Faith in the school

I am a champion of Catholic faith schools. My only reservation is that too many of my friends report that so few of their children, or grandchildren, enter their adult lives as believing and practising Catholics. However today I want to try an exercise. A good ploy in an argument is to be well aware of the case which your opponent will make. It prepares you to make the best case in return. So, I have invited our old sparring partner, Advocatus Diaboli, to do his best (or his worst). I hope you will answer him roundly.

Thank you, Quentin. I am, as you know, a liberal. So I am very much in favour of faith schools – provided that the doctrinal content is innocuous (or nearly so). I think that parents have rights here which we must all defend. I would even champion the rights of the Church of Father Christmas if the parents wished it. After all, there is as much evidence for its doctrines as there is for Catholic schools. Perhaps rather more – I still find a stocking at the end of my bed!

But I can see no credible reason why I should pay for Father Christmas schools through taxation. If they want a specialist education suited to their idiosyncrasies they must pay for it like anyone else. And so must Catholics. I know we call ourselves a Christian country (though if we remembered our own history of internecine religious squabbles, we might hesitate to broadcast that) but in fact we are now a secular society in which the butt ends of the Christian denominations are a shrinking and irrelevant minority.

And that brings me to a further liberal point. We have a very mixed society in class terms, intellectual terms, racial terms and religious terms. While I rejoice in variety, it is essential that we all meld as a community, understanding each other and working together for the good of all. Yet what do we do? We encourage schools in which we can keep our children in comfortable denominational ghettoes, finally launching them into the world with all their prejudices uncontaminated by the rest of our society. It’s potentially disastrous for society – and even more so for the children who have to face adult life without any living experience of the sincere views and beliefs of others. This is surely folly. But I certainly favour the teaching of comparative religion: this is the best way to learn how little any religion depends on evidence – allowing almost any kind of belief that happens to take your fancy.

It is, of course, said that Catholic schools tend to get better results than the average. But that’s not surprising is it? You would imagine that parents who have a religion and are prepared to dodge and weave in order to get their children into a favoured school are likely to have a higher IQ than average. And that’s borne out by the fact that Catholic schools have a smaller proportion of children who qualify for free school meals. And, while I am on that point, just think how a parent would feel if a child were refused a place in a Catholic school which was in the next road simply because the little mite wasn’t a god-botherer!

And that, Quentin, brings me back to your point about Catholic schools not even achieving their end as brain-washers. You know as well as I do that Catholic teachers are like everyone else – as few of them believe in Catholic teaching on sex issues as the rest of the Catholic population. How do you inspire people to follow what you don’t believe yourself? The children are too young to be exposed to intellectual dishonesty. They may get away with it at primary school – at the ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ level but their chances at secondary are nil. That’s a good thing, by the way – the children won’t be tricked into not using contraception, they won’t deny women their rights to abortion, and they won’t despise Gays as given to “disordered” unnatural activities.

So when I recommend that you ditch faith schools I am doing you a favour. If you think highly of Catholic teachers, then get them into secular schools and benefit everyone. And of course you can give all the Catholic indoctrination you like after hours. Make it voluntary and you won’t find the numbers a burden. And you might even end up with more practising Catholic adults than you do today.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Church and Society, Moral judgment, Quentin queries and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Faith in the school

  1. tim says:

    Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes

  2. John Nolan says:

    When people talk about ‘faith schools’ they seem to be thinking only in terms of secondary education. However, 25 percent of primary and middle schools are Church of England, and although I could not find on the CES website the proportion of primary schools which are Catholic, the figure they give for all schools is ten percent, and one can assume that this is higher in the primary sector. So parents whose children are educated in the state system in ‘faith schools’ for the greater part of their school career comprise a very large minority, and they are taxpayers like everyone else.

    I assume that Advocatus Diaboli is not a learned Catholic priest taxed with examining critically someone’s posthumous claim to sainthood, but a minor demon who is communicating the opinions of his Master, the Father of Lies. He begins ‘I am, as you know a liberal’ something that we conservatives have suspected for a long time.

  3. Peter D. Wilson says:

    Having been out of touch with Catholic education since leaving primary school in 1948 (I don’t count sermons or homilies, which rarely leave any impression on my mind), I can argue only theoretically, but perhaps another blogger will correct any shortcomings.

