Faith School Menace? (2010) Movie Script

Education has become
one of the most fiercely debated
political battlegrounds.
Billions of pounds of our money
are poured into schools every year.
But there's an aspect of education
that is rarely questioned,
a slow, creeping change
in the make-up of our schools -
one third are now faith schools.
I did, I converted to Catholicism.
For the sake of your child.
For the sake of my child.
If you come to our school,
we're very much open minds.
What we are trying to indoctrinate
is a view that faith matters.
Some say parents must be able to
educate their child in their faith.
Do you believe that parents
have the human right
to choose the education
for their children or not?
Others fear this is limiting
and divisive.
To separate yourself off
from the rest of humanity,
is deeply, deeply tragic.
Isn't it time for our society to
re-think what is best for children?
I want to explore the balance of
rights between a parent's right
to educate a child
in their own faith
and the children's rights
to determine their own beliefs
and approach the world
with an genuinely open mind.
One in three state schools in
our country is now a faith school,
a school with formal links
to a religion.
These schools have
extraordinary privileges.
Because, 60 years ago,
churches provided half the money
for their schools,
many were allowed to discriminate
on religious grounds
in selecting pupils
based on parents' faith
and in recruiting staff.
They could also have the freedom
to teach their own syllabus
of religious education, RE.
Today, we taxpayers fund the running
of these schools and also pay
up to 90% of the cost
of building them.
But the problem is
the churches held on
to their special powers
in their schools.
And then the Government
under Tony Blair
made a decision
that changed Britain forever.
It oversaw the foundation of over
100 new faith schools,
including Muslim, Hindu
and Sikh schools,
along with 42 academies sponsored
by Christian organisations.
A big man for a big job - Charles
Clarke's waited a long time for this.
This man was Education Secretary
under Blair.
Why did he open the floodgates?
You can say, we're only going
to keep it that you have Christian
and a tiny proportion
of other faith schools.
I think that leads you into
serious risk of discrimination,
saying it's OK to have
a Christian faith school
but, for the sake of argument,
not a Muslim faith school,
which is not acceptable, and you've
got to have the same rule for all.
I understand Charles Clarke's desire
not to discriminate
against minority religions.
I agree we need one rule for all.
But I think the Government
turned the wrong way.
It should have abolished
the faith component altogether,
not rolled out more faith schools.
You can make a logical argument
- I completely understand it,
in fact, I first was a co-author of
a pamphlet about this in 1978-
which says abolish all faith schools,
but I think you've then got to look
at how that relates
to what the population as a whole
feel about faith schools.
You wouldn't have to abolish them,
just stop supporting them
with Government money.
Well, that's the same
as abolishing them.
I mean the net effect of this
would be to close
thousands of schools.
Let the schools remain
but abolish the separation
between Catholic, Protestant...
You're saying take the money away
from the school which has that...
Yes. But the school could stay. It's
got the same buildings, teachers...
But you're taking away
90% of their revenue funding.
Closing these schools, which is I
think the effect of what you say,
is something
that wouldn't be accepted.
But it's their decision to close it.
They have the option.
I'm Secretary of State for Education,
and 4,000 schools are closed -
by their decision, not my decision -
but as a result of what I have said
waving your big stick
which you've offered me.
I don't think that society
would accept that.
Having been a key player
in this huge gamble
with our country's education system,
you'd hope there'd be more
enthusiasm and conviction
in Charles Clarke's
backing for faith schools.
In fact, we find he used to be
against faith schools
and his main defence of them now
seems to be that voters
wouldn't agree to abolishing them.
And I'm not at all convinced
Charles Clarke is right
about public feeling.
In fact, we commissioned an
ICM opinion poll that showed
a clear majority, 59%,
still believed
that schools should be for everyone,
regardless of religion
and the Government should not be
funding faith schools of any kind.
I believe the Government must act
and take the faith
out of faith schools.
The first and most outwardly
dramatic change being brought about
by these schools has been a bizarre
distortion of parents' behaviour,
particularly in the push
for primary school places.
About 7% of the British
population worship in church.
