Dawkins program on UK faith schools

August 22, 2010 • 5:14 am

For your Sunday morning viewing, I give you “Faith School Menace,”  a 45-minute documentary narrated by and featuring Richard Dawkins that just aired on Channel 4 in the UK.  It’s about the egregious British institution of government-supported faith-based schools, which now comprise 1/3 of “public” (in the U.S. sense) primary schools.  It’s really good investigatory journalism, well worth watching—especially for those who argue that Dawkins’s shrillness and stridency render him ineffectual. (More on that later today.)

There are four parts; here’s the first, with the links to the rest below. (If you watch the first video, you’ll be automatically taken, in succession, to the others.)  If you’re in the UK, you can find a link in comment #1 below.

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

28 thoughts on “Dawkins program on UK faith schools

  1. This program should be an eye opener to any one wanting their children to be taught science and reason without the dogma attached.

  2. I’m watching it now. This topic interests me, because the Netherlands has a similar provision for faith schools. It’s even in our constitution as the “Freedom of Education”. This will make it very difficult to change this situation, even though it’s clearly causing more and more problems. Examples include state-sponsored faith schools firing teachers for being gay, which is against non-discrimination policy.

    1. A few short reactions to the documentary:
      * Dawkins made a few good points, especially the way he exposed how “teaching the curriculum” along with the religious teachings doesn’t work – because they don’t really teach the curriculum. Passing on the “why are there still chimps” question to the science teacher was pure genius. * He also showed very well how “allowing kids to make up their own mind” in faith schools is often rather disingenuous.
      * Dawkins did seem to waffle a little when challenged by Donal Flanagan on whether he supports the right of parents to choose the sort of education their kids could get. Flanagan didn’t seem to want Dawkins to actually respond, though, because he kept interrupting him. In the next segment Dawkings came back reasonably strong, though, by pointing out the right of children to not be indoctrinated.
      * I think he probably could have spent more time on the children’s rights angle, rather than argue that the rights of parents may be of less importance than the stability of society.
      * It did seem a little fear-monger-ish, but on the whole, his criticism seems valid.

  3. Wow, shocking to see that the science teacher didn’t even know how to refute the “If we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?” question of the girl.

  4. I went to a ‘faith school’ – it was a Church of England school annexed to Canterbury Cathedral. We had assembly every morning, with prayers, bur that’s all.

    Everyone just ignored it, and it played no further part in our education, except for the effect of making us all rather disinterested in religion: it was just bland. The vast majority of faith schools are like this, and nothing to worry about at all. Only the extremes represent any kind of danger, but they’re no doubt becoming more widespread.

    I certainly agree that all of their activities should be under the eye of Ofsted, which should have the final say, and not their religious sponsors.

    1. True, but as Dawkins rightly points out, there are no mechanisms that prevent the excesses from happening. I personally doubt there can be, not without making the government an arbiter on which religious beliefs are harmful and which aren’t. It would be better to keep religion out of the public schools altogether. Churches can always run Sunday schools if they want to indoctrinate.

      Also, you’d think that these “bland” faith schools wouldn’t object much to being secularized. I’ve not really found that to be true, though. It does seem that their mean reasons for that do include the wish to keep a particular identity, separate from all other possible identities. These schools are still a divisive force, even if they are a gentle force.

  5. I first encountered Dawkins’s thesis about children’s right not to be indoctrinated in an op-ed shortly before the publication of TGD. I was a social Christian at the time, and being forced to confront the fact that I was abetting the indoctrination of children really elevated my discomfort with my own mendacity.

    It is an argument that people will want to ignore but will find difficult to refute. Witness Donal Flanagan’s effort to reframe it in terms of state imposition.

  6. Grabbed this by torrent last night.

    Scariest and most unsurprising part:

    Room full of female muslim students, one who wishes to be a doctor, all agreeing that the Koran is a great source of scientific information. One of them challenges Richard by asking him that old canard, “If we evolved from apes, why are there still apes?” He throws the question at their “science” teacher (I’ll use the term loosely) who has absolutely no idea, I’ll assume because she enjoyed the same indoctrination as she is now proliferating to these young minds. I wonder how much of the class time is spent bandying about old creationist misconceptions and looking at the ‘controversy’? Unfortunately for these authority figures, facts are not determined by mob rule. If no one in the goddamn room has the right answer that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

    Best part:

    The child psychologist showing children around the age of 4 begin assuming purpose-driven reasons for everything with some very good examples. Understanding how we learn is so important to both our future as a species and the future of our planet. I’d love to read more of her research.