    I take it that Catholic schools should give an education in secular subjects at least as good as do their secular counterparts, and Advocatus Diaboli seems to concede that in general they do so. Since that is what the state (rightly) demands, it is reasonable to expect the state to pay for it. The state also demands a religious component, which in our case should certainly include Catholic doctrine and discipline and the reasons for them, not just “the Pope says so”. I should hope, too, for an outline of the other major religious traditions, Christian or otherwise, and the importance of respect for them; for this part of the curriculum, we can reasonably be required to make a financial contribution.

    From all accounts the teaching of religion is, to put it mildly, patchy, but I don’t see why secularists should complain of that. If our schools were to promote social incoherence, apparently the only reason (apart from bigotry) for demanding total integration, those who object to them would have a case, but is there any evidence that they do so?

  4. Brian Hamill says:

    ‘By their fruits you shall know them’ is a useful gospel quote don this subject. I spend a good deal of my time as a retired teacher advocating change in our inhuman asylum system and offering services to those who have fallen foul of it. It is estimated that some 70%+ of all people working in the voluntary sector, shoring up the present broken system of welfare and support, are of a religious background. Why is this so when the secular world has a much greater proportion of the population to do this vital work? To my mind the answer lies in the teaching of good works which is specifically promulgated in Church and Faith schools. In these schools there is an ethos generated that ‘what we do in life resonates in eternity’ and so we are answerable before God for our actions, good or bad. State school struggle to fulfil such a role, especially in our ‘this-world’ orientated society where questions of morality have been replaced by questions of legality. We no longer ask whether it is right or wrong to do a certain action but is it legal. One, if not the, primary role of schools is to give the child a conscience, an awareness of moral right and wrong. I have no doubt that many secular schools seek to do just that but the Faith schools have the doctrinal support of their very essence to do this work more effectively. Thus we have our 70%.

  5. Vincent says:

    Forgive this quote. It comes from a report in Independent Catholic News, and refers to the 2013 census data on schools compiled by the Catholic Educational Sevice.

    “The data collected in the census show that on average pupils at Catholic schools in England come disproportionately from the most deprived areas. 18.4% of pupils in Catholic primary schools are from some of the most deprived areas, compared to only 13.8% nationally. Catholic secondary schools follow a similar trend. 17.3% of pupils are coming from some of the most socially deprived areas with a national figure of 12.2%. The Census has also found that Catholic schools take more pupils from ethnic minority backgrounds with 34.5% of pupils in Catholic primary schools from ethnic minority backgrounds and 30.2% of Catholic secondary school pupils.”

    I think that Catholic schools make a very respectable contribution to relationships in our diverse society

  6. Claret says:

    This is a massive issue for the RC Church and for education generally. It would be interesting to know if the ‘results side’ of the business ( ie. generally better in RC Schools, ) is mirrored in secondary education. I suspect not.
    Faith schools are favoured by parents not just because of the generally higher grades that students achieve but many parents do value the ethos of a faith school but fall short of playing their part in supporting the Church that provides it.
    Another factor is the ever constant “he who pays the piper calls the tune” and now that those faith schools that fall within the state system are fully funded by the state then inevitably education policies that the Church would not support on moral issues such as abortion are no better in a faith school than in the secular schools. (This applies to secondary education where sex education is dictated,) and contraceptive advice etc. contrary to Church teaching is promulgated in RC Schools; in the same way as State schools. (This won’t be an issue in most homes of students.)
    The subject makes no mention of private schools except in the sense that our devil’s advocate proposes that if you really want a Catholic school then it should be in the private sector.
    There is a separate moral agenda there though in that is it right for the Church to be part of an exclusive education system that only favours those who can afford it?

  7. Horace says:

    The argument seems to be that state schools are paid for by monies raised in taxation and should therefore teach only the state curriculum. If religious subjects are involved they should not discriminate in favour of any particular belief system.

    AD says “ If they want a specialist education suited to their idiosyncrasies they must pay for it like anyone else. And so must Catholics.”

    I would turn the argument on its head and argue that where a Catholic school teaches the basic state curriculum it has a claim to be, at least to some extent, supported by the sSate.

