I believe in education, but that is not enough

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Atheist Nicholas Barber had his daughter baptised to help get her into get her into the local Church of England school. But, he says, why should he have to do so?


The news that parents are still scrabbling to secure primary-school places for their children fills me with profound sympathy. Well, no, that's not exactly true. What it actually fills me with is profound relief that my own daughter is due to attend the lovely Church of England state primary across the road in September. But my relief – all right, my smugness – is mingled with my guilt over how my partner and I nabbed that precious school place. Yes, you guessed it. We had our daughter baptised. Even though I'm an atheist of the Dawkins-for-prime-minister variety, I promised to renounce the devil and steer my daughter towards the pearly gates.

It was an infuriating decision. The school is so close to our house that if I lobbed my copy of God Is Not Great out of the bedroom window it would land in the playground. But in the school's "oversubscription criteria", proximity lies in a lowly sixth place. Above it, in descending order, are being in care, going to the parish church, being a practising Anglican, being a practising Christian, and being a baptised Christian.

It is a mind-boggling, somewhat sinister list to read. And it doesn't seem to have much to do with what church schools were set up for, back when there was no such thing as a comprehensive system, and when pretty much everyone in England identified themselves as Anglican. In the 21st century, when we have taxes rather than tithes to pay for education, and when a quarter of us tick the "No religion" box on the census form, it's strange that we haven't scrubbed something as divisive as theology from school admission policies. Just think of the social-cohesion benefits that might follow. Instead of instructing our youngest and most impressionable citizens to separate themselves along religious lines, we could be spending five days a week teaching them what they have in common.

Written By: Nicholas Barber
continue to source article at independent.co.uk

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  1. from the artical

    the unlikely hero of this story: the vicar. It was his suggestion that we have our daughter dunked in the font. When I objected that, as a church-dodging sceptic, I wasn’t comfortable with the idea, he floored me with his reply. “You don’t have to see it as religious if you don’t want to,” he said. “When I was younger, everyone got baptised; it didn’t matter if their families went to church or not. You can just see it as a traditional way of welcoming your daughter into the community.”

    Bravo Vicar!

  2. I wonder what would happen if someone tried this experiment: Set up an atheist school and make a public renouncement of religion be a prerequisite for admission. I suspect it would be met with lots of outcry and protest, and rightly so, but it would make a good teaching tool to expose what’s wrong with this system because you could then point out that as awful as that is, it’s exactly identical to what faith schools are allowed to do daily.

    • In reply to #3 by Steven Mading:

      I wonder what would happen if someone tried this experiment: Set up an atheist school and make a public renouncement of religion be a prerequisite for admission. I suspect it would be met with lots of outcry and protest, and rightly so, but it would make a good teaching tool to expose what’s wrong…

      What a great idea! I suspect the collective IQ would be higher too, being the offspring of more thoughtful parents. The school would have the right to exclude children at will and would probably offer a great science education. I’d like to see these schools pop up all over the globe, ha ha ha.

  3. Why you want your child enrolled in a school that would teach them nonsense? If the alternatives are even worse, that is your problem. Those schools need to be improved. You don’t need better access to the Anglican school.

  4. My mom sent me be a British style private school. Her motives? They would let me start a year early, She thought the uniforms were handsome. It conferred social status.

    I had to live through this, three eccentric geriatric sadists who ran the school. They beat the kids many times a day. They had mandatory bible reading, which was read as a ripping yarn. Oddly I had no problem at all understanding the KJV dialect. When Jesus died, and they handed out palm fronds on Good Friday, we kids felt betrayed. Since when does the hero die? All the kids were bawling their eyes out.

    Make sure you know exactly what your kids will be getting into at that Anglican school.

  5. Nicholas Barber the non-believing atheist ..

    Look, when you join a golf club, you don’t complain about having to swing a club or object to having to play a round of golf every once-in-a-while. It’s only polite. I suspect you’re not even a real atheist. And finally I would suspect it’s the one kind of school where single-parenthood, recreational sex, porn and the delights of the milder forms of BDSM is not on the curriculum.

  6. An interesting piece in which a some-time Film Critic tries his hand as a political Op-Ed Columnist.

    … profound relief that my own daughter is due to attend the lovely Church of England state primary

    The Columnist, Nick Barber, tells us that he is a Sceptic and an Atheist. On that basis there’s so much wrong with the above opening statement that I just don’t know where to start.

    … my guilt over how my partner and I nabbed that precious school place …

    You have to feel some sympathy for somebody who at least feels guilty and, thereby, demonstrates that they know they’ve done wrong … right?

    No.

    Nick, you did wrong and now you want to tell us that you were a bad boy to ease your conscience. Tell us why we should forgive you.

    We had our Daughter baptised [to get a place at the School]. Even though I’m an atheist of the Dawkins-for-Prime-Minister variety …

    Fail.

    Political success is never found in utter capitulation.

    It was