Indoctrination, Indoctrination, Indoctrination

The insufferable Cristina Odone has been talking up "faith" schools almost everywhere today, plugging a "report" she compiled for the Centre for Policy Studies (How are the mighty fallen!). She claims that Ed Balls is engaged in a "witch hunt" against faith schools (if only!). She thinks that there is no evidence that faith schools are in any way divisive. She asserts that everyone who disagrees with her is an "anti-religion bigot".

Quite why the CPS, which used to be a serious think-tank promoting conservative ideas, has taken to employing a self-publicising hackette to compile a report into a serious issue is far from clear. The pamphlet certainly isn't an academic study, and can hardly be said to constitute research. Rather, it is a newspaper column padded out with selective quotations and distorted statistics.

She claims that for Muslims Islamic schools "offer a bridge between their religious community and the wider secular society". Yet in arguing this case, she seems most concerned with pointing to those aspects of "wider society" that the bearded misogynists get so upset about, and stressing that girls (boys too, but mainly girls) will be protected from such things. No art classes in which children might be required to draw human beings. No mixed gym classes. No exposure to that dangerous thing, the opposite sex, either: at a co-ed school Odone praises, the lesson times are carefully staggered to ensure that boys and girls, while occupying the same building, never come into contact. Some people might find something slightly pathological about such an arrangement. Not Cristina.

This is a passage I found particularly chilling:

The architecture at Madani High conspires to [segregate]:
there is a girls’ wing and, mirror image, a boy’s wing, separated
by an elegant Arabic-style courtyard with a fountain. Madani
High is located on the fringes of Highfields, home to large
Somali and Caribbean communities and one of the poorest
areas in the country. But the high school building is spanking
new (construction finished last year) and dazzlingly high-tech,
with interactive white boards and sophisticated IT equipment
in almost every classroom. For the 70% of the student body
who come from Highfields, school must be an oasis in a
desolate landscape.

“We want the school to be a real centre for the community
around here,” Dr Muhammed Mukadam, Chair of the
Association of Muslim Schools and the principal of the school.

Here, side by side, is the ancient and the modern: outdated notions of sexual apartheid more appropriate to a medieval desert, but being reintroduced into 21st century Britain with all the bells and whistles of modern computer technology. A technology, I might add, developed in and made possible by the secular, materialistic, individualistic Western society from whose corruptions these refusniks want to protect their daughters. And the funding and the resources to make this institutionalised regression possible? Hitherto, of course, it has often come from the Wahhabists of Saudi Arabia. But increasingly, unless these plans are derailed (and, despite the noises he sometimes makes, Ed Balls seems in no hurry to stop them) the money will come from the British taxpayer. A famous phrase springs to mind, something about a nation heaping up its own funeral pyre.

Here's a very odd phrase. It comes from Iftikhar Ahmad, "who in 1981 founded the London School of Islamics, the first Muslim school in Britain": “Children from minority groups, especially Muslims, are exposed to the pressure of racism, multiculturalism and bullying". But hang on a minute, aren't we supposed to celebrate multiculturalism? Isn't a multicultural society something that government policy has long tried to create, often at the cost of individual human rights, let alone "social cohesion"? Well, it seems that the promoters of Muslim schools aren't that keen on a multicultural society after all. They equate it with racism and bullying. Why else would they want to separate off their children, "protecting" them from the British mainstream? These schools might want to teach their charges about modern British society, but they don't want to teach them to live in it.

Odone's enthusiasm for Islamic schools seems premised on the notion that Muslims are doomed to separatism; that deprived of access to schools offering a strict regime of sexual segregation and Koranic instruction Muslim parents will simply remove their girls from education and pack them off to Pakistan to marry some cousin twice their age. In some cases, of course, this is true. But Odone offers no evidence that girls from the tiny number of Muslim schools are not being subjected to "arranged" marriages. In any case, if children are being illegally removed from school then it is up to the authorities to investigate and, where appropriate, to prosecute. The timidity of the police and social services to tackle abuses of this kind for reasons of "cultural sensitivity" is regrettable; but further promoting educational ghettoes is no solution. It isn't even relevant.

A superb critique of Odone's idiocy, as regards Islamic schooling, comes from Yasmin Alibhai Brown in the Independent. YAB's demolition job is also well worth reading for the insight it offers into the ancient feud between these two journalistic prima donnas. But I suspect enthusiasm for Islam is not the prime motivating factor behind the noisily (if not always devoutly) Catholic Odone's enthusiasm for madrassas on the rates. Like others of conservative Christian opinions, she hopes to take advantage of the prevailing intellectual confusion of religion with questions of race and cultural identity in order to bring back God. Such people see Muslim reactionaries, who want to deny their children the choice to join mainstream society, along with their multiculturalist patsies in local and national government, not as a threat to British society but rather allies in the work of remoralisation. The sight of demure, perfectly-behaved young girls in headscarves looks to them like an exotic version of their own lost Eden: the 1950s, says, or the priest-haunted Ireland of a thousand misery memoirs. This is nostalgia with teeth.