  8. Vincent says:

    I think we have to distinguish between two arguments which get easily conflated – frequently for rhetorical purposes.The first is the objection that the taxpayer is somehow subsidising Catholic schools, the second (rarely mentioned but clearly a strong motive for, say, the National Secular Society) is that it is undesirable for a secular state to be indirectly responsible for supporting a harmful ideology.

    The first is easily answered. If Catholic schools were disbanded tomorrow, the cost of educating our children would remain the same. I understand that some 30% of pupils in Catholic schools are not Catholic in order to ensure that the schools are full. There is no wastage. In fact, if the argument that Catholic children come from more prosperous homes than the average is true, it follows that their parents pay a larger contribution than the average through normal taxation.

    The second issue depends on your point of view. If you believe that an important function of a school is to inculcate values for life, then you might argue that the state should impose its own values – and this of course is common in totalitarian countries. But a better way is to allow for a diversity of values within the culture. Clearly there is a danger of anti-social values being taught – but this is of course avoided if the schools are properly supervised.

    It is open to those who oppose Catholicism to show that its values are anti-social. But I think that objective investigation would show that the opposite is the case.

  9. Zara says:

    “I would even champion the rights of the Church of Father Christmas if the parents wished it. After all, there is as much evidence for its doctrines as there is for Catholic schools.”

    That is a straw man argument. There is absolutely no comparison between ‘santa’ and God, you just want there to be! If santa claus is likeGod, then so is everyone else I wrote letters to as a child.

    And, in actual fact, there is evidence for God. Beyond the witness testimonies, there is Fine Tuning. Fine Tuning is such an utterly huge problem for atheism that it likes to ignore it, or wave it away by imagining an infinite number of universes. If you want a real act of faith, you need look no further than an atheist who believes in an infinite number of infinite universes! As (I think it was) Scott Hahn says, you can’t explain away miracles by imagining even bigger miracles.

    “But I can see no credible reason why I should pay for Father Christmas schools through taxation.”

    But you AREN’T paying for our children to go to school! You are paying for YOUR children to go to school! We pay for our own children to go to school, and we want them in faith schools. The Church also has to front about 10% of the fees, so they either get the same funding or less, which means they really are a bargain for the government. If you want to pick on something huge and unwieldy that you shouldn’t have to pay for, try Brussels. The UK spits up a staggering amount of money to the EU, which they then waste, mostly on their own bonuses. The idea that faith schools get extra funding is an atheist myth. You should have taken Quinten’s advice and done your homework!

    Incidentally, since most of the oldest state schools were built by the CofE, if you want to cut us off from education funding, well, I think I’d quite like those back, actually….

    “though if we remembered our own history of internecine religious squabbles, we might hesitate to broadcast that”

    Ironic as that statement is, I’d like to point out that even if you label all those historic political struggles ‘Christian’ (what was so Christian about them? I don’t recall Jesus’s parable on that one…), we still come out way, way, way, ahead of every other culture, especially the ones historically brutalised by atheists.

    “but in fact we are now a secular society in which the butt ends of the Christian denominations are a shrinking and irrelevant minority.”

    Actually, at the moment, atheism is the irrelevant minority. So why are we being nice to you again…? Probably because we are Christians and that is what we are supposed to do. In fact, over half the population believes in God, so if we really put ourselves into it we could easily make that 100% again. It’s only because we are nice that we ever let things get like this. If this was an atheist country, or an Isis country, ideological dissenters would be killed very horribly. But it isn’t.

    “We encourage schools in which we can keep our children in comfortable denominational ghettoes, finally launching them into the world with all their prejudices uncontaminated by the rest of our society.”

    This is rubbish. A good portion of the kids in Christian schools aren’t Christian, and there are no rules about race. They also get a thorough education in other cultures and religions, something nobody in a state school ever gets. Frankly, I think you are just sore you don’t have your own schools. Well, you used to when you controlled all the schools in Russia, and what racist discriminatory schools they were! There they actually taught hatred on the curriculum.

    “It’s potentially disastrous for society – and even more so for the children who have to face adult life without any living experience of the sincere views and beliefs of others”

    That is actually an argument against secular schools.

    “This is surely folly. But I certainly favour the teaching of comparative religion: this is the best way to learn how little any religion depends on evidence – allowing almost any kind of belief that happens to take your fancy.”

