August 22nd, 2010

Richard Dawkins TV Program Faith School Menace?

Richard Dawkins questions the wisdom of faith schools in his new TV program Faith School Menace? There's a constant effort in this country to force taxpayers to subsidize private religious education under the guise of "charter schools," so it's worth examining the disastrous effects this sort of thing has had in the UK. Faith schools in the UK have about 90% of their operating budgets paid for by taxpayers, but are free to discriminate on the basis of religion when it comes to admissions and hiring, and apparently have no real standards when it comes to teaching subjects like evolution and sex ed. Many parents are forced to switch churches, or fake religious beliefs altogether, in order to get their kids into a local school. In one appalling sequence, Dawkins discovers that every student at a Muslim faith school rejects evolution, and that the "science teacher" at the school is unable to explain how a scientist would answer the question, "If humans evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?" -- a question I've always regarded as the absolute gold standard of total stupidity. Dawkins also examines the role that faith schools have played in making the troubles in Northern Ireland into an endless, generations-long tragedy, because they ensure that children from Catholic and Protestant communities have no meaningful contact with each other. Much is made by proponents of faith schools of the right of parents to educate their children however they please, but Dawkins argues that children have rights too, such as the right to a balanced, broad-based education that gives them a fair chance to decide for themselves what religious beliefs, if any, they will hold.