded a letter from our local priest/vicar/witchdoctor stating that we were regular worshipers or, failing that, we would have to sign a form stating that we agreed with the school's ethos. Since my daugher is female and because she has beloved members of her family who are homosexual, we felt we couldn't agree with the ethos of an institution that explicitly discriminates against people we hold dear. Our only option was the oversubscribed state school.

We were fortunate enough to get a place in the school of our choice. Many of our local religious schools have not fully recruited, yet there is a waiting list for my daughter's school. We have found that a strange thing has happened. My daughter has classmates who come from athiest families. She has Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Bahai classmates. However, she has no Christian classmates. They have all been siphoned off by the local faith schools. This makes RE and the requirement for worship of "a broadly Christian nature" a bit of a joke really. Its quite funny to witness all those little faces slightly puzzled by the discussion of the baby Jesus. (DD thinks he must be a bit like Dr Who only smaller)

I also whould very much like to see the removal of the faith worshipping requirement in schools. It simply fails to take into account the true nature of belief within Britain today. I think the time would be better spent teaching philosophy and logic. Our children seem so uncritical and unable to question.

P.S. I would like to echo what cauliffe said about science education. It's simply dreadful at the moment.

Druzhok Wed 23-Jun-10 09:48:24

I agree with onebatmother: that critical thinking is far mroe important than any woolly interpretations of religious doctrine. I am vehemently opposed to religious teaching in schools; basic principles of consideration for others can be taught very well without it.

I particularly oppose the acceptance of the Christianity as neutral; that because my children attend English schools, it is fully acceptable to weave the Church of England into their daily learning. I would accept a general critical approach to faith - the Qur'an and Torah both contain some extremely interesting ideas - but I do not want my child praying or singing about God. Let them sing about nature or their friends and family: it is abusive to fill their heads with this fiction when they are so impressionable. It is also anti-reason; how can we teach science alongside praying for a fictional god? There is room for teaching our children to be Good Citizens, but intangible mumbo jumbo has no place in a school.

I believe that part of the literacy curriculum is an analysis of advertising; encouraging children to consider the motives and methods of advertisers. This approach should be extended to any religious learning. There is so little analysis of motive. The history of Christianity is all about social control and the accumulation of wealth; let's analyse that alongside our assessment of consumerism.

My husband is a senior primary school teacher and is increasingly marginalised for hrefusing to participate (or force children to participate) in religious singing and other activities. The children's creative time is endlessly hijacked by Christian vocabularly and methods. They can't sing without singing about God. They can't join together without being expected to worship God. This is NOT a CofE school, either, just headed by a teacher with their own agenda.

Our friends teach at a faith school (RC) and say that the church has a disproportionate influence over the curriculum; for something like 6% of funding, they affect 40-50% of the children's teaching.

I support your project wholeheartedly, Mr Dawkins, and will continue to challenge the daily attack on reason and independent thought.

Druzhok Wed 23-Jun-10 09:52:46

Sorry: Professor Dawkins.

Hello Professor Dawkins,

Firstly, I want to say a huge thank you for your books, which I find inspiring and moving beyond words. I really wish I had a better expression for the experience of reading "The God Delusion" than a "road to Damascus moment", but, well, there it is. It truly was life-changing for me, and I can't thank you enough.

Secondly, I wanted to ask your advice about how I can explain the difficult (indeed, mind-blowing) concept of evolution to my children, aged seven and four.

Do you have any advice? Alternatively, can you recommend any books?

Thank you so much in advance!

Druzhok Wed 23-Jun-10 09:57:15

Agree with Cauliffe, re reasoning and proof. My science education (the experimental element) was broadly about fiddling the results to prove what we were told to prove. To accept what we had been told.

cauliffe Wed 23-Jun-10 09:57:44

Can I also ask how you feel about other nonsenses parents teach their children; for example, Father Christmas, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny?

It's not been something I've had to contend with yet but there does seem something a little wrong with deliberately misleading children over such things. I found it particularly unpleasant when my younger brother was starting to question the existence of Santa and in response to his questions was given the complete assurance of my mother that he was real.

JustineMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 23-Jun-10 10:00:06

We're delighted to say that Richard is here at the Towers and screenside. He's kicked his shoes off and is ready to go so he'll be with you in a minute.

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 10:00:37

Its wonderful to be here today, and I am especially touched by the thoughtful posts from many Mumsnetters. Some of you, like vinauchocolate have shared very personal experiences with me, and I’m am terribly sorry to hear about the loss of your child.
What the earlier posts have demonstrated is that education and the role that faith schools play within it is a subject close to a lot of your hearts, and it is to mine.
Rather than debating my views as an atheist and how faith based subjects such as creationism are still taught in some schools – I really want to spend the hour hearing from you and hearing your views and questions about faith based education.
One thing that concerns me, as it does SomeGuy, MelMack and GetOrfMoiLand is the choices parents are forced to consider when choosing a school for your child, is it better to stand by one’s principles or be hypocritical in order to provide the best option? What a horrible dilemma to be forced into.

SordidSucker Wed 23-Jun-10 10:02:56

Hello Mr Dawkins.

If we don't know for certain what happens to our consciousness when we die, why shouldn't we believe in an afterlife for our own comfort or peace of mind?

I think it's pretty simple -

1) it's a free country, churches should be free to set up schools, people should be free to send their children to them

2) but the state has no business funding faith schools.

Druzhok Wed 23-Jun-10 10:04:47

Yes, I thought we divided state and religion a while ago.

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 10:05:20

Yes, It's a free country, and the point is that the state should not be funding special interests like religions. Religions already have the advantage of being tax free

cauliffe Wed 23-Jun-10 10:06:05

stubbornhubby - agreed

SordidSucker Wed 23-Jun-10 10:06:07

Oops I misread the topic. blush

That's the result of my faith based education. grin

slug Wed 23-Jun-10 10:06:07

It's not that we were forced into a choice, it's that we were excluded from state funded schools because of our lack of faith.

How can that be right? Non-faith schools have to take children of faith, yet state funded faith schools can explicitly exclude the children of parents who don't worship at the local church.

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 10:08:25

Maybe in America there is a separation between church and state. Here in Britain we have a state religion, of whch the queen is head. And unlike in America, the British government is subsidizing schools of other religions like Islam. Is there anyone out there who wants to defend this?
What does anybody think?

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 10:10:16

Slug I totally agree that it is wrong to be excluded because of your lack of faith. Have others had experience of this? Or have you been forced into hypocrisy, as we have been hearing from other posters?

shubunkin Wed 23-Jun-10 10:10:54

What suggestions would you give to a parent who is facing the dilemma of "do I start going to church just to get my child into the local junior (faith) school". As the faith school is oversubscribed, being hypocritical is our only chance of getting into it. I'm not even sure I want him to go there, but the alternative is a commute and my child being separated from friends he's made at the local non-faith infant school.

Would also love to hear any books you'd recommend for 4-7 age group on explaining evolution. And also ideas to counter the drip drip of God they get from even a non-faith school, while at the same time remaining respectful of other children/teachers.

Love your books by the way. The Selfish Gene was a huge influence on my thinking.

InmyheadIminParis Wed 23-Jun-10 10:11:23

<< out of breath>> just made it!
Thank you Mumsnet. What a fantastic guest.

cauliffe Wed 23-Jun-10 10:11:26

if we fund faith schools at all, it's completely right that we fund all types of faith school. However, I do think this is divisive. There's a lot of tabloid stirring about state funded Islamic schools/mosques etc. I just wish they'd apply the same logic to Christian schools!

Spacehoppa Wed 23-Jun-10 10:11:57

C of E schools of course vary. I went to primary which was progressive and educationally excellant but then a C of E middle school where the science teacing was not good and the RE had the biggest space in the timetable by far. It was very backward looking.

I am looking to get our child into primary next year. There is a good faith school and a good secular school in our area (S. Birmingham). I am still in discussions with my husband...

Personally I can kind of cope with her gettig one set of measages from her school and a different set in some ways from her parents. Different views are all part of growing up. The older she gets obviously the more sophisticated the views wll be. No doubt we will end up arguing...

slug Wed 23-Jun-10 10:13:06

Oh yes. Our neighbhours trot alon to church ever Sunday, rolling their eyes as they go. All so that their children can go to the local school and not have to daily battle the elements in a half hour wak to the only non-faith school in the area. The joke is, the non-faith school is so oversubscribed that local parents are having to do the make believe Christian bit because otherwise there would be no school place for their children.

donnie Wed 23-Jun-10 10:13:06

So what would you say to parents of children who attend quite orthodox state funded schools who are very anxious that their child be educated within that context? I am thinking specifically of the ortho-jewish schools around my way (North London). I know for a fact a lot of these parents cannot countenance the idea of their child being educated within a non-jewish school. What do you think they should do?

Druzhok Wed 23-Jun-10 10:14:03

I suppose I meant the separation of government and religion - I have so little regard for the monarchy that I didn't even it in my definition of 'state'.