    Maybe you ought to take an actual lesson in religious studies. Christianity certainly does not allow “almost any kind of belief that happens to take your fancy”. Incidentally, if you want something refreshingly free from evidence, you should try absolute materialism. So far, the only evidence presented for THAT is a seething hatred for the non-material and a refusal to study it. Honestly, if you wanted to reheat the ramblings of ancient Greek philosophers you could have picked something a little more open-minded than Atomism. Absolute materialism is really just wishful thinking, so please don’t try to dress it up as ‘fact’.

    “And that’s borne out by the fact that Catholic schools have a smaller proportion of children who qualify for free school meals.”

    I seem to recall that was one of the stereotypes that inflamed the German people against ‘Das Juden’. Are you trying to apply it to us now?

    “Catholic schools not even achieving their end as brain-washers.”

    Very ironic, if you know about the history of atheism.

    “The children are too young to be exposed to intellectual dishonesty.”

    I agree, we should defiantly keep them well away from hate-mongers like Pullman, Dawkins, and their ilk. I think our kids can all do without their lies, don’t you?

    “but their chances at secondary are nil.”

    They really aren’t. It’s just the way the secondary schools now go about it. They don’t take into account the massive amount of intellectual bullying atheists deal out.

    “That’s a good thing, by the way”

    Yes, lets get rid of all those nasty, nasty morals about love and forgiveness. Very inconvenient.

    “– the children won’t be tricked into not using contraception,”

    They aren’t supposed to be having sex at all at that age. Please stop deliberately confusing our teachings on abstinence before marriage with telling kids to go have unprotected sex. We are pretty explicit that sex = babies. You guys aren’t. You guys tell them that sex = fun. And that’s why underage sex and pregnancy is so high.

    “they won’t deny women their rights to abortion”

    Take it home and beat its brains out with a hammer then. I’d object, but anything that stops you guys breeding, right?

    Yes, I’m being sarcastic. You really think that a woman should have a right to kill their children if they find them inconvenient?

    “and they won’t despise Gays as given to “disordered” unnatural activities.”

    You seem unaware of the gay rights movement in Christian schools. Or the way the Church reaches out to gays and transgendered people, despite their own reservations.. Gay sex isn’t much liked by the Catholic Church, but that will change slowly as it does in the rest of society. By the way, you never hear about the way the gay community picks on bisexuals and transgendered people, do you?

    “So when I recommend that you ditch faith schools I am doing you a favour.”

    Oh no you aren’t, you are trying to make us do away with the means by which young Christians are taught about their parent’s beliefs. Putting kids in secular schools that teach nothing about Christianity hasn’t worked so far.

    “Make it voluntary”

    It already is voluntary!

    • Quentin says:

      Zara, I think you are probably unaware that we have a limit of 600 words for comments on the Blog. For some reason, which I cannot now trace, I did not receive your comment for moderation, or I would have contacted you before it appeared. However I have left it on this occasion. It is usually better in this sort of discussion to make one, or perhaps two, points at a time — so that each can be discussed. Further points can be made in a subsequent contribution. I will not refer this contribution to Advocatus Diaboli, but if you cared to make further contributions, perhaps confining yourself to a concise point or two, I am sure that you will get an answer.

    • Alan says:

      If pressed on the subject I think it would quite challenging to find an atheist knowledgeable in physics who said that they “believed” there were an infinite number of universes. Where I have heard it discussed it is proposed as a hypothesis or an idea – one with its origins in String Theory and quantum mechanics I believe. It is an idea that is taken seriously enough for there to be proposals about how we could actually examine the evidence for it but it is not, that I have seen, treated as something that anyone is convinced of.
      This seems somewhat in contrast to me with the confidence with which others dismiss the idea of a multiverse because of its implications for the Fine Tuning argument. They don’t seem very open to the possibilities of the natural universe/multiverse being that much larger and more remarkable than we can currently observe because of their desire to see Fine Tuning as evidence of a God. Given how little we know and can actually examine about our origin that dismissal looks like a very bold position to take on what may or may not be beyond this latest horizon. An assumption too far for me.
      With God’s existence being about as big and miraculous a thing as there could ever be Scott Hahn’s comment appears to cut both ways.