One of Odone's favourite places would seem to be the Emmanuel Community College, a state school partly funded, and much influenced, by businessman Sir Peter Vardy. Vardy has made little secret of his religious agenda, and a former head of science was forced to resign in 2002 after being publicly exposed as an exponent of Intelligent Design, a "theory" that even the Vatican dismisses as nonsense. Odone speaks to the college's principal, Jonathan Wynch, and is oddly reassured by his answer:

Naturally, as a Foundation with a Christian ethos, we stand
by the Biblical account that God did indeed create the earth
and everything in it – however long it took Him,” he explains.

Creationism, as we understand it, is the belief that there is
scientific evidence that the world was created in six 24-hour
days. This has never been the position of Emmanuel College nor
its sister schools and is taught in neither Science nor RE. What
is taught in RE is that the Bible speaks of a six-day creation and
that this is variously interpreted. In Science, Darwinian
evolution is taught, a part of which is Darwin’s own reservations
regarding the absence of incontrovertible evidence to support it,
including the incompleteness of the fossil record. As a result,
given that students attend both RE and Science lessons, students
are aware of the controversies surrounding the
scientific/religious interface regarding the origins of life.

Odone thinks that this quote demonstrates that Creationism "is not a wild fire sweeping the country’s schools; it is not taught in science classes in place of, or as an alternative to, evolution." Either she is being disingenuous, or she wasn't listening properly, or she hasn't troubled to inform herself of how Creationists operate in schools. In the USA, proponents of various sorts of Creationism want to teach "Darwinism" as a theory among other theories, as part of the history of science. They claim that by stressing that it is "just a theory", they are being objective and balanced; it is those who want to teach it as "fact" who are the bigots. By narrowly defining "creationism" in its most extreme, "young earth" form and alluding to "Darwin's own reservations" and "the incompleteness of the fossil record", Wynch shows himself squarely of this anti-science tendency. If his is an accurate description of his science lessons, it would appear that evolution is not being properly taught at Emmanuel College.

As with the Islamic school, Odone raves about the well-behaved pupils, the modern buildings and banks of whirring computers to be found at Emmanuel. Most of these places seem far better funded than their secular equivalents. In some ways, that's the most alarming fact of all.


Anonymous said…
Maybe the Muslims want to keep their children out of mainstream schools because the mainstream schools are rubbish?

It's just a thought.
Heresiarch said…
There's more than a small amount of truth there, sadly. But why should you have to be religious to save your kids from a rubbish education?
silas said…
Wonder how much funding you'd get to set up an Atheist school? Or even - and I'm a broad "church" - Agnostic?

Vardy worries me a great deal. Thought I'd heard the last of him when I moved away from the North East, but tragically the mad old sod appears determined to behave like one of the Victorian paternalists he likes to think of himself as being.
Anonymous said…
Heresiarch, your blog is on the my bookmark list in the folder marked 'Culture Wars', because that's what we're in. Trouble is the agnostic, secular majority in the UK thinks that being nice and vague and pluralistic is the way to deal with the dangerous bigots. It is not. Hard tackling might do it.

Silas, I live on Tyneside, where an attempt (by an American) to set up a secular school was scuppered. Read this and get angry, as I did.
Anonymous said…
Perhaps Paul Kelley (abovementioned Tyneside headteacher) should have applied instead to set up a school based on the religious teachings of his holy noodliness, the Flying Spaghetti Monster ( It makes as much sense as any other religion but without the hang-ups.
Anonymous said…
Hail the Flying Spaghetti Monster! A Pastafarian school would at least have a great uniform - full pirate costume! Also, sports day could involve walking the plank, shivering timbers etc.

Sad things is, it would be just as 'good' as a faith school because it would be selective, cherry picking nice middle-class kids who are easy to teach and therefore will get good exam results. Thus getting the school more funding! It's a virtuous circle, except that it helps destroy our society.
silas said…
I'm fairly certain that Seaton Burn High School (as it was then, I suspect it's a Community College now) didn't have any daily act of worship. Nor weekly, come to that. Glad I'm not going through school now, or me not saying anything during any attempt at the Lord's Prayer would look very strange.

Mind you, we did sing "we plough the field with tractors, and cultivate the land" at Harvest Festival time, rather than the more traditional version, so perhaps we were a bit odd.

FSM is a great idea, it's a shame other religions hold themselves in much more serious regard.
Iftikhar Ahmad said…

London School of Islamics is an educational Trust. Its aim is to make
British public, institutions and media aware of the needs and demands of the
Muslim community in the field of education and possible solutions.

Slough Islamic school Trust Slough had a seminar on Muslim
education and schools in Thames Valley Atheltic Centre. The seminar was
addressed by the education spokesman of MCB. I could not attend the seminar
but I believe lot of Muslims from Slough and surrounding areas must have
attended. Very soon, the Muslims of Slough will have a state funded Muslim
school but there is a need for more schools. A day will come when all Muslim
children will attend state funded Muslim schools with bilingual Muslim
teachers as role model.

Muslim schools are not only faith schools but they are more or less
bilingual schools.