I abhor the notion that part of Englishness is an acceptance of Christianity. The church of England; it is, indeed, a special interest group. Certainly not a national faith.

Prof Dawkins - an angle for you tho think about that is rarely mentioned is the experience of teachers.
My wife is a non-religious primary school teacher at senior management level (head, deputy, senco level).

at that level she is excluded from over half the primary schools in the borough, as they are 'faith' schools and therefore expect their snr staff to be committed to the faith school concept.

this is a serious - but entirely legal - discrimination against her.

She has the choice of being hypocritical and pretending, or eschewing every other vacancy that comes come.

cauliffe Wed 23-Jun-10 10:14:37

I think it's all very well and good that children are brought up by people with different views etc, but what worries me is the authority teachers have which parents lack. I think there's a lot of potential for this to be taken advantage of where religion is concerned.

donnie Wed 23-Jun-10 10:14:59

BTW I personally believe all types of school should be state funded, religious and non religious.

Tombliboob Wed 23-Jun-10 10:15:40

Mr Dawkins, thank you for coming!

My personal dilemma is that i am a 'non-regular' faith, in that i'm pagan.. and married to an atheist.. but i'm in a place where the local faith schools (CofE) are the best we have.

I am uncomfortable with having to choose one of them, because while i attended a CofE school, i'm worried that my beliefs and the ideals i'm teaching my children will be rejected and maybe even isolate them if i insist on them not joining in with the weekly worship...etc.

I think its time that our Faith and our education were seperated so athiest and alternative/new age religions could be studied and looked into and even respected with equal attention as the mainstream Faiths... and we had a school that didnt bring religion into assemblies other than as education and not actual worship.

Would you support that if ever it became a possibility?

slug Wed 23-Jun-10 10:15:40

<<watches for an answer to stubbornhubby with interest>> I'm an ex-teacher and know that dilema well.

Druzhok Wed 23-Jun-10 10:16:00

meant to say - didn't even include it

pernickety Wed 23-Jun-10 10:16:40

I was not put in the position of a dire school or a faith school. The non-faith school my child is at is good enough - not as small and cosy as I would have liked for her - but still fine. If only given the choice of a dire school or faith school I would have had to home educate or drive a long way to the next available good school because I could not lie and I could not bear to have to pretend to believe in god. For me it was not a choice when I don't believe in god or what the organised churches stand for.

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 10:17:01

Donnie that's a good point. I believe this is putting parental rights above children rights. I also liked your previous post you are completely right that a literature teacher can't teach Shakespeare or Milton to children with no knowledge of the Bible. This is why I have always been a passionate advocate of the Bible as literature. In the King James version, it is very beautiful literature in its own right. And it is essential for understanding English literature and of course history too.

AlCrowley Wed 23-Jun-10 10:17:30

What I'd like is a secular school for my child but like others here, I have the choice of faith school or inferior school

Why do religion and schools need to be linked at all. Isn't religious teaching what churches and Sunday schools are for?

weegiemum Wed 23-Jun-10 10:17:48

I'm glad you want to hear our opinions on Faith schools - I'm totally against them. I'm not sure if it will surprise you to hear that I am a fairly evangelical Christian or not, but I just can't get my head round the concept of faith being something that schools do.

Faith is personal, private, corporate in that people of faith gather together to worship, and should never be forced on anyone, which is what happens in school. I'm actually surprised that faiths support faith schools because in my opinion and experience (I'm a teacher) the faith demonstrated in collective acts of worship in school bears no relation to real, living faith.

I am all for much better, more developed Religious/Moral/Philosophical education. Teaching about faith, both the good and the bad. Teaching about philosophies - teaching children, from an early age, how to really think for themselves.

(and on a personal level, I haven't read your books on faith but both the Blind Watchmaker and The Selfish Gene were just amazing! Thankyou!)

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 10:17:53

What does anyone think about the suggestion that faith schools are divisive?

Druzhok Wed 23-Jun-10 10:18:23

Yes, stubbornhubby: my husband is also excluded from a range of local schools, due to his rejection of religion. He is quite outspoken against it and has only suffered for this.

I wonder if anyone has ever taken it to court: surely there falls under the remit of the religious discrimination laws.

JoeBauwens Wed 23-Jun-10 10:18:32

Our son is excluded from all three primary schools locally (two Anglican, one Catholic) on the grounds that we are not churchgoers. He is currently attending pre-school nursary, privately two days a week and at a (secular) state primary school three days a week. However we are informed that we will loose the three days of state pre-school this summer, as we are outside the catchment area for this school.

We cannot afford five days private nursary a week (we can't really afford two days) as I am not a high earner and my partner is in full time education. Nor are we keen for my partner to take time out of university, as I was persuaded to do this while a funding problem was sorted out - then found that I had no place to go back to & that I could not transfer the credit I had earned (still have to pay back the student loan though!)

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 10:19:46

And, what's more StubbornHubby I also worry about discrimination against teachers. Do we have any other teachers out there who have been discriminated against because of religion?

InmyheadIminParis Wed 23-Jun-10 10:19:55

My daughter goes to a 'normal' state primary - i.e. not explicitly C of E school.

I was a bit shocked at the end of last term when she came home to say they had been on a class visit to the local church. While they were there they were shown the bread and wine and told that it is the body and blood of Christ. We hadn't been told that the class visit was going to take place, and so I hadn't had any chance to talk to her in advance about what she might encounter.

I was quite angry that they'd been told about the body and blood of Christ, but in the end decided not to raise the issue with the school as, at 4 years old, I'm not always sure that I'm getting a complete story from my daughter.

My question is, are there any guidelines which schools are supposed to follow regarding religious education in primary schools?

slug Wed 23-Jun-10 10:20:08

Well round our way they've had the effect of separating the Christians (real or pretend) from the rest of the population. I worry for the children in the faith schools who are not exposed to the rich variety of cultures that populate the area. They are ghettos.

shubunkin Wed 23-Jun-10 10:20:27

Of course faith schools are divisive. If children of athiest/agnostic parents don't go to them then you are not getting a representative mix of the population in them.

LeninGoooaaall Wed 23-Jun-10 10:21:09

You asked about choice and hypocrisy. It's not an issue around here as all local schools are non-religious and there are enough places.

Personally I would send my DC to a CofE primary if I had to because I went to one and it was fairly benign. I wouldn't be happy with the only other choices being other religious schools though, whether they'd have us or not. Certainly couldn't do the pretending to go to a place of worship to get in thing but understand why some might.

It's all a nonsense isn't it really. You should not be able to exclude on religious, or rather, non-religious grounds.

fathercandle Wed 23-Jun-10 10:21:50

I'm very worried that the new coalition government is moving even further towards religious interference in schools (dropping evolution commitments, etc).

I'm disgusted that even at my local, non-religious state school, my dcs will be told - in a learning environment, by adults - that the Christian god is real, Jesus was his son, and if he wants to go to heaven he'd better do as he's told.

spixblue Wed 23-Jun-10 10:22:30

On qualifying to be a teacher, my friend didn't want to work at a faith school, but she couldn't find employment anywhere else.

Druzhok Wed 23-Jun-10 10:23:06

Any segregation is divisive. So whether we segregate on the basis of wealth, academic ability, race, locality or religion, there will be some division. Are faith schools any more divisive than grammar schools?

The bigger issue seems to be the manner in which faith schools are creaming off the more able students; it is academic by the back door.

Doesn't seem very Christian, that ...

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 10:23:10

Yes, JoeBauwens it is a real dilemma. A moral dilemma. Surely it can't be right that a child is discriminated against because of his parents' views. Have other people experienced this and what do you think should be done about the moral dilemma that parents are placed in, being forced to choose between hypocrisy and concern for the child's welfare.

TheHeathenOfSuburbia Wed 23-Jun-10 10:23:14

I grew up in Northern Ireland, where the schools are almost entirely faith-segregated (there are a few integrated exceptions).
Up to the age of 16, I knew one Catholic.

This is... not healthy.

Druzhok - state schools are (of course) exempted from religious discrimination laws when employing teaching staff (and even non-teaching staff, cases pending)

Indeed religious discrimination is encouraged in the state school system where faith schools are seen as a 'good thing'.

bizarre, isn't it? You would think that of all places, schools should be free of discrimination.

ProfDawkins yes, of course faith schoolds are divisive: indeed one might say that is the very purpose of them - to divide children into those with religious parents, and those without.

Druzhok Wed 23-Jun-10 10:23:43

meant: 'academic selection by the back door'

Typing issues.

LeninGoooaaall Wed 23-Jun-10 10:23:45

Free schools and all this worry me. If you are not inspecting them within a standard framework and if they are not accountable to an LA and subject to appropriate policies and practices that does not seem good to me.

weegiemum Wed 23-Jun-10 10:24:12

I think that CofE and Catholic schools discriminate not only against children of other/no faith but even against Christians of other denominations. Ihave a friend in England who is baptist - they only baptise adults - and her son didn't get a place at the local CofE school as they weren't members of the Church of England and he hadn't been baptised.

cauliffe Wed 23-Jun-10 10:24:15

re the religious interference in the curriculum; the way they are allowed to opt out of sex education seems downright dangerous to me.

slug Wed 23-Jun-10 10:24:22

It's dificult to quantify being discriminated against because most of the time it doesn't go as far as that. You just know it's not worth even applying for the jobs at the faith schools.

