Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Secularism Against Religious influence in Schools, from Birmingham to Islamabad.

with 3 comments

Park View School in Birmingham

Government’s response worst possible one.

“Le jour où les socialistes pourraient fonder des écoles, je considère que le devoir de l’instituteur serait, si je puis ainsi dire, de ne pas prononcer devant les enfants le mot même de socialisme.”

The day that socialists come to found schools, I consider that the duty of the teacher would be, if I may say, to never pronounce even the word socialism in front of the children .

Jean Jaurès Pour la Laïque January. 1910 Chambre des Députés.

The problem with the Ofsted report into a cluster of schools in Birmingham and the role Islamist extremists is not “extremism”.

It is the influence of religion in education, and the free reign this has been given in Academies and Free Schools.

Here is what we know, at present (Monday morning), from the central findings.

The Birmingham academy trust at the centre of the so-called Trojan Horse allegations has been accused of running schools which have “taken the Islamic focus too far”.

A leaked draft report on Park View Educational Trust from the Education Funding Agency says some parts of the school curriculum are “restricted to a conservative Islamic perspective”.

It found that girls and boys had been segregated in some classes.

The trust has strongly disputed allegations of extremism.

This highly-critical report found a classroom culture in which Park View School which was not welcoming to non-Muslim pupils – even though the school is not a Muslim faith school.

It described a “madrassa curriculum” in PHSE (personal, social, health and economic) lessons and “posters written in Quranic Arabic in most of the classrooms visited”.

Staff told the inspectors that loudspeakers in the school were used to broadcast the call to prayer.

The report says there were posters in classrooms encouraging children to begin lessons with a Muslim prayer.

And there were claims of an inappropriate external speaker being brought in to talk to pupils. BBC

Some on the left will side with the schools.

They have lost their moral compass.

The subject of Jihadism has muddied the waters. But this is not about a  link between these schools and ‘extremism’. It is about the power of religious authority in education.

The worst possible response has just come from the government.

“Protecting our children is one of the first duties of government and that is why the issue of alleged Islamist extremism in Birmingham schools demands a robust response,” the prime minister said.

Cameron will chair a meeting of cabinet ministers on Monday morning to discuss the Trojan horse findings, in the wake of the public row between Michael Gove and Theresa May on the subject. Ofsted will publish the reports and then Gove will address parliament on the issue.

The Guardian has also learned that the Department for Education is investigating options to radically restructure Birmingham’s state schools in what would amount to a sweeping, city-wide shake-up of England’s largest local authority. It could lead to all the city’s schools being forced to become academies.

These measures will simply transfer religious authority to new administration.

What is at stake.

A deeper principle remains unresolved: open-minded education.

These schools, as with all faith schools that limit pluralism, close people’s minds.

The evidence is there: the schools at the centre of the report  have clearly framed their teaching in religious terms. They have created an environment constrained within faith terms. They have actively promoted one religion.

A “madrassa curriculum” is the opposite of freedom, it is narrow-minded introduction to a single point of view.

This will certainly not be solved by making schools academies, which permitted this in the first place.

What should be our reaction?

We can see one already emerging.

It is to defend these religiously influenced academies.

This is to revive the debate between secularists, like  Jaurès  and his opponents,defenders of religious (Catholic) education way back before the Great War.

Some British liberals and some on the left would have sided with the far-right  Maurice Barrès who spoke against Jean Jaurès during the 1910 debate.

Barrès argued that religion was an integral part of French culture and the basis of humanism. He defended it against “rootless” secularism.

He evoked, as some British liberals and leftists do, the contribution of faith to morality and its cultural importance.

Jaurès replied that Barrès seemed to take everything, even the French cathedrals, as  support for his personal standpoint.

We will no doubt hear the same arguments from those backing the Birmingham schools.

What is the answer?

How is the state to be involved in education?

Not by making them academies, which, to repeat, created the opportunity for religious forces in the first place.

Comrade Jaurès had the response.

Secularism means freedom from imposing any doctrine in education, even his socialism.

It is to encourage the use of people’s own reason.

“Proudhon l’a dit avec force : l’enfant a le droit d’être éclairé par tous les rayons qui viennent de tous les côtés de l’horizon, et la fonction de l’Etat, c’est d’empêcher .l’interception d’une partie de ces rayons.”

Proudhon said emphatically: the child has the right to be enlightened by every beam of light coming from every quarter. The role of the State is to prevent any one of these rays being filtered out.



3 Responses

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  1. The kind of issues that are been raised here are inevitable with the kind of mess that the Education Secretary is promoting. The problem is that all kinds of unethical, incompetent and corrupt behaviour is likely to have been encouraged throughout the country, but the focus just happens to be on ‘Islamic extremism’ when there is little evidence that this is the case. It does appear that they are picking on the Muslims again.
    As such, if you’re going to use this case as ammunition, then make sure it’s firmly in connection with a root and branch criticism of education policy over the past 20 years.

    Igor Belanov

    June 9, 2014 at 12:20 pm

  2. The argument presented here is not about “extremism”, it’s about the principle of education constrained within a religious framework.

    The practices exposed here are clearly incompatible with promoting freedom of thought and behaviour, or developing any form of critical reasoning.

    Were I to develop this I would concentrate on the case at hand, which is the role of the Qu’ran in Islamist education, and all the other practices, gender segregation, intolerance of other beliefs.

    The key is that governments, beginning with Tony Blair, have promoted a religious agenda in education, and that academies, and now free-schools have brought them to the fore.

    It is up to you Igor to find state schools that so actively promote *one* religious agenda and the intolerance that goes with it.

    There are no doubt many many private schools from a variety of faiths that do.

    That governments have done their best to bring forward and subsidise a variety of faiths, allow them into education, and some local authorities, like Tower Hamlets, openly subsidise religious groups, is a problem.

    Not ‘extremism’ as such.

    Andrew Coates

    June 9, 2014 at 4:10 pm

  3. I’m fully in favour of secular state education, but to do that the Anglican and Catholic schools have to go as well. Islam does seem to be a bit of an easy target at times.

    Igor Belanov

    June 9, 2014 at 5:49 pm

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