But around 36% of primary schools
are run by the churches,
and they can select pupils on
the basis of parents' faith.
Parental choice?
OK, let's talk
about parental choice.
Suppose I'm a parent living with
my children exactly here in Oxford,
where we are standing now.
If we want a faith-based
primary school,
we've got all these red dots
to choose from
within easy walking distance.
St Phillip and St James,
there's St Aloysius,
a Catholic school, and there's St
Barnabas, another Anglican school.
But if we want a non-faith-based
school, we've got to go miles here,
here or here, or here.
Parents who wish to exercise
their choice
of a non-faith-based education
for their children
are, effectively,
discriminated against.
They're excluded
from one third of British
state-funded primary schools.
How do parents feel about this?
I've come to Mumsnet.
Richard! How nice to meet you.
Hello, Justine,
thank you very much for having me.
Welcome to Mumsnet Towers.
Mumsnet is a web forum where parents
get together online using pseudonyms
to chat freely about issues
involving their children.
I'm here to ask about their
experience of faith schools.
Slug is saying 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.
It would be unacceptable, of course,
to exclude people on the basis
of their race, but somehow it's OK
if it's their parents' religion.
Joe Bauwens's son is excluded
from all three of the local
primary schools,
two Anglican and one Catholic,
on the grounds that his parents
are not churchgoers.
Oh, God, there's so much going
on, I can't keep up. Hang on.
If parents don't want their children
to be excluded, the other option,
of course, is to fake a faith.
"Our neighbours trot along to church
every Sunday,
"rolling their eyes as they go,
"all so their children
can go to the local school. "
We seem to be hearing that
again and again.
I went to meet one couple
who wanted to send their daughter
to what they thought
was the best school in their area,
a Catholic primary.
But the problem was they
weren't practising Catholics.
The SATs was 100%.
So, first child, you just want
the best for your child.
Yeah, we spent four years
going to church,
you know, doing the right thing.
You went in order
to get the child into the school?
Yeah, we went to church every Sunday.
Yeah, that's part of the criteria,
The parish priest
has to sort of sign you off.
He stood at the door and ticked
your name off as you went in?
Not quite, but almost. After church,
everyone was crowding the priest
to say,
"Hi, look, I'm here, I'm here. "
Helen converted to Catholicism.
Didn't you?
Converted to Catholicism? From what?
From Protestant.
You were brought up...
Plymouth Brethren.
Plymouth Brethren in Scotland.
Yeah, so that was my commitment
to my daughter.
Did you have to do anything else?
Any other hoops to jump through?
Be nice to the priest.
Be nice to the priest
in what sort of way?
Well, if he had a cough,
you would get him some cough mixture
or just generally feed his ego.
That's not too serious bribery,
was there anything
more serious than that?
It got to the stage where it
was sort of hinted at
that things like, you know,
the church roof needed fixing
and, you know, the fee of 5,000
was sort of bandied about.
That if you sort of contributed
that amount,
your child was guaranteed
a place in school.
If you gave 5,000 to the church,
you would get your child
into school?
Yeah, yeah. Oh, absolutely.
It's not money to him,
but if his church looks like
its getting bums on seats
on Sunday, erm,
if the coffers are full,
he's doing a good job, isn't he?
He actually said that to me.
It's about bums on seats.
We contacted the priest in question.
He denied these claims
and stated he had nothing to do
with admissions, which were
dealt with by an independent body.
Of other faiths,
the Church of England told us
that not every admission
to their schools
is based on parents' religion
and it hopes no parent feels
compelled to worship
to secure their child a place.
The Board of Deputies of British
Jews makes no apology that parents
must demonstrate a commitment to
the values and ethos of Judaism.
But why are parents
who hold no faith
sending their children
to faith schools?
It seems to be about results.
League tables show that,
of primaries last year
with perfect SATs scores,
two thirds were church-run.
So what's going on?
Are faith schools better?
Surely God isn't
helping pupils in exams?
Through a massive analysis of half
a million primary school pupils,
this man has now has
the authoritative answer.