I have a friend who is the process of being hounded out of the faith school she teaches in. She was happily there for eight years before a change of Head meant that anyone who was not seen in church every Sunday suddenly found life very difficult for them in work the next day. She's always been open about her athiesism and her lesbianism. It's a bit difficult to tell which is of the two is the reason the new head has taken a distinct dislike to her.

AlCrowley Wed 23-Jun-10 10:25:00

My Nieces and Nephews go to a CofE primary that is anything but benign Lenin. There are crucifixes in every classroom, 15 foot long banners in the hall and even a special school prayer said every day which they can all recite verbatim.

At 5 my Nephew's favourite phrase when he was annoyed was "I'm going to crucify you"!! shock

Not benign at all.

brightspark2 Wed 23-Jun-10 10:25:44

Mine ios in Year 8. I have succeeded in getting him withdrawn fromRS altogether from the start of Yr 9 when he is 13 and given independent study time in the library.

If I wanted him to study fairytales I would have chosen the psychology of the Brothers Grimm.

LeninGoooaaall Wed 23-Jun-10 10:26:52

I thought that as I typed it Al. A quick visit to one like that and I'd be out of there. Ours was 2 mins of hands together and a bit of harvest festival and that was it really. RE covered all religions fairly and equally.

Druzhok Wed 23-Jun-10 10:27:27

Referring to discrimination against teachers question: there is discrimination.

My husband will never be a headteacher under the current cirucmstances i.e. he refuses to engage in any kind of religious activity in his school.

lal123 Wed 23-Jun-10 10:27:47

I went to Northern Irish Protestant schools - and we often had running battles with the local catholic schools. After school we would play together as our community was pretty integrated - it was school that separated us

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 10:27:55

Cauliffe, yes, what about that business of opting out of particular lessons, like sex education. Has anybody else had experience of that, and also opting out of evolution lessons?

Tombliboob Wed 23-Jun-10 10:28:28

Prof dawkins: I'm a TA, i dont mention my religion on any application forms and rarely discuss it in my job with Teachers or pupils, instead i fall back on my days as a Christian when i was younger.

I feel i probably would be discriminated against for being Pagan more than i would be if i followed a maintream faith..some predjudices are very deep seated.


on the other side of the wall my kids went to a non-faith primary school and it drove me mad to find one or two evangelising teachers there talking incessantly about Jesus, and upsetting my kids with weird and frightening ideas. I resented them strongly - we had chosen the school to avoid that sort of thing.

zazizoma Wed 23-Jun-10 10:29:37

The only issue I have with funding religious schools is that in some areas it seems that those schools are considered the 'good schools' and that there is competition to get into them, and the criteria are based on being able to demonstrate religious belief. Yes, I agree this is absurd. But the issue isn't whether those schools should exist, rather that every parent should be able to find a suitable education for their child and haven't been able to in the past.

There are parents and families with a true desire of to have their child educated in a religious context (Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Islam, whatever) rather than a secular context. I am perfectly happy for those children to receive a state education as well as parents who want an atheist school for their children.

With all due respect, I think you are using the example of the competition for places in religious schools to drive your own agenda, muddling the fundamental issue of adequate educational provision in the process.

HelenC28 Wed 23-Jun-10 10:29:44

Hi Richard

I'm torn - I'm an atheist, my local school is C of E, but I strongly believe in my right to enrol my child (as yet unborn!) at my local school, regardless of its persuasion.

I want to be able to walk to the local school, for my child to have local friends, and for them all to progress to the local comprehensive.

I therefore do not believe in school choice.

Where do you stand on this issue?



Pofacedagain Wed 23-Jun-10 10:30:07

Can you at least acknowledge Prof Dawkins that many CofE schools work on a catchment area first, regardless of one's faith? I agree that one's religion should not be the factor for getting one's child into school but many CofE schools do not work like this.

And will you also acknowledge that there is NO fair system for getting into schools at present? Unless you literally pull names out of a hat there is always going to be an unfair selection process - in the area in which I live people who do not have enough money to rent or buy in a v expensive catchment area are excluded from the school. We ourselves took out an enormous mortgage to get into the school catchment area.

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 10:30:24

Yes, Lal123, I am fascinated in your story from Northern Ireland. Not at all surprised that it is the schools that foster divisiveness. They've been at it for centuries.

spixblue Wed 23-Jun-10 10:30:52

My husband is of the Christian faith whereas I am not. However he can't bear the way the C of E operates (in such a bullying bureacratic way) so we didn't even get married in church. I don't think we'll be sending our children to a faith school., even though it'll mean a 30 minute walk to the nearest secular school.

Porpoise Wed 23-Jun-10 10:31:24

Gosh, yes, leaving out bits of the sex education curriculum - that happens at my sons' C of E school.

Which means that some children - those whose parents have, for whatever reason, not talked to them about these things, end up at secondary school knowing nothing (other than a brief talk about changes in puberty). Which can be hugely embarrassing for them.

minipie Wed 23-Jun-10 10:31:29

Here's a question:

If an atheist school were to be set up (with or without state funding), which prioritised non-believers over believers, would that be legal?

Or would it be illegal because it was discriminating against students because of their faith?

slug Wed 23-Jun-10 10:32:10

Pofacedagain. The CofE schools round our way do not work on catchement area regardless of faith. It's church or agreement with the ethos or no consideration for a place at all.

donnie Wed 23-Jun-10 10:32:29

still on the subject of schools, Prof Dawkins what is your view of the ban in certain European countries (eg France)on any kind of religious headdress/jewellery in schools? I find it profoundly worrying that even subtle demonstrations of peoples' religious affiliations are being made illegal.

JoeBauwens Wed 23-Jun-10 10:33:01

A lot of other parents do face the same problem as us locally, yes. We live in a very diverse part of Birmingham with children from a broad range of religious backgrounds, as well as a lot of non-Anglican protestants of various denominations. All of these are forced to send their children to another part of the city, or home school.

In particular there is a very high rate of home schooling among muslim parents locally; we do not live that far from where Khyra Itzhak was starved to death & part of the reason that social services did not spot this was that they have come to accept home schooling for muslim children as a norm.

sethstarkaddersmum Wed 23-Jun-10 10:33:24

I don't have any intelligent comments to make, just that my dd's best friend is convinced her mother is about to have a baby called Steve because she prayed for it and their church school has taught them about the power of prayer confused

Druzhok Wed 23-Jun-10 10:33:24

minipie: what if it just prioritised logic, reason and fact?

No mention of faith. Let faith be a personal matter.

DoubtUnites Wed 23-Jun-10 10:33:30

Pofaced in many areas this is not the case, the secondary schools in our catchment require a letter from a church and you have to go to church every week to get one. They take a register. If you do not attend one week you have to prove that you had a good reason not.

Spacehoppa Wed 23-Jun-10 10:33:36

brightspark2-I think the Christian faith has had slightly more relevance to the history and development of this country than the brothers Grimm but you did make me laugh..

On sex education I remember looking at frogs...Friday night so time to go to the pond...

cauliffe Wed 23-Jun-10 10:34:02

what i would consider to be a 'proper' atheist school wouldn't prioritise, it's not a child's fault that they've got religious parents.

Pofacedagain Wed 23-Jun-10 10:34:13

slug - you have made that clear. I am trying to balance the facts though. Many don't.

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 10:34:20

Pofacedagain. Yes there probably is no truly fair system. But that is not a reason for introducing yet another gratuitous unfairness. Two wrongs don't make a right.

spixblue Wed 23-Jun-10 10:34:59

I think an atheist school without religion in the curriculum would not be interested in the faith of its students as it would be of no consequence.

Porpoise Wed 23-Jun-10 10:35:05

And, Richard, is there not an argument that allowing faith schools to offer places first to children whose parents have faith, is no worse a way of "selecting" pupils than allowing parents to "buy" a place at the best schools by purchasing a house next door to the school?

In fact, you could maybe argue that less-advantaged children have more chance of getting into a "good" school this way because faith is not money issue.

RichardDawkins can I ask you a question (as an admirer of yours)?

looking back: do you think that in your new-atheist writings and speeches that perhaps you have been too rude? contemptuous even?

what I mean is, do you think that a more measured tone would have been more successful?

or is your ability to shock and upset an important part of being heard.

(declaration of self-interest: I am also rude blush)

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 10:36:17

Can anybody tell us what it feels like going to church for the sake of your children, when you don't believe a word that is said?

cauliffe Wed 23-Jun-10 10:36:44

i find the headscarf thing quite interesting - on one level you are banning people of a certain religious affiliation from the school, but on another you are making the school a place free from religion, which seems like a good thing. However, I think personal liberties should always come first and I wouldn't really like to see any banning of religious paraphernalia in this country.