      1. That it was said with such surety, everyone in agreement, that it was so obviously the truth. These people are effectively being frozen in time and told that it is their choice.

        1. Two to one odds that they dress in traditional clothing because their parents won’t let them wear anything else, so that when they grow up it’s the only thing they’ll wear, but they’ll insist that it’s by choice.

          Might be relatively harmless as indoctrinations go, but it’s indoctrination nonetheless.

    1. The part with the child psychologist (middle of part 4) was troubling to me. She asked why rocks have sharp edges then gives two possible thoughts; one was something about little bits being stacked together, and the other so that animals can scratch themselves.

      But rocks are often rounded not sharp and the reason for sharpness is due to a recent fracture or due to less weathering or grinding in the environment for various reasons.

      The conclusion was that children are naturally predisposed to thinking that the rocks were created for a purpose but I think the question as phrased would have a tendency to get the result that it did, not only because the correct answer was not suggested but because of an emotional attraction to animals. The conclusion may be correct (that children are predisposed to thinking in a creationist way) but the reasoning from what was shown didn’t convince me. It also didn’t rule out the effects of previous tales that might have been dumped into the child’s brain by adults.

      1. We saw about 60 seconds of questioning without any other information to digest about the subject so I guess you can think whatever you’d like to.

  7. Thanks very much for the links — I thoroughly enjoy these sorts of programs, and generally pass the links on to others so that they might enjoy them too.

  8. Another fine piece of work from Dawkins. My only criticism of it would be that he emphasised the conflict between parents’ vs. children rights too heavily. He was opening himself up to the accusation that he just wants to replace the parents wishes with his own.

    He could instead have again brought up the abuses of the enrolment system and lack of transparence in RE classes, as the way that the state enables religious organisations to trample over parents’ rights as well as children’s right to a good education.

    The statistic of 7% of Britons attending church on Sundays compared to the amount of kids getting a religious education coutesy of the state was an excellent point.

  9. What a well done documentary! Its something I feel I can recommend to my friends who don’t think there is anything wrong with faith based education and maybe get them to reconsider.

  10. “Men become civilized, not in proportion to their willingness to believe, but in proportion to their readiness to doubt.”
    — H L Mencken

    (from George Seldes, ed, The Great Quotations, quoted from James A Haught, ed, 2000 Years of Disbelief)

  11. We teach them to have an open mind and allow each child to come to his or her own decision and because of their Islamic faith, they all come to the conclusion that evolution is false. Er, right.

  12. I found that very interesting. Funny that at the very end there was an announcement for the next show — “Secrets of Stonehenge”. I found it amusing to be following Dawkins with what I assume will have a high “woooo” content.

    1. Usually the ‘secrets’ involve how they were used for astronomy, how such large stones were moved so very long ago, and how the hell they managed to stack them on top of each other.

  13. Wow – they teach evilution in one class because it is compulsory for schools, but then they make sure that their religious classes ensure that no one believes that nonsense about being an ape or being related somehow to other animals. It sounds like accommodationism to me: see, we don’t oppose evilution, but everyone decides for themselves to reject it because the Bible is The Truth. I wish that other guy interviewed was more direct and simply told Dawkins that parents should do their best to keep their children out of religious schools. It’s scary that such a large percentage of British public schools are religious schools – and I thought the world was doing so well to reject religious schools and establish more secular government schools.

  14. Indoctrination – the Roman Catholic church seems to think a child is capable of sufficient understanding aged 7 to be confirmed (Canon Law 891). Funny then that that there is no agreement on the age of criminal responsibility which surely is linked to the ‘age of discretion’? Criminal responsibility varies from 6 (North Carolina) to 18 around the world –
    Can a 7 year old really decide if there is a god?

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