We can compare children
who live in the same postcode,
so you're comparing houses next
to each other, and if you do this,
and compare children in these
very similar circumstances,
one going to a faith school, one not,
you find actually the rate at which
these children progress
is very, very similar.
There's not much of a performance
advantage measured on these terms.
The upshot is that
all the performance advantage
we observe for faith schools is to do
with the motivation of the parents,
it's to do with the background,
you know, their wealth.
So the evidence suggests
that the idea
that improved results in faith
schools are due to faith is a myth.
It's about the social level of
pupils and the pushiness of parents
prepared to jump through hoops
to get their children selected.
Do we conclude from this
that parents are wasting their time
struggling to get their children
into a faith school?
Looking at the data we've got,
that's the conclusion
you would come to.
It might seem there's nothing deeply
wrong with parents
making a pact with beliefs
they don't hold
in order to get their children
into faith schools -
a little harmless hypocrisy,
But I worry that these parents
may be unwittingly
saddling their children with ways of
thinking that are hard to shake off.
One in three schools in Britain
is now a faith school,
and their number is increasing
our green and pleasant land.
As a non-believer,
I have concerns about this, but not
for the reasons you might imagine.
"Remember now thy Creator
in the days of thy youth.
"While the evil days come not, nor the
years draw nigh when thou shalt say,
"I have no pleasure in them. "
Perhaps surprisingly,
I'm in favour of religious literacy.
As we glide over the English
I really feel that in order to understand
England, the village cricket matches,
Evensong, harvest festivals,
the weddings and christenings,
you need to have an appreciation
of the cultural heritage of England,
and that includes Christianity.
Equally, if you're to understand
our wider world,
the Muslim Koran and
Hindu Bhagavad-Gita deserve study.
"Stay me with flagons, comfort me
with apples, for I am sick of love. "
It's not all that surprising that I
enjoy the reading the Bible so much,
because, at least in the
17th-century King James version,
it is most beautiful English.
"Go to the ant, thou sluggard.
Consider her ways and be wise. "
"Spare the rod and spoil the child. "
"Of making many books
there is no end. "
These phrases and hundreds like them
suffuse our literature
and our language.
You can't appreciate Shakespeare
unless you are steeped in the Bible.
While I think it's important all schools
teach about the culture of religion,
I'm worried that faith schools
are allowed to do far more.
Even the mild old Church of England
has openly set out its aim,
through the Archbishops' Council,
for its some 5,000 schools
to "nourish those of the faith,
"encourage those of other faiths,
challenge those who have no faith. "
What does that mean for those
on the sharp end, our children?
I suppose what we are trying
to indoctrinate into is...
a view that faith matters.
What you would expect here is to find
that collective worship means something.
But the main aim is not just to learn
about the major faiths,
but to have something
of an experience of faith.
One of the things that's very
difficult to do when you're older
is to make a decision on something
about which you know nothing
and have experienced nothing.
So it would be very easy
for someone to say,
"Oh, religion's all a load of rot,"
without actually ever having
encountered what it's like lived.
And so the Christian Foundation
enables some of that to be part
of these children's experience,
not in a way that expects them
to sign on the dotted line,
but to say, "This is what it is like,
"it's part of your learning and
your education to see how it works. "
Janina Ainsworth
and I disagree here.
She feels it's important to
experience faith in school,
but for me, this is indoctrinating
children too young to defend themselves.
I worry that religions like
getting to children young
precisely because that's when they
are at their most impressionable.
I'm going to show you
what it's going to make next.
It's going to be a box.
Are you ready for the box?
OK. There.
There's a box.
Do you see its lids there?
I can make a hat out of it.
What, like that?
No! Put it on me!
Thank you.
'Some sixty years on from
my childhood, I can still remember
'how to fold a piece of paper
into a Chinese-style boat.
'It was a craze at my school. '
This is going to be...
This is the difficult bit now.
Pulling that out, pulling that out,
and pulling up the sails,
and it's a boat!
Windmill Primary School in Oxford
is no faith school,
but I've come here to demonstrate
children's natural propensity
to absorb new information.
A sailor
went to sea, sea, sea...