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 10:37:24

many people have asked about atheist schools including Cauliffe. DoubtUnites - I look forward to receiving your children's letters. Thank you for suggesting that I should start an atheist free school. I like the idea very much, although I would prefer to call it a free-thinking free school. I would never want to indoctrinate children in atheism, any more than in religion. Instead, children should be taught to ask for evidence, to be sceptical, critical, open-minded. If children understand that beliefs should be substantiated with evidence, as opposed to tradition, authority, revelation or faith, they will automatically work out for themselves that they are atheists. I would also teach comparative religion, and teach it properly without any bias towards particular religions, and including historically important but dead religions, such as those of ancient Greece and the Norse gods, if only because these, like the Abrahamic scriptures, are important for understanding English literature and European history.

AbricotsSecs Wed 23-Jun-10 10:37:51

I think the ability to shock and upset religious types comes more from the (unpalatable) contents of the message rather than the delivery, tbh.

DoubtUnites Wed 23-Jun-10 10:38:43

We only did it for one week and decided against it. We simply couldn't bring ourselves to go again. The church is very evangelical and it terrified the children.

Chocolatelover Wed 23-Jun-10 10:38:48

IMO schools of no religious persuasion also foster divisiveness purely for being a different school.

I understand that people don't like the idea of indoctrination, but if children were sent to a mosque, or a temple to see what worshippers there believe as part of their religious studies class, would that be met with such horror from some parents as a visit to a church would? It is all part of RS and learning what other faiths believe, surely?

AlCrowley Wed 23-Jun-10 10:39:14

Can you open it in Milton Keynes please? wink

spixblue Wed 23-Jun-10 10:39:19

I can say that I hated watching my daughter be christened because her paternal grandmother wished it. I felt the chill of non-belief. I would rather home school than have to go to church to guarantee a school place.

Druzhok Wed 23-Jun-10 10:39:53

That ^ is the school to which I want to send my children.

DoubtUnites Wed 23-Jun-10 10:40:32

Thank you for your reply. I agree I didn't really mean an "atheist school". We bring our children up to make their own decisions smile

TheHeathenOfSuburbia Wed 23-Jun-10 10:41:29

As regards religious 'education', my (NI state grammar) school taught nothing but Protestant-style Christianity for all those years of RE. No ethics, philosophy, nothing.

And they got around the requirement to teach about different faiths for GCSE by covering CofE, Baptist, and Salvation Army IIRC.

cauliffe Wed 23-Jun-10 10:41:50

HoochieMizzle, I think you're spot on. I've noticed alot of people describing Prof. Dawkins as rude, and without warrant so far as I can see. But then I am probably also rude!

Free-thinking schools would be awesome! Do it! Please?

pernickety Wed 23-Jun-10 10:42:07

The faith schools where I live are so afraid of non-believers tainting their school that after they have taken as many christians or catholics as they can, the selection criteria prioritises children of other (contradictory) faiths above those of no faith at all.

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 10:42:14

JoeBauwens - you are raising a lot of interesting points. Yes, one of the biggest problems with faith schools is that they are divisive. They encourage children to segregate into tribes. In Glasgow a few years ago, the Roman Catholic bishop was reluctantly persuaded to remove his opposition to a mixed Catholic/Protestant school, but only on condition that they had separate entrances to the school! Just like apartheid South Africa, or the segregated southern states of America. This is one reason why I think faith-based education should be phased out and replaced by schools that teach comparative religion, and teach it properly without bias, as a branch of anthropology, with the bible taught as literature.

ronshar Wed 23-Jun-10 10:42:16

Hello Richard, thank you for joining us.

Do you think that religion has a place in our schools?
Should it be taught as a separate subject with no cross over or should it be woven into other sujects?

I agree that as a piece of literaqture the bible is a wonderful text but should it be taught as a reality or as a piece of fiction?

My daughters school has just got a new HT. He is very religious whereas the school is most definetly not.
I have already noticed that my youngest is coming home with all kinds of religious nonsense.
Am I over reacting by wanting to complain about this new religious fervour at school?

RubberDuck Wed 23-Jun-10 10:42:31

Yup, I'd send mine to that school too.

Are there specific things at home we can do to foster more critical thinking in our children?

legspinner Wed 23-Jun-10 10:42:43

Prof Dawkins, I would love to see comparative religion taught at my children's primary school, with no emphasis on any particular one. My children have learned no particular religion in their school, which is fine by me, but I do worry about them missing out on some very significant literature.

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 10:43:08

Spixblue I so sympathize with you about feeling obliged to baptize your children. Infant baptism is bizarre when you think about it. Pre-empting a child's right to decide for herself. Actually committing a child to particular opinions about the cosmos and morality before it has learned to speak.

shubunkin Wed 23-Jun-10 10:43:35

Pofacedagain - at our local faith school children living in the parish but of no faith are bottom of the criteria. Kids living in the next town who go to church will bte higher up the list than us!

What angers me is that our local Council refuses to allocate the streets in the parish to the catchment of another non-faith school, or alternatively force the faith school to switch to cathment basis. That means that we end up bottom of the list for everywhere because they are relying on a discrimatory system to deliver educational services!

Anyone got ideas on what I can do about that?

LeninGoooaaall Wed 23-Jun-10 10:44:04

I went to carol concert with performances from the local girls' school expecting a bit of Away in a Manger and all that. I was appalled that a reading was given from the bible about Eve and women suffering in childbirth, absolutely appalled. All those young girls hearing that. I kept looking around for the exit but didn't want to make a fuss. I could not sit in church and listen to that so my children could go to a particular school.

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 10:44:09

legspinner I agree that teaching comparative religion is incredibly important

ronshar Wed 23-Jun-10 10:44:23

Well that answered my question, thank yousmile

AbricotsSecs Wed 23-Jun-10 10:44:47

And here I was, thinking that the Tories' 'free schools' idea was nonsense...

I would love my children to go to a 'free-thinking' school rather than the CofE ones that are effectively the only option where we currently live

DoubtUnites Wed 23-Jun-10 10:44:50

"Free"-thinking schools I like that.

Pofacedagain Wed 23-Jun-10 10:45:25

It is nothing to do with a measured tone stubborn hubby - it is to do with being philosophically facile. Sorry to keep repeating that phrase, just sums it up really.

This thread is so self-satisfied it is really distasteful. Science is not full of self satisfaction and closed minds - it is about having an open, enquiring mind, and the asking of questions, and knowing that vast amounts are not known. Would you say 'I do not believe in other intelligent life forms as I have never seen one' ?

I am agnostic. And I think that is the best logical position. I have absolutely no problem with the position of an atheist, but I go have a big problem with the superiority and closed mind that sometimes seems to go with it, as here.

HelenMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 23-Jun-10 10:45:31

Message deleted by Mumsnet.

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 10:45:55

And also to Ronshar, yes the bible should be taught, but emphatically not as reality. It is fiction, myth, poetry, anything but reality. As such it needs to be taught because it underlies so much of our literature and our culture. I made the same point to Donnie the teacher, who wondered how to teach Hamlet without biblical knowledge

spixblue Wed 23-Jun-10 10:46:25

The problem in funding free schools is that there needs to be a surplus of places in schools for there to be genuine choice, but our country seems unable to afford this surplus.

Spacehoppa Wed 23-Jun-10 10:46:33

i personally find it quite difficult attending church with my husband. He has no problem with any of it

I am much more...Yes...agree with this bit, what... no, no...mmm yes that sounds nice..that WOULD be nice..ahh a song..I like this one...

I suspect a lot of other people do the same...


Pofacedagain Wed 23-Jun-10 10:46:56

and Prof Dawkins it is nonsense to say baptism is pre-empting a child's right to decide for themselves. Absolute nonsense.

LeninGoooaaall Wed 23-Jun-10 10:47:14

Helen, no, see my post about my experience of going to a CofE primary. I do agree that finding the worst examples of something do not help with the general issues.

Druzhok Wed 23-Jun-10 10:47:40

Isn't infant baptism just the legacy of high infant mortality rates? A pre-emptive strike against the risk of purgatory.

boiledegg1 Wed 23-Jun-10 10:47:50

I studied evolutionary biology to PhD level and I am an admirer of your early work.

I would not consider sending my children to a school run by atheists. I find many of the atheists that I meet in real life and on here every bit as evangelical as the religions that they attack. I want my children to learn to evaluate evidence and form conclusions, of course, but not from people such as yourself with such a skewed agenda.

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 10:48:12

pernickety I think it is a remarkable story and symbolises one of the aspects that are so worrying about faith schools.

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 10:48:32

Faith schools have a reputation for being academically successful. If true, what do you think is the explanation?

