For thousands of years, all schools were ‘faith schools’…
The critics of faith schools – and religion in general – have now had a few days to register their comments on the opening of the new Krishna-Avanti School in north London. They have not been silent.
The Krishna-Avanti School is a very modern school, carefully designed and built, and a place of learning for 2010 and for decades to come. Conventional education is augmented with a spiritual ethos derived from the Vedic tradition. While it may not be a traditional Indian gurukula, where the young students reside in the ashram of the guru, it is nonetheless a school that will impart deeper life lessons and a unique spiritual perspective to the children.
All state primary schools are required to teach a curriculum set according to the national standard within the UK. But the culture and value system within the school determines exactly how that is taught and, more importantly, learned.
Faith schools have an ethos derived, normally, from one of the world’s great wisdom traditions. And the world’s great wisdom traditions got to be acknowledged as such because over the centuries they proved to be very useful in developing character and good citizens.
Unhappily for many who think that secular education should be the standard, faith schools often enjoy significantly better exam results. Morality and discipline within the school are higher than other schools. Its always a surprise when critics are surprised at those statistics.
In fact, critics mistake faith schools to be about religion, where ‘religion’ means ‘something which may, or may not, be helpful but of dubious factual content.’ The fact that religious teaching is now regarded as something sinister – especially in connection with the teaching of young minds – shows how far public understanding has drifted.
The fact of the matter is that for many centuries education itself was the preserve of those with religious training. The concept of being a teacher – especially of children – and not being trained in the source books of morality would have been unthinkable. How exactly does a teacher impart morals to a child without reference to God, the source of all morality?
If, as is argued in the name of freedom, the very concepts of right and wrong are to be arbitrarily decided by a Secular Humanist committee somewhere in the Department of Education we shall see morals coming in and out of fashion as years go by, as indeed they have been doing for some years already. Besides, Secular Humanism is just as much a belief system as any other. It’s adherents can be every bit as fanatical as their religious counterparts.
And how can you have a peaceful society if everyone’s concept of what is right and wrong is different? Of course, this is at the heart of some critics’ protests: that having a faith school is by its very nature socially divisive because they will teach a different set of morals from other schools.
But let’s give the oldest religion in the world a chance. And let’s give the parents who actually want to send their children to such a faith school the freedom to do so. I have every confidence that if any critic were actually to become acquainted with the deep wisdom and thoroughly universal morality which run through this earliest of faith expressions, they’d find much to be pleased with.