'I've reminded one pupil of
a well-known clapping game. '
Within minutes, others pick up
the game, pass it on to friends,
make connections
and adapt it with variations.
Children love to imitate,
they love to join in.
There's something compelling
about ideas
and the way they spread through
minds that are a bit like sponges.
What children absorb at a young age
can last a lifetime.
Should it really be the dogma
and daily rituals of religion?
And faith schools do much more,
of course, than hymns and prayers.
The hard edge of the indoctrination
goes on in RE, religious education,
for which many faith schools
teach their own syllabus,
and often parents contribute
money for the lessons.
We weren't granted access to film
any RE or faith studies
at a Jewish or Catholic school.
So I turned to someone who has
systematically collected information
for years on what actually goes on.
The problem is
that it is totally deregulated.
The governing bodies
of state-funded faith schools
have control over their
religious education curriculum.
Ofsted inspects the religious
education in other state-funded schools,
but state-funded religious schools have their
own religious inspectorates to inspect lessons.
And that really compounds
problems in other subjects.
So a lot of faith schools,
particularly Catholic schools,
will teach their sex and relations
education in their RE.
Lots of faith schools do the same with
citizenship education. So those subjects become
seen through a religious filter.
How much time do they actually spend
on faith
as opposed to ordinary education?
Well, we have an example here of
a state-funded Jewish faith school,
where in Year Seven, that's
the first form in secondary school,
pupils have eight hours
of religious instruction
every fortnight, which compares with
six hours per fortnight for science
and far outweighs any subject
in the secular curriculum.
One faith was brave enough
to open its doors to filming.
Right, come on, girls.
Right, now, we know what
we're going to do this lesson.
We're going to do some drama.
I'm just thinking to myself,
how universal is this story?
Back then, everything was according to
the family. You've got to obey them...
This is Madani High School, an
all-Muslim secondary school in Leicester
and one of 11 Muslim faithschools
now in the state system.
I've come to see first hand
how faith and education mix.
This school gets good results,
and many of the girls here hope
to become the next generation
of lawyers, doctors and teachers.
Faith schools are sometimes accused
of closing children's minds down
by teaching them this is the one
true faith and you get your truth
from Holy Scripture rather than
from opening your mind to the world.
That's slightly a misunderstanding
from those who think that.
If you come to our school
and look at our lessons,
we're very much open minds,
thinking critically,
understanding the world
in a very critical fashion.
Like all state schools, they teach
national curriculum science here.
But, like many faith schools,
they supplement this
with religious lessons
that they control
and which are not subject
to Ofsted inspection.
In our school, when our teachers
tell us stuff, like,
teach us stuff, it's up to us
whether we believe it or not.
The teachers do not
disrespect our decision.
Everybody has a right to their own
decision, at the end of the day.
Suppose we take a fact like,
are we and chimpanzees cousins?
Do you believe that
we're cousins of chimpanzees?
Or monkeys?
I wouldn't think so.
Perhaps we have
a science teacher here.
What do you teach about that?
We learn in the curriculum,
because that's what we follow,
we teach them
the theory of evolution,
but then I do tell them
we in Islam,
our opinion about it, and the girls
will also have their own opinion
and ask questions, "So, Miss,
do we really come from chimpanzees?"
But they all have their own opinions
for that, and they'll
come to their own decision, which
every single one of them realise
that actually we didn't,
because we believe differently.
Every single one of them comes to
the conclusion that we did not evolve?
Everybody in your science class,
everybody in the school
comes to that conclusion?
Well, in my class, yes, they did.
How many is that?
Well, I teach 60 Year Ten students,
so 60 of them.
And all 60 of them
end up rejecting evolution?
Yes, because, obviously, they have
their beliefs, which is Islam.
Yeah, about evolution.
Evolution is that
human evolved from apes and stuff,
but if there are still apes here,
then how did humans evolve from apes?
This is the commonest question I get. What's
the answer of your science teacher to that?
I wanted to know your opinion.
I'm going to give you the answer, but we've
been told that your science teacher teaches
the theory of evolution.
I'm interested to know...
That's exactly what we teach them,
that humans evolved from apes
and through natural selection
we became humans.