Pofacedagain Wed 23-Jun-10 10:48:33

<applauds boiled egg>

InmyheadIminParis Wed 23-Jun-10 10:48:44

chocolatelover the answer to your question is that visits to mosques, temples etc are treated as visits of 'cultural interest' - let's see what 'other' people believe. My problem with the church visit is that it is delivered as 'let's where we worship'.

It's the assumption that this is what we all believe that bothers me.

ZephirineDrouhin Wed 23-Jun-10 10:49:55

Richard Dawkins, we commit our children to "particular opinions about the cosmos and morality" every time we answer our 3 year olds' "why" questions or tell them not to behave in a particular way. You don't avoid indoctrinating children by avoiding the rituals of established religion.

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 10:50:56

Thank you BoiledEgg, my aims, if ever did start a school would be identical yours. I couldn't put it better than you have. Learn to evaluate evidence and form conclusions. That is all I ask. What have you read of mine that makes you think I have a skewed agenda?

DoubtUnites Wed 23-Jun-10 10:50:57

boiledegg you need to have a look at Richards previous posts he would also not want an atheist school

pernickety Wed 23-Jun-10 10:51:09

I would love a free-thinking school of that type for my children.

Druzhok Wed 23-Jun-10 10:52:14

Pofaced - not self-satisfied. But it is a relief to speak freely.

Scorpette Wed 23-Jun-10 10:52:32

Richard, I would love to send my (future) children to a free-thinking school. In fact, me and my partner have vague dreams of setting up our own small school along those lines (although we baulk at idea of being like that odious prat Toby Young and his ilk, in that regard).
Firstly, I would like to commend you on your tone in your writings. As a militant Atheist, I think you are very measured and I don't find you too strident at all - in fact, have joked to others that you didn't go far enough for my liking wink

Do you, like me, despair at the perceived notion that talking about Atheism and one's non-religious beliefs is often automatically seen as offensive, even though it seems to be taken for granted that religious people, particularly Christians, should be allowed to talk openly about their beliefs, even though much of those are offensive, upsetting and maddeningly illogical to others who do not share their beliefs? Would you agree that the next step for Atheists is to get society to see that there is an unconscious belief in society that there is an intrinsic 'truth' to religious belief, and which therefore means that the religious have more of a right to speak their views and that these views are therefore not offensive (or not as offensive) as non-religious stating their views and that this is why people seem to feel that people stating that they don't believe in any kind of deity or supernatural force are somehow trying to be rude and hurtful?

Thank you.

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 10:52:37

Some people think you need faith education in order to instill morality. What do people think of that?

tabouleh Wed 23-Jun-10 10:52:57

Richard - you would consider setting up a petition against faith schools so that the matter is debated in the House of Commons?

In the coalition document page 27 it states that "any petition that secures 100,000 signatures will be eligible for formal debate in Parliament".

Personally I have one DS who is not yet school aged but I am an athiest (converted from being an agnostic by you grin). I am rather horrified to realise that it was my schooling in CoE primary and non-faith secondary which resulted in my choosing to get married in a church. I think the religious assemblies and prayers normalise religion - and in real non-school life at home with my parents and now I do not say prayers etc.

I am very upset at the stories of "teaching as fact" about various aspects of religion and that these are in no way limited instances within faith schools.

Surely there is some mechanism for "complaining" about this.

Should parents be seeking the policy on religion for schools?

I know you are involved with the British Humanist Association - others on this thread will probably be interested in the website and this Humanism for schools website.

Are you working with the BHA on this religion/education project?

englishpatient Wed 23-Jun-10 10:53:07

I feel that it's fundamentalism of any kind, religious or atheist, that's the problem. It causes people to close their minds to anything except what they want to believe. I personally have no problem respecting the beliefs of others as long as this does not impact negatively on other people.

Pofacedagain Wed 23-Jun-10 10:53:09

Perhaps Faith schools are the most academically successful as they instil values of compassion and respect? Perhaps they are the most successful because the children feel, generally ,happy and secure? Perhaps SHOCK! they are taught a wide variety of ideas, including other religious beliefs and rigorous science too?

But you don't want to hear that.

minipie Wed 23-Jun-10 10:53:34

RichardDawkins said: "Infant baptism is bizarre when you think about it. Pre-empting a child's right to decide for herself. Actually committing a child to particular opinions about the cosmos and morality before it has learned to speak."

Weeell. Yes, that's true. And I don't agree with infant baptism.

But - parents teach their children their particular moral views all the time. For example, telling a child it is wrong to steal or hit. Is it really any different to tell a child that God exists, than to tell them it's wrong to steal? Either way you're not allowing them to decide for themselves.

AbricotsSecs Wed 23-Jun-10 10:53:57

Faith-based education may instill a type of morality - presumably the type that also allows the systematic abuse of children in some circles...

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 10:54:19

Scorpette, thank you

LeninGoooaaall Wed 23-Jun-10 10:54:38

I never get involved in these discussions because they get so passionate and I want a pragmatic approach. Faith schools should not be able to exclude. All schools should take everyone, as shops, workplaces and those providing goods and services have to. I know there are specific issues but as a general rule schools should be mixed, surely that's got to be an essential premise?

shubunkin Wed 23-Jun-10 10:54:40

Faith schools are academically successful because the kind of parents who go to church just to get their kids into the right school are likely to be the kind of parents who take an interest in their kids education and want them to do well. It is the influence at home which is most important in any child's education. If the parents care, take an interest, encourage a love of learning, provide a stable and quiet environemnt in whihc to study - the kids will do much better.

Tombliboob Wed 23-Jun-10 10:54:50

Prof Dawkins.

The success of Faith Schools in my experience is their placement. In the towns where i live there are usually two primarys, one Faith, one State.

The Faith schools are invariably build in the more affluent area of the towns and their catchment are the children of Higher earners with greater expectation for education.

I'm not saying thats the case across the board, but seems to be the trend in and around my county.

slug Wed 23-Jun-10 10:54:52

Hah!! That would be the morality of the COE who think there's nothing wrong with discriminating against people who are homosexual?

Or the morality of the Catholic Church????

Or the morality of the islamic faith that insists that women's word is worth half of that of a man in a court of law?

Give me the athiests any day.

zazizoma Wed 23-Jun-10 10:55:02

Richard, again, are you asking whether parents have the right to choose for their dc an education that has a religious context, or whether parents should have to fake a religion in order to get their dc into a local school? Two completely separate questions, which you seem to be conflating.

I live in New Zealand were most schools are secular. Morality is instilled by life experience. You develop it as you go through life and find that people treat you better when you act in a certain way. It does not have to come from religion.

tiktok Wed 23-Jun-10 10:55:38

Richard, do you think it could be feasible to have critical thinking as a subject on every school's curriculum, and examined at GCSE and A level?

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 10:56:10

Pofacedagain it is just this point that we want to explore in this documentary. We want to see the evidence and speak to many schools

legspinner Wed 23-Jun-10 10:56:15

I don't see the need to learn a particular faith to learn about moraility. There must be plenty of children who grow up in atheist / agnostic families who know about respect, integrity, honesty etc. I'd be insulted if anyone thought that kids with no instructed "faith" were amoral (or immoral!)

spixblue Wed 23-Jun-10 10:56:21

Ithink that faith schools are successful because they are the so well established as part of the state. Many of our leading universities have a background of religious patronage, and until this link is severed it will continue to be the norm.

LeninGoooaaall Wed 23-Jun-10 10:56:49

Of course you don't need faith education in order to instil morality. Most people have a very good sense of right and wrong and compassion towards others. Inequality is what drives wedges between people.

shinyrobot Wed 23-Jun-10 10:57:14

My children attend the local (non denominational) primary, religion is taught comparatively but they still have to say christian prayers every single morning in assembly angry

I know they can miss assembly but they have to miss the whole thing not just the religious part and they miss all the announcements too.

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 10:57:28

EnglishPatient, there is no such thing as atheist fundamentalism. Fundamentalist doesn'[t mean passionate, it means unchangeable. Every atheist I know would change their mind in a heartbeat if any evidence appeared in favour of religious belief. Could you say the same thing of religious fundamentalists? Obviously not.

legspinner Wed 23-Jun-10 10:57:48

great post by lavenderbongo am in NZ too and in a similar situation to you.

ZephirineDrouhin Wed 23-Jun-10 10:58:00

In answer to the question of why faith schools seem to perform better than non-faith schools, while it may be that the structure that religion brings has a positive effect on children's behaviour and ability to learn effectively, I would say it is largely socio-economic and a result of the admissions policies that voluntary aided schools are allowed to operate. In urban areas of high social deprivation, faith schools usually demand a long period of church attendance as well as baptism. This automatically excludes most children from the most chaotic and disconnected background. It is perfectly clear if you compare stats for free school meals etc in neighbouring faith and community schools.

Spacehoppa Wed 23-Jun-10 10:58:25

Yes, you do inform children to an extent with your own views when you answer their questions Zephirine -this is why it is important that they mix with other children and adults so that they appreciate that we live in a culture with people with different cultural and religious beliefs and agendas.