Bilingual Muslim children need to learn standard English to follow the
National Curriculum and go for higher studies and research to serve
humanity. They need to be well versed in Arabic to recite and understand the
Holy Quran. They need to be well versed in Urdu and other community
languages to keep in touch with their cultural roots and enjoy the beauty of
their literature and poetry.

Bilingualism is an asset but the British schooling regards it as a
problem. A Muslim is a citizen of this tiny global village. He/she does not
want to become notoriously monolingual Brit. Pakistan is only seven hours
from London and majority of British Muslims are from Pakistan.

More than third of British Muslim have no qualifications. British school
system has been failing large number of Muslims children for the last 60
years. Muslim scholars see the pursuit of knowledge as a duty, with the
Quran containing several verses to the rewards of learning. 33% of British
Muslims of working age have no qualifications and Muslims are also the least
likely to have degrees or equivalent qualifications. Most of estimated
500,000 Muslim school-aged pupils in England and Wales are educated in the
state system with non-Muslim monolingual teachers. Majority of them are
underachievers because they are at a wrong place at a wrong time.

Bilingual Muslim children need state funded Muslim schools with bilingual
Muslim teachers during their developmental periods. There is no place for a
non-Muslim child or a teacher in a Muslim school. As far as higher education
is concerned, Muslim students can be educated with others. Let Muslim
community educate its own children so that they can develop their own
Islamic, cultural and linguistic identities and become usefull members of
the British society rather than becoming a buden.

We are living in an English speaking country and English is an
international language, therefore, we want our children to learn and be well
versed in standard English and at the same time well versed in Arabic, Urdu
and other community languages. Is there anything wrong with this approach?

It is not only the Muslim community who would like to send their children to
Muslim school. Sikh and Hindu communities have started setting up their
schools. Last week. British Black Community has planned the first all black
school with Black teachers in Birmingham.

Scotland's first state funded Muslim school could get the go-ahead within
months after First Munister Alex Salmond declared he was sympathetic towards
the needs and demands of the Muslim community.

Iftikhar Ahmad
London School of Islamics Trust
Anonymous said…
Will someone form a Secular Party so I can join? Really, please...
Heresiarch said…
Valdemar, Haltemprice was a missed opportunity, wasn't it? Still, it would have been dreadful if the Secularist candidate finished behind George Hargreaves and his "Christian Party". The important thing is to re-secularise the mainstream parties, who are increasingly being infiltrated by fundamentalist bozos of all religious persuasions.

Dr Ahmad,

A day will come when all Muslim children will attend state funded Muslim schools with bilingual Muslim teachers as role model.

I do very sincerely hope not.

There is no place for a non-Muslim child or a teacher in a Muslim school.

Thank you at least for being so honest.
WeepingCross said…
I took assembly at the parish school associated with the church newly placed in my charge for the first time last week. I haven't yet been able to speak to the Muslim teacher who sits rather demurely while I tell Bible stories and we sing the odd hymn to find out what she thinks - I wonder whether it might lead to an interesting and mutually enlightening conversation that the children might also benefit from? At least I assume she's a Muslim, she may just have an unusual preference in headgear. I'm pretty confident that there will continue to be room for both Muslim teachers and children in Anglican schools, even if not the other way around.
WeepingCross said…
Oh, and I can remember refusing to say prayers at school, not singing hymns and scorning all the half-hearted, lily-livered efforts at institutional religion too. Seems like another world now. Perhaps if I'd gone to a secular school and avoided all that bullshit I'd've converted a lot sooner and not wasted so much time?
Anonymous said…
Valdemar, there's a school in Heaton, one of the biggest in Newcastle upon Tyne, which has not practiced a daily act of worship for years, probably decades. I do not doubt that other schools in britain similarly do not take any notice of regulations regarding worship. The third way concept sounds really flawed, removing the act of worship and instead feeding in a secular-liberal postmodern flim flam mash of gobbldegook during RE lessons. Sounds like what they're teaching already.

Contrary to popular belief, the science lessons at Catholic schools tend to be excellent, and students are bright enough to tell the difference between biological facts and an old creation story from their RE lesson. RC faith school are excellent in their maths and science teaching, and its not as tho theyre churning out a steady stream of bible thumping young firebrands.

IftikharA - Why should a bilingual muslim school have to exclude whitey? That ginger kid down the block can easily learn urdu as well as any paki.
jack ralph said…
hahahahaha! loving the
"sophisticated IT equipment
in almost every classroom."

wait until they get a hold of a wonderfully open minded piece of the blogosphere and, as such, bypasses all 'you not allowed to watch that' software, like here at H****** council and Highfields school (and doubtless others).

I don't usually go in for publicising other people's blogs but a few promotional e-mails to the students of said religious schools probably wouldn't go amiss.

For their own good, of course. Not even the holiest of holies can compete with, er, holes?
Iftikhar Ahmad said…

Muslim children need Muslim teachers during their developmental periods, as role models. For higher education, there is no need for them to be taught by a non-Muslim teacher.
Anonymous said…

So, what, you want total segregation? That is barmy. Any kid can learn arabic, urdu and english so whats the rationale for banning non-muslims?

As for banning teachers based on religion ... what difference does it make if a physics teacher is, for example, Jewish? Their ability to teach physics is more important than their religion.

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