But her question is
why are there still apes?
Mm. Erm...
I'll tell you why
there are still apes.
Firstly, we are not just
evolved from apes, weareapes.
And when animals evolve from
other animals,
it's not that they supersede them.
It's not that we've evolved
from chimpanzees.
Chimpanzees and we have evolved
from a shared ancestor
who lived about
six million years ago
and who was neither a human
nor a chimpanzee.
'There's a bigger point at stake
here than evolution, of course.
'What's worrying is that a school that says
it wants its pupils to be open-minded is,
'through its religious training, also
guiding them to reject factual evidence
'at the very core of science
and rational thought.
'Where does that lead?'
The school's job is to
provide all the information,
but it's up to individuals to see what
they believe and what they don't believe,
so I'd like to leave the choices
to these young people.
So you think that
matters of scientific fact
are a matter of personal choice,
based on traditional faith?
Well, none of the reports
that I've read
says that
evolution is a scientific fact.
It just says there's a scientific
theory which says evolution is there.
There's another perspective,
from a faith perspective, that says
God created all human beings.
But I hope you'll see
that from our young people
evolution is only one small thing
in their lives
and probably an insignificant thing
in their lives.
It's not a small thing in the life
of a science teacher.
She will teach children
things which are...
contrary to the entire
scientific community.
Now, that's not a small thing,
that's actually quite a large thing.
If science says one thing and the Koran
says the other, who do you go with?
Well, I'd like to believe
that because science,
scientific knowledge
and the Koran are
essentially from the same creator,
there won't be a conflict.
The conflict will probably arise
in our understanding of those facts.
That sounds reasonable to me.
My advice...
If you'll pardon me
for offering advice...
Please do.
You're never going to win the fight
against evolution. It is a fact.
What you should do
is look at the Koran
and reconcile it with evolution,
which is what Christians have done.
In RE, we learn about science and
the Koran. By the end of the day,
we all came to one conclusion, that
the Koran is evidence of science,
that what science has proved
to be just recently
is already proved in the Koran
1,400 years ago, when it was written.
But that doesn't include evolution,
So what does it include?
It includes stuff like the shape
of the earth, about the mountains,
how they secure the earth.
And how in the sea the two waters,
they don't mix,
the salty water
and the drinking water.
So it's pure for us to drink.
They don't mix,
but they pass through each other.
Salty water and fresh water
don't mix in the sea?
No. It's like...
It's a natural barrier.
I was shocked that
RE elbows out science like this.
So you think the Koran is a good
source of scientific information?
Right, yeah.
Right. And you're the one
who wants to be a doctor,
is that right? Yes.
I can't be sure indoctrination triumphs over
real learning like this in other faith schools,
but I do worry there's nothing
to stop it happening.
I think RE must be taught critically
so that the factual evidence of history
and science are properly respected.
In my view, RE should be
part of a national curriculum
and subject to Ofsted inspection,
like other subjects.
The Church of England told us it wouldn't
oppose a national curriculum for RE,
and I welcome that.
The Board of Deputies of British
Jews claims critical thinking is
intrinsic to Jewish faith education,
and their inspectors
inspect their schools' RE in a way
that matches Ofsted requirements.
But then, why not let Ofsted inspect
their RE in the first place?
I think there's something deeper
going on here.
Supporters of faith schools claim
they're in some way necessary
to allow groups to hand their
religious culture down the generations.
I understand the argument.
But what is the impact of this
across our society?
One former Muslim feels concerned
that faith schools are resurrecting
barriers where there need be none.
When I first arrived in the UK
back in the early 1970s,
myself, my friends, my family,
we encountered a lot of racism
and we often felt excluded.
And things have improved,
and it shocks me, it saddens me
that people like me are now
choosing to self-segregate,
when others have worked so hard
to allow us to mix and to join in
and to be part of a wider community.
For me, what's exciting about the world
is the range of ideas we can encounter,
and to separate yourself
off from that,
from the rest of humanity, frankly,
is deeply, deeply tragic.
Some faiths claim they actually
promote community cohesion
through their schools, and that
this is recognised by Ofsted.
