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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.

OP’s posts: |
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

Message withdrawn

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 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?

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