Pofacedagain Wed 23-Jun-10 10:58:42

Here we go again.

the Church of England would fall apart if it really discriminated against homosexuals as would the Catholic church. Do you not realise that huge numbers of Catholic and Cof E priests, admin staff, congregation, are gay? And everyone knows it. The reason the CofE church won't openly endorse it as it does not want to alienate the Anglican church in Africa and other developing countries. can you not see the difficult position they are in?

ItsAllGoingToBeFine Wed 23-Jun-10 10:58:53

Surely ALL state funded schools should be secular? - I really cannot understand state funded catholic schools, or the requirement for a "collective act of worship". Schools should be about education, learning about religions is very important, being immersed in them in school is wrong. How can the government possibly justify paying out money for schools which discriminate (even a non-religious state school still has the collective worship requirement)

spixblue Wed 23-Jun-10 10:58:54

Sorry my last point had a bit of a non-sequitur. I had a distracting baby on my knee. I meant that schools need money, and it is faith schools have traditionally been linked with the money.

aspiegal Wed 23-Jun-10 10:59:16

Not a question, just to say quickly how much I admire your work Prof Dawkins, I especially love 'The God Delusion'

SomeGuy Wed 23-Jun-10 10:59:49

re your opening statement (I wasn't here, apologies), the reality is that some parents have choices - to buy a house next to a good school, to send their children private, or even to emigrate.

And some don't have any of those options, and are stuck in the ghetto facing a school filled with drugs and knives.

The world is not particularly fair, you have to take your opportunities. You talk about religion being irrational, but what IMO is more irrational is getting hung up over church schools at the expense of a decent education. The church is really not that objectionable.

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 10:59:56

Yes, Tiktok I would LOVE to have classes in critical thinking. If only all schools taught that, and gave it high priority. Critical, evidence-based thinking. Wonderful thought. Don't teach religion, don't teach atheism. Teach critical thinking.

cauliffe Wed 23-Jun-10 10:59:57

Petition sounds like a great idea. I'm sure the NSS and BHA could go some way to rustling up 100,000 signatures.

Christianity = morality maddens me. When I hear people say 'oh how Christian of you' if I do something helpful I just want to scream NO IT'S NOT. I don't know where people have gotten this idea from to be honest. Some people act like atheists are all hedonistic idiots without a care for anyone else.

The way religion is fair game for discussion but atheism isn't is also massively frustrating. Some of the comments on this thread which make repeat these views about the arrogance of atheism are case in point, I think. It boils down to why believe something if you have no reason to? Reason.

Before you go thanks for coming on here Richard it's been great having you. You are a real inspiration, so thank you. And please do think about setting up that school!

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 11:00:40

The hour has flown by – with some great questions raised by Pofacedagain. JoeBauwens, Slug spixblue, pernickety, boiledegg1 and many others. I appreciate that I didn’t answer everyone’s questions. All of the issues raised will really help me in my documentary to understand the present education system and the role faith plays within it. I don’t expect to have all the answers or an atheist free school at any point soon, but I hope that I understand how we’ve come to be in this situation and can offer positive suggestions about the future. I completely agree with teacher Donnie the teacher that religious education should be standardized – so all children understand their cultural heritages, are more tolerant of others and also have greater critical awareness of religion's reach and power along with the literary value of the King James bible.
We are still keen to film with parents raising the kind of concerns that Spacehoppa and DoubtUnites have, who feel they have had to fake a faith and go through the motions in church in order to obtain the best education for their child. Would anybody like to talk to us on camera about that? We can ensure them anonymity if they wish. Should you want to participate, or have a question you would rather ask me in private – please do email schools@barneshassid.com.
Thank you again – and I’m off to snuffle out one of these legendary Mumsnet biscuits

HippyGalore Wed 23-Jun-10 11:01:07

I don't agree that faith schools are more successful based on the morals they teach. In Scotland there is only the occasional Catholic school to represent the faith branch and they do not perform better than their most equivalent (mainly in a socio-economic sense) secular counterparts.

Scorpette Wed 23-Jun-10 11:01:19

I am an Atheist, raised by Atheists. Although my school was supposedly secular, the Head and several teacher were Christians (two of them born-Again). My parents ensured that we were brought up in an environment of comparative religion. I became an Atheist myself at 10 because not only did the idea of any deity seem ridiculous and impossible, I found the majority of the Christian morality I was being taught offensive and actively IMmoral. Teaching children to be racist, sexist, homophobic and just as damaging, to be unquestioning, to be subservient and to never think independently, perceptively, rationally and logically.

Faith does not create morality, it simply does not. In fact, the very idea is supremely offensive - does this mean that we are all appalling psychopaths unless we follow the irrelevant words of some fairy stories and propaganda from 1000s of years ago? RIDICULOUS!

GetOrfMoiLand Wed 23-Jun-10 11:01:37

It is very interesting what you say about faith schools being divisive.

I live in Gloucester. I already had to make teh choice to send my daughter to a poorly performing school (where it has actually proved that the league tables are meaningless, it is a cracking school and she is thriving) because the only alternatives were single sex grammars (I don't approve of single sex schools) or the Catholic one. I could have got her a place at the catholic school - they had x amount of places for non-catholics - but then i would have had to support their ethos. No way.

Worryingly, there is a newly opened Islamic school for girls. there is a large minority of islamic families in Gloucester, formerly they would have attended one of the 9 schools in the city. Now the vast majority go to the Islamic school. There are no muslim girls in my daughters school. There are now far fewer who go to the girls grammars that there used to be. This worries me - how are we supposed to 'get on' as a society if we are seperating children like this.

I laughed at the poster above who said that the God delusion led to her having a 'road to Damascus' moment - I felt absolutely the same so thanks Professor Dawkins for that fabulous book, and all your others. They really did open my mind to the possibility that atheism, and questioning religion, is not something to feel ashamed of.

Pofacedagain Wed 23-Jun-10 11:02:02

I think if you all get rid of church schools you will find something else to get outraged about, and secretly mourn the loss of such great schools actually.

ronshar Wed 23-Jun-10 11:02:17

Could it be that faith schools have more money, access to resources and parents who lie through their teeth to get their children in to the school in the first place?

Or it could be that the parents and children at a faith school are already very used to following the rules and regulations of their religions that school discipline comes easy!

Or because they can cherry pick who they want in the school in the selection process.

Just a few thoughts.

tabouleh Wed 23-Jun-10 11:02:42

I know of one school in Devon, Colyton Grammar, where every pupil takes an AS in critical thinking. Article here.

Scorpette Wed 23-Jun-10 11:02:47

Damn, a min too late!

SomeGuy Wed 23-Jun-10 11:03:32

Critical Thinking AS Level sounds like a soft option to me... General Studies anybody?

Druzhok Wed 23-Jun-10 11:03:34

I don't know why 'atheism' is such a dirty word.

It means a lack of faith. Literally, 'without gods'.

I don't attack churches or their attendees. I just don't believe in a god.

slug Wed 23-Jun-10 11:03:39

Yes Poface. But if they were to admit to that in a job interview, they school would be perfectly within their rights to exclude them from employment. This right has been questioned, yet the COE insists on keeping it.

I agree, many COE schools are happy inclusive places where homosexuals and athiests flourish. But the fact remains, the school has the right to exclude people on these grounds. What happens in practise is many people end up going underground.

I taught many students who insisted they had never met a gay person in their life. The fact was they had. Many of their teachers were gay. they simply could not admit to it without risking their jobs. And until COE schoos are forced to comply with the same employment legislation as the rest of society then you have to admit that they may create an atmosphere where people are not able to be who they are and children are shown a false picture of society.

lal123 Wed 23-Jun-10 11:04:01

If we teach the bible as a literary work surely we also have to teach the other holy books as they too have influenced the literature and culture of many of our communities?

I've toyed with buying a bible story book for my daughter - (DP won't agree!) - simply because I think that some of the stories are very good.

ZephirineDrouhin Wed 23-Jun-10 11:04:02

I agree with you spacehoppa, but religion is not going to stop you doing that.

Faith schools that give priority on religious grounds do divide in this way, which is why the current exemption from regular LEA admissions rules for voluntary aided schools are wrong. That does not make the faith wrong, just the rules on admissions.


sigh - both those schools are STATE schools. but one of them the state runs on (more) secular lines, in the other the state has ceded a certain amount of control to the local church.

we all pay for it... the church runs it on faith lines. that's the problem.

englishpatient Wed 23-Jun-10 11:04:29

Richard, I did not express myself very well (trying to type quickly) but when I said fundamentalism I meant the type of thinking that does not allow for any other opinions and is rude or dismissive of these.

I love your idea of free-thinking schools as that is what is needed: the opportunity to discuss and analyse anything and everything that a (young)person may feel like questioning.

LeninGoooaaall Wed 23-Jun-10 11:04:50

Po, but they can't have it both ways. You (as in the heads of churches) can't expect to be consulted on the ways of the world whilst not openly saying discrimination against gay people is wrong.

We are people, we largely want the same things everyone else wants - home, job, family etc etc A two-tier or hierarchical approach to saying heterosexual relationships and families headed by a mother and father are 'better' than others just isn't on nowadays, especially when there is plenty of evidence suggesting that isn't true anyway.

InmyheadIminParis Wed 23-Jun-10 11:04:50

Thank you Richard.

AbricotsSecs Wed 23-Jun-10 11:05:35

Thank you for coming Richard, off to read the thread again properly

Tombliboob Wed 23-Jun-10 11:05:40

stubborn, i know, i just couldnt think of the right word for it so picked that one to differentiate grin

LeninGoooaaall Wed 23-Jun-10 11:05:47

Agree Zeph, it's the rules of admission that are a problem by and large.

GetOrfMoiLand Wed 23-Jun-10 11:06:21

Oh buggeration, missed him.

Hour long webchats are not enough.

tiktok Wed 23-Jun-10 11:06:33

Great webchat - thanks, Mumsnet, for having RD on.

I am ridiculously thrilled that RD thought my idea for critical thinking in schools was a goer!!

I know as a grown up I have come to critical thinking a bit late - would have loved it at school.

Pofacedagain Wed 23-Jun-10 11:06:48

Because, slug, they do not want to alienate churches in developing countries right now! They are trying to work subtley towards progression - they do not want to abandon churches in Africa elsewhere - it is a very difficult situation, can you not see that? Gawd if you ever went to Lambeth Palace - the whole institution is run by, er, umarried men....

I am extremely upset that Christianity has become such a dirty word and associated with misogyny and bigotry. But Christians and Atheists are equally to blame for that.

TheHeathenOfSuburbia Wed 23-Jun-10 11:07:27

So, pofaced, you think that if faith schools weren't allowed to discriminate on the religion of prospective pupils' parents, but kept the same heads/teachers/buildings, they would plummet down the league tables?

Pofacedagain Wed 23-Jun-10 11:08:32

Of course it is wrong Lenin, but I can see the impossibe situation Rowan Williams is in. I was v angry with him when he fudged the issue, but I do see how tricky it is, he does not want to abandon the churches in Africa, even if he thinks they are very wrong on the issue.

Pofacedagain Wed 23-Jun-10 11:09:39

No I don't Heathen. hmmWhat do you suggest they would then use as selection criteria? Catchment? Another reason for house prices to shoot up further.

SomeGuy Wed 23-Jun-10 11:09:41

lal123, 'many of our communities'? We live in Britain, interesting though Diwali might be, it doesn't play any significant part in the history or culture of Britain, it doesn't inform Shakespeare, or our legal system. Christianity has been shaping our society for 1400 years

Druzhok Wed 23-Jun-10 11:10:45

What slug says at 11.03 - absolutely spot on.

LeninGoooaaall Wed 23-Jun-10 11:11:13

I know Po, none of it is easy and I can see how change needs to be incremental. It's just frustrating to sit and watch.

ronshar Wed 23-Jun-10 11:12:41

The chruch has used religion to hide behind for centuries. Why stop now?
It's all about power and control. Wrapped up in pretty stories about wine & fish.

Chocolatelover Wed 23-Jun-10 11:12:43

pofaced i like your angle

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 11:13:28

One thing I didn't get time to say, during the brief hour of my official chat, is how weird it is that we all happily use phrases like 'Catholic child' 'Protestant child', 'Muslim child' etc. Presumptuous, isn't it? How dare you presume that a child will automatically inherit the beliefs of the parents. Maybe they will, but to LABEL a child with the religion of the parents presumes too much. You would never talk of a 'socialist child' of a 'Secular humanist child' or a 'Conservative child', just because of the parents views. So why does our entire society make an exception of religion, where it comes to labelling children?

LeninGoooaaall Wed 23-Jun-10 11:13:29

Spot on Slug 11:03, missed that. It is completely unacceptable that anyone can opt out of employment legislation, disgraceful.

TheHeathenOfSuburbia Wed 23-Jun-10 11:13:55

Was just referring to your 11.02.02 post, pofaced, but the thread had moved on. Oops.

SomeGuy Wed 23-Jun-10 11:14:33

more like the state has used religion for power and control. And it worked pretty well, TBH.

LeninGoooaaall Wed 23-Jun-10 11:15:31

Do people use those phrases? I don't and have never heard anyone else.

TheCoalitionNeedsYou Wed 23-Jun-10 11:15:57

Surely if it can be shown that Faith schools produce better results and that is due to their being Faith schools we should be moving to make ALL schools Faith schools as quickly as possible?

Or is it possible that if all schools were Faith schools we would still see the same inequalities in the education system?

StuckInTheMiddleWithYou Wed 23-Jun-10 11:16:09

I agree entirely Richard about labelling children.

If you ever set up your school, we'll be first in the que!

I am so sad I got here just too late. An interesting last point there. I don't really believe anyone can have a "faith" until they are an adult and have been given the opportunity to question their beliefs.

Plenty to think about here, I've only skimmed it so far, off to have a proper read.

Pofacedagain Wed 23-Jun-10 11:16:48

<looks for any uses of 'protestant child' etc in the thread, has not noticed a single one, wonders if another straw man argument being demonstrated>

ronshar Wed 23-Jun-10 11:16:51

Spot on Richard.
Thank you very much for coming on today.
I hope you are enjoying your biscuit.
What are you having? A Hob nob or Oat cakegrin

StuckInTheMiddleWithYou Wed 23-Jun-10 11:16:57

Faith schools get better results purely because they are selective.

JoeBauwens Wed 23-Jun-10 11:17:01

If I am asked my child's religion (which sadly happens a fair bit) I always reply that the asker should ask him. The results are usually hillarious (he is three).

Pofacedagain Wed 23-Jun-10 11:17:28

exactly Lenin. Who uses those phrases Prof Dawkins?

Pofacedagain Wed 23-Jun-10 11:18:31

Try explaining Agnosticism to your child Joebauwens? My ds outraged I don't know the answer.

In fact all children are naturally agnostic, no?

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 11:19:04

"Do people use those phrases? I don't and have never heard anyone else."

Are you serious? You just don't hear them because it is so normal! Many of the posters on this very thread used such phrases. Read any newspaper article about the disruption in Northern Ireland schools during the troubles, and you will constantly come across references to 'Catholic children' being attacked on their way to school, or '"Protestant children' having stones thrown at them

StuckInTheMiddleWithYou Wed 23-Jun-10 11:19:34

I believe that people use those phrases, as religion is given a higher level of respect than other more secular philosophies. Also, people are often using it for a shorthand for culture and/or race.

Just my opinion!

GetOrfMoiLand Wed 23-Jun-10 11:19:42

Yes totally agree with labelling of children. That point is very strongly made in God delusion.

That used to get on my nerves when I was a kid - watching those poor kids who went to protestant schools in Northern Ireland being traipsed through catholic streets, with abuse and all sorts hurled at them. Used to feel outraged at the newsreaders saying 'catholic children' 'protestant children'. Even when I was about 15 i knew this was a load of old rot - the religious choices were NOTHING to do with those poor kids, it was their bloody parents forcing them to live through that. Shame on them.

ronshar Wed 23-Jun-10 11:19:47

By sending your child to church/faith school you make them a child of which ever faith you choose.
The child is not making the choice for themselves.
And so becomes a Muslim/Catholic/Protestant child.
That is what RD means, I think.

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 11:20:23

"If I am asked my child's religion (which sadly happens a fair bit) I always reply that the asker should ask him." Spot on, JoeBauwens!

GetOrfMoiLand Wed 23-Jun-10 11:20:59

x posts re the protestant/catholic attacks on children.

Pofacedagain Wed 23-Jun-10 11:21:11

the newsapapers use it as shorthand. Will search thread now for any such phrases Prof Dawkins. Have read whole thread and not seen one use of it. Straw man argument methinks.

ronshar Wed 23-Jun-10 11:21:36

GOML I used to think the same when watching the TV.
I wanted to throw stones at the idiot parents.
Poor children.

legspinner Wed 23-Jun-10 11:21:57

Interesting point about labels, but have not really seen it here...(except ironically in faith schools, as these are rarities). NZ does not have the religious diversity that the UK does though, so here children are labelled based on ethnicity rather than religion.
Grear idea for a webchat MN and thanks Richard!

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 11:22:38

"That used to get on my nerves when I was a kid - watching those poor kids who went to protestant schools in Northern Ireland being traipsed through catholic streets, with abuse and all sorts hurled at them. Used to feel outraged at the newsreaders saying 'catholic children' 'protestant children'. Even when I was about 15 i knew this was a load of old rot - the religious choices were NOTHING to do with those poor kids, it was their bloody parents forcing them to live through that. Shame on them."

YES! thank you for putting it so well, GetOrfMoiLand.

GetOrfMoiLand Wed 23-Jun-10 11:23:13

Asked my religion by an american work colleague years ago.

Me: 'I'm an atheist'

<long pause>

Colleague 'is that a catholic or protestant atheist?'

StuckInTheMiddleWithYou Wed 23-Jun-10 11:23:24

This is probably the most interesting webchat yet!


CMOTdibbler Wed 23-Jun-10 11:23:57

I'm a bit late, but am outraged that my son would be required to pledge allegiance to a deity as part of joining Scouts - absolutely no atheist/agnostic option at all.

And in my small town you have a choice of a superb catholic school or mediocre CofE school - no even vaguely secular option

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 11:24:23

ronshar I am looking for a chocolate suggestive...

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 11:25:22

To those who doubt that people use labelling phrases of children. Here's one from down this thread. "There are no muslim girls in my daughters school."

What that poster meant was, "There are no daughters of muslim parents . . ."

ronshar Wed 23-Jun-10 11:25:27

My favourite.

GetOrfMoiLand Wed 23-Jun-10 11:26:36

And, the those kids, the news reporter would ask the parents 'why would you not just walk the long way round and not go through Catholic streets'

response 'why should we, we have as much right blah de blah de blah'.

At no point thinking that it would prevent utter terror and risk of injury for their kids.

And so another generation is indoctrinated in the hatred.

ZephirineDrouhin Wed 23-Jun-10 11:27:04

I can't see that it is so unreasonable to talk about Muslim or Christian children. Religious affiliation is every bit as much to do with cultural identity as belief.

JoeBauwens Wed 23-Jun-10 11:27:39

Why would I try to explain angnosticim to a three year old? The point is the question is silly, but we get asked it.

For example we had to visit a hospital in Portsmouth about six weeks ago, after my son was bitten by a dog (no ill effects, but it broke the skin & we like to be sure about these things). Since we were from out of town, the hospital had to fill out a form with things like our address, doctor's details etc. The last question was about religion; when asked I replied that I was a humanist atheist, but the receptionist demanded to know what religion my son was, so I directed the question to him. Since she did not feel able to admit that asking the religion of a three-year old was silly, the receptionist then spent about five minutes trying to coax a sensible answer out of him.

cauliffe Wed 23-Jun-10 11:27:45

You're still here? Now that's commitment. Enjoy the biccies!

Pofacedagain Wed 23-Jun-10 11:28:18

Oh Gawd this is ridiculous. The Irish thing was NOT about religion - it was about territory and hatred of the English. STRAW MAN.

SomeGuy Wed 23-Jun-10 11:29:18

So 'vegetarian child' is also wrong? Because 1-year-old babies don't have the ability to decide it's wrong to eat meat.

How about 'gypsy child' - children don't have the ability to determine they would prefer a nomadic lifestyle either.

Parents have the authority to make choices for their children. Where my wife grew up, children learn to sing and dance at family weddings, whereas my parents would recoil in horror at any kind of foot-shuffling whatsoever.

Such is life - we do have 'Muslim children', we do have 'bilingual children', 'travelling children' etc. etc

ALL of these things are a consequence of the decisions of the parents, some of them are positive and some of them are negative, but Richard Dawkins is being arbitrary in singling out the religious choices as somehow invalid or void.

As for whether these parental decisions are negative or positive, it's well-documented that religious people live longer - true or false, religion works.

I can think of many worse parental decisions than religion, and in fact, as a pragmatist, I would imagine that in 'bad' areas, such as parts of London, religion might be one of the best decisions you can make for your children.

So let's please not write off the 'Protestant children' too casually.

LeninGoooaaall Wed 23-Jun-10 11:29:19

Ok, I'm thinking about VA admissions policies and employment law and the way things work in general in my fairly church-y village - abuse and violence are much bigger issues of course.

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 11:29:32

Druzhok asks why atheist is a dirty word. It is weird, isn't it? None of us believes in Thor or Wotan or Zeus, but Athorist is not a dirty word.

GetOrfMoiLand Wed 23-Jun-10 11:29:41

blush Yes - slip up there re daughters of muslims.

Even though I 100% agree with the sentiment, it is shamefully easy to slip into using those terms.

This is a great webchat.

Druzhok Wed 23-Jun-10 11:29:43

Re labelling: sometimes is about more than religion, though, surely? Judaism is racial and cultural as much as religious.

We (collectively) have learnt to be careful about labelling children purely on the basis of their racial characteristics, so I suppose religion has filled that void, to an extent.

Any generalisation is going to be reductive in some way.

StuckInTheMiddleWithYou Wed 23-Jun-10 11:30:40

Pofaced, how much of Catholic or Islamic theology can a five year old truly grasp?

ronshar Wed 23-Jun-10 11:30:57

Because they were Catholic and Protestant.
It is an excuse. But religion is at the bottom of it all.

LeninGoooaaall Wed 23-Jun-10 11:31:12

Indeed Po. Also, I would tend to say so-and-so is x rather than describe someone as an x thing. Subtle difference re: putting the person first and descriptors after.

GetOrfMoiLand Wed 23-Jun-10 11:32:25

Pofaced - of course the situation in N Ireland is about far more that simple catholic/protestand division. Everybody knows that.

However, in simple basic terms, that is how it is represented to children, isn't it. As a child you are either a protestant or a catholic. You learn the whole horrific history as you grow older.

But, at a basic level for those children affected in that territorial dispute, they were catholics and protestants.

RichardDawkins Wed 23-Jun-10 11:33:07

"Oh Gawd this is ridiculous. The Irish thing was NOT about religion - it was about territory and hatred of the English. STRAW MAN."

All the more reason, if true, why the press should not have labelled the children with the religion of their parents. But actually I don't think it is true. If it had been only territory and other political issues, how did people know which side they were on other than by religious tradition. If it had not been for religion and generations of segregated faith schools, the people of Northern Ireland would long ago have intermarried and would not have inherited their tribal hatreds.

LeninGoooaaall Wed 23-Jun-10 11:33:12

And it's not so much doubting it, if it's true for some it's true for them, it's just not true for me or anyone I know in my life.

Druzhok Wed 23-Jun-10 11:34:39

Re atheism being such a dirty word: because religion is normalised in the UK.

I remember feeling terribly brave (and being labelled as a troublemaker) for continually stating that I did not believe in God when asked to participate in religious worship. I attended a pretty moderate CofE private school which in all other ways championed our academic development, but the shock was palpable.

It was about social control as much as anything, I think. I believe they thought that atheism was akin to anarchy.

ZephirineDrouhin Wed 23-Jun-10 11:34:48

"Atheist" hasn't been "a dirty word" for generations in this country as far as I can see. If it is becoming so once more, it is most likely a reaction to the recent rise of a few very high profile proponents of the notion that atheism is superior to all other belief systems...

LeninGoooaaall Wed 23-Jun-10 11:35:07

How are you going to get someone on camera to say they go/went to church even though they thought it was a load of toss just to get their child into a certain school? What is that going to achieve?

JoeBauwens Wed 23-Jun-10 11:36:38


An (English) friend of mine was hit on the head by a paving slab being thrown by a protestant protester at a 'Catholic' schoolchild, while serving in NI in the army (I nearly wrote Protestant paving slab, which wouldn't have made much less sence), so there's a bit more to it than hatred of the English.

However I would certainly agree that Catholicism, Irishness & anti-English sentiments have become intertwined. We have a lot of Catholic schools locally, and a very poor, very marginalised Irish community. This also undermines the myth that faith schools achieve better results.

Druzhok Wed 23-Jun-10 11:36:58

In NI: Protestant = Church of England and RC = Chruch of Ireland.

cauliffe Wed 23-Jun-10 11:37:09

But people who follow a religion naturally assume that their religion is superior to all others. Why is it that only those who do not have a religion are regarded as superior?

LeninGoooaaall Wed 23-Jun-10 11:38:53

These are all complex things - VA schools and employment issues therein are discrete things which can be tackled to ensure they are fair.

cauliffe Wed 23-Jun-10 11:41:02

sorry, I meant to say: But people who follow a religion naturally assume that their religion is superior to all others. Why is it that only those who do not have a religion are regarded as having a superior attitude?

ZephirineDrouhin Wed 23-Jun-10 11:41:53

cauliffe - not quite true. I have come across many churchgoing people who recognise that their religion is expressed in a form which is specific to their culture, and who recognise other forms of belief as equally valid.

I'm not sure what you mean by your second sentence.

ZephirineDrouhin Wed 23-Jun-10 11:43:05

x-posts. A "superior attitude" is equally bad whatever side it's coming from imo.

SomeGuy Wed 23-Jun-10 11:43:46

It's a different form of superiority. One is 'my god is better than yours', the other is 'I am enlightened and intelligent, and you are an ignorant primitivist'. It's arguing superiority from a different angle.

StuckInTheMiddleWithYou Wed 23-Jun-10 11:45:17

I think the "superior" atitude that some athiests appear to have, is actually frustration at the maddness of so many religious ideas!

Chocolatelover Wed 23-Jun-10 11:46:58

Is Atheism a religion?