But, as we've seen, Ofsted doesn't
inspect what's taught
in faith schools' RE lessons,
nor does it consider
the schools' admission policies,
which can discriminate
along religious lines.
I'm worried that faith schools in fact
encourage separation from mainstream society.
Now I want to ask how important
it is for parents to have the right
to preserve their culture
through their children's school
or whether this creates a dangerous
and divisive "them and us" mentality.
Faith schools are
on the march in this country.
One of the key claims
of their supporters
is that they create a confident
sense of identity amongst pupils.
But that very sense of identity
sets them apart from others
schooled to believe in a different
God or a different theology.
In not mixing at school,
surely there's a danger that these
children will grow up as strangers.
We have a warning from our own
recent history about how destructive
faith education can be when
it helps forge tribal identities.
The human psyche has
two great sicknesses.
One is the urge to carry vendetta
across generations, and the other is
the tendency to fasten group labels
onto people
instead of seeing them
as individuals.
One of the great scars
is Northern Ireland,
where you can see the badges
of Protestant-Catholic divide
on walls, in flags, on bunting,
wherever you look.
Nowadays some of this may be put on
for the benefit of gawping tourists.
Thankfully, Northern Ireland
seems on the verge of a new era.
Politicians, police and professions,
both Protestant and Catholic,
are working together.
But one area the Good Friday Agreement
couldn't touch, tragically, was education,
which threatens to re-open
the sectarian divide.
For children, the tribal divisions
start in the nursery.
In July 2010, it was reported to be
children as young as nine
who led the riots,
throwing stones and shouting abuse
at the other side.
Around 95% of pupils in Northern
Ireland go to either a Catholic
or a Protestant faith school.
Most of them never
have the opportunity
for a proper conversation
with a member of the other faith.
They usually marry
into the same faith
and, if they meet in the workplace,
it's only because of strict
employment laws to promote equality.
Surely, here of all places, they
can't see segregated faith schools
as a good thing?
Surely they should welcome mixing up
Protestant and Catholic
school populations?
At present,
the overwhelming majority of Catholics go
to so called Catholic maintained schools,
Protestants to
Controlled state schools.
I want to meet both sides.
I think it just boils down
to choice, and I believe,
for me, the Controlled sector have
the schools with the history,
with the record
of academic achievement.
That's where I'd want my children to go. But
increasingly, parents look at what are the best schools.
The hard reality is surely that
there's very little crossover, is there?
One might say that humans are innately driven to
be divisive and to form tribes and to separate out,
and there are plenty of ways
in which that can happen -
skin colour, language - but religion
is a pretty good one to do it with,
and isn't it a gratuitous one
that we could do without?
Oh, certainly not. Religion has
been here for thousands of years
and will continue to be
until the Lord comes back again.
But does it have to be so divisive?
I personally don't
see it as divisive.
You don't? You live in Ulster
and you don't see it as divisive?
No, I don't see it as...
I see it as us having differences
and hopefully we can work
through those differences.
The differences relate to our
theology, the way we worship.
I believe all our churches are in need of a Reformation
and I'd love to see another Reformation come.
Perhaps at the deepest level of
my concern about faith schools
is the assumption I'm encountering
that children are somehow
the property of their parents,
and their parents' religion.
It's all about parents' choice,
and I found that strongly echoed
on the Catholic side.
MAN: Our Catholic schools,
our Catholic ethos adds value,
gives a sense of belonging,
a sense of community.
That's what parents
want for their children.
A child, to a parent,
is a very blessed thing,
and the vast majority, almost all
parents, will do what they think
is right for their child.
Is that not a legitimate human right?
Oh, it's certainly legitimate.
Oh, it's certainly legitimate.
But you don't agree with that?
Well, I have all sorts of issues
with faith schools...
But you clearly don't agree
with that. Let you state that.
OK, I worry about segregation
of children in any way,
not just in Northern Ireland, on the
basis of their parents' religious opinions,
because it seems to me
that religious opinion is
a pretty odd way in which
to separate children out.
Richard, I think we need to nail this
one - do you believe that parents
have the human right to choose the
education for their children or not?
Well, I think they do...
That's the core of
what you're asking me.
Do you afford parents the human
right, and it is a human right...
I also...
.. to choose the system of education
that they wish for their children that's most
consistent with their beliefs and understanding of life?
Now, you're seeking to impose your view
on other people, and I think that's wrong.
I think you should respect everybody
from... Are you a parent yourself?
Well, what do you have
for your children?
What do I..?
What do you have for your children,
what do you want them to do?
I want them to be open-minded.
I want them to be sceptical.
I want them to ask
critical questions.
I want them to seek knowledge
for its own sake.
I do not want to impose
my own views on them.
Good. I respect that.
What you said is a perfectly
legitimate view,
but you should afford other people
the same respect.
Once you begin to engineer
or begin to thwart parents
in terms of parental choice,
you really enter dictatorship,
maybe that's where you want to be.
No, I don't want to get into that...
No, I don't want to get into that... But
that's what you're essentially saying.
You come at this from a premise that
here's what you think is right.
I'm coming from the premise
that parents should be
allowed to make choices.
I do believe in taking the faith
out of faith schools and, yes,
that would impinge on both Reverend
Gibson and Mr Flanagan's rights as parents
to choose
their children's education.
But look at the result
of parents' rights
as exercised in Northern Ireland.
Are parents' rights so important
that we allow them to risk
dividing the two communities
The trouble with rights is there are
conflicts between opposing rights.
What about the right of
free expression
versus the right not to be offended?
In the case of education, children
have rights as well as parents.
Children have the right
not to be indoctrinated,
not to have their parents' beliefs
forced down their throat,
but to make up their own mind
after a proper, balanced education.
There goes a right-wing Tory child.
I see there's a socialist child
over there,
a group of Lib Dem children
over there.
What we have got here? A group
of logical positivist children.
An existentialist child there.
It's absurd, isn't it?
We wouldn't dream of
labelling children like that.
And yet, when it comes to religion,
our whole society is happy
to talk about a Catholic child,
a Protestant child, a Muslim child.
Why the double standard?
I've already set out why I think
presumptions like this, rooted in
the very idea of faith schools,
are a growing menace.
But I don't want to just attack.
I passionately believe
there is an alternative,
and I want to persuade you that
education is better without faith.
I feel strongly about this because,
when I was a boy, I thought very
traditionally and believed in God.
But it was education
that allowed me to change my mind
and unleashed my curiosity.
Any teacher or parent may
influence children in many ways.
We all have baggage.
So how do we best respect a child's
right to learn with a truly open mind?
Young children are uniquely
vulnerable to simply believing
what adults tell them,
so my starting point
would be to give them tools
to sort fact from fiction.
When my daughter was ten, I decided
to write a letter to her asking her
to think for herself about how
we know the things that we know.
"How do we know, for instance,
that the stars,
"which look like tiny pinpricks
in the sky,
"are really huge balls of fire like
the sun and are very far away?"
I mentioned one good reason to believe
anything's true, which is evidence,
and I mentioned three bad reasons.
There's tradition,
"Believe it because our people
"have always believed it, it's
been handed down over generations".
"The trouble with tradition
is that no matter how long ago
"a story was made up,
"it is still exactly as true or
untrue as the original story was. "
There's authority,
"Believe it because your parents do,
believe it because a priest does,
"believe it because a teacher does
or because a holy book does".
That's another bad reason
to believe anything.
And finally "revelation",
believe something because it just
feels right. "And next time somebody
"tells you that something is true,
why not say to them,
"'What kind of evidence
is there for that?'
And if they can't give you
a good answer,
"I hope you'll think very carefully
before you believe a word they say.
"Your loving Daddy. "
I'm fascinated by the way
children start piecing
together how the world works.
I've come back to Windmill Primary
School to look at
a new scientific study of how
children are naturally biased
to believe certain kinds of
ultimately religious explanations.
We've used a variety of different
methods, just asking children
to spontaneously tell you what they
think about the origins of things,
and also then sort of presenting
them with answers.
So we are going to play a game.
We're going to look at
some pictures...
Dr Deborah Kelemen
is a leading child psychologist
at Boston University.
You have to pick the answer
that makes most sense to you.
In this experiment, she poses
the children questions like,
"Why are rocks pointy?"
One person says they were pointy
because little bits of stuff
piled up on top of one another over
a long time, and another person said
they were pointy so animals could
scratch on them when they got itchy.
What answer makes more sense to you?
The animal one
with the... scratch,
to make itchy.
OK, then.
All right.
And here's another one.
What you find is that kids have a tendency
clearly from about four years of age
to endorse a purpose-based
explanation or to
give you a purpose-based explanation
for the origins of things.
Another question she asks the
children is, "Why are lakes still?"
One person thought they were still
and didn't have waves
so animals could cool off in them
without being washed away,
and another person thought they were
still and didn't have waves
because no moving water
ever ran into them.
Which answer make more sense to you?
Animals can be cool
without being washed away.
So that animals could be cool
without being washed away?
Animals could wash in them
and don't get washed away.
OK, brilliant.
Because no moving water.
OK, excellent.
'I suppose a child is surrounded in
the home by artefacts, telephones
'and televisions,
all things which actuallyare
designed for a purpose. '
What we're finding right now
is that children really start to do
this at the point where they start
to understand that artefacts
are objects that have been made
by someone for a purpose, and that
might be orienting them towards
an understanding that things are
intentionally caused,
intentionally designed and then,
once they understand that, yes,
they're surrounded by these objects
that are intentionally designed,
then going, "Well, that's quite
a good way to understand everything. "
Do you think children can be
described as natural creationists?
In some sense yes, insofar as they
are attracted to and spontaneously
invoke notions that things exist for
purposes and that's associated with
their notions that these things
have been intentionally caused
for a purpose. In many respects,
it mimics what's seen in
religion as creationism.
Are you up for that?
I think so.
You think so. Brilliant!
So children naturally tend to assume
meaning and purpose in things
even where there is none.
This, of course, gives religions,
with their own presumptuous,
but unfounded, sense of purpose
and meaning, a peculiar advantage.
That's why it's all the more
important that religion
is put in its proper place, as it is
in normal schools like Windmill,
and not allowed to get in the way
of children's questioning minds.
Rather than indoctrinating children
in faiths that can only preach a
limited view on the deep questions
of existence, how much better
instead to fire children's curiosity
about all the extraordinary
questions we have yet to answer.
'At Windmill School, I'm going
to take an alternative assembly.
'I'm hoping I can share with
these children something of
'what I wrote to my own daughter
'and get them to ask me questions. '
When I was your age,
I pretty much thought that anything
that a grown-up said must be true.
But that can't be right, can it?
Because grown-ups say different
things, and they don't always agree.
How do we know what's true?
You've probably all heard
about a great big,
meat-eating dinosaur called...
Do you know what that's called?
T. Rex.
T. Rex. That's right.
Yeah. Tyrannosaurus Rex
Now, if I tell you that T. Rex was
about as long as a double-decker bus
and was taller than an elephant,
it'd be very sensible of you to ask
me: "how I know these amazing things?"
So evidence is a
good reason for believing...
'Our greatest
responsibility in education
'is to unleash children's curiosity
and never limit their questions. '
"You and I are really very lucky.
"We're lucky because we live in
a country with a long history
"of thinking for ourselves
and asking questions.
"We're lucky because we live in
"the most extraordinary world,
the real world, of real evidence.
"And I hope you'll enjoy finding
out much more about its wonders. "
Yes, well, horseshoe crabs
haven't changed very much.
Lots of other things have
changed a lot since that time.
How did the sun come?
How did the sun come?
Well, the sun came from a huge,
great cloud of gas which came
from an earlier star that exploded.
How did the dinosaurs die?
Well, probably what happened
was there were lots of fires.
And there was huge lot of steam
and smoke and dust, and a great big
cloud formed all around the earth
and so the sun couldn't get through.
That's what people think,
but nobody really knows,
and you have to ask,
"what the evidence for that is?"