      • milliganp says:

        This is – as usual! – thoroughly off topic. However we need to allow that string and multiverse theory are not proposed or pursued to disprove God but to understand, via science -which is necessarily agnostic- as much as we can about the universe we inhabit. If God created a multiverse it is not any Cristian’s job to deny it. What we have to reject is that science can disprove God any more than we can use science to prove God. Christianity is a revealed religion, I believe in Jesus Christ, not that the human eye requires a divine creator in order to exist.

    • Alan says:

      Sorry for my response to one part of Zara’s post being off topic for the thread itself. It was just a part that caught my eye.

  10. Geordie says:

    The first point to look at, before any other, is the question, “What are Catholic schools for?”. In the past there was no doubt. They were meant to teach children the doctrine and practice of the Catholic Church. Now they do not do this. They talk about a Catholic ethos, whatever that may be.
    For the last forty years, those involved in education, including parents, have informed the hierarchy that Catholic schools are failing in the primary aim; only to be roundly ignored. Thus there is no point in having Catholic schools.
    Don’t tell me it’s the duty of the parents to educate their children in doctrine. The vast majority of parents do not have the knowledge or confidence to teach their children.
    The bishops should wake up and get out of their comfort zone. They are responsible for teaching the faith. They should accept their responsibility and come up with a plan.

    • milliganp says:

      If we follow Anselm’s dicta then the purpose of Catholic education is to explain and provide an intellectual understanding of a faith already held. Since few who attend (and teach in) Catholic schools possess this a-priori faith, explanation and expansion falls necessarily on fallow ground.
      Thomas Williams interprets Anselm’s “faith seekin understanding” as “an active love of God seeking a deeper knowledge of God”. Faith is the active love and this cannot be taught. As is often stated “faith is caught not taught”. This is where a “Catholic Ethos” might actually help but, sadly, Catholic Ethos is a very broad term. When did you last sense that a priest or bishop was on fire with the love of God, never mind the staff of a Catholic school?
      There is a Chinese proverb, “A fish rots from the head down”. I think this undoubtedly applies to the church, but I suspect each reader will apply the proverb to the current state of the church in a different way.

  11. johnbunting says:

    “They should………come up with a plan”. Yes, of course they should. If the debates of my own school days – just a provincial secondary school – are anything to go by, most children are interested in moral and metaphysical questions, and the materialists themselves have given us plenty of material to get our teeth into. One could do worse than to take that as a starting point for Christian teaching; and if anyone shouts “Indoctrination!!”, tell them to get lost.

  12. Quentin says:

    I am drawn to a comment of Vincent’s above – when he implies that it is the totalitarian state which attempts to impose an ‘approved’ culture. I would argue that history teaches us that a good degree of tolerance – which allows a range of cultures to flourish — is essential to the evolution of society and its ultimate freedom. It may mean that we muddle our way through, but extreme views do not have an opportunity to get real purchase.

    Democracy itself is untidy. No one with a yen to reform society would set out to do it by creating democracy when they could produce lots of rules and regulations instead. Yet again and again democracy seems to pull off the trick — producing a society in which people seem generally to prosper and to feel free.

    I am all for the championing of secular society, providing that its supporters recognise that it is far from neutral but represents a particular view of humanity. Against that must be put alternative views of humanity which must equally be respected. It is out of this kind of mixed but tolerant society that freedom and success are most likely to come.

    • Peter D. Wilson says:

      Quentin – “Yet again and again democracy seems to pull off the trick — producing a society in which people seem generally to prosper and to feel free.” I would add a proviso that no substantial part of that society has practices, beliefs or historical associations that others find intolerable. We have quite enough instances of attempts to impose democracy where this condition does not hold, and it’s getting a bit shaky even in Britain.

      • Quentin says:

        I don’t disagree with your proviso but then I don’t claim that democracy always solves society’s problems. Or ever solves all of society’s problems. I lean to the old Churchillian opinion — that it’s the least worst way of handling things.

      • milliganp says:

        Few of the world’s democracies had a natural birth. We may get to a point where even democracy needs a revolution. “you can’t make an omlette without breaking eggs” is true, even if it seems trite. It may even be that faith needs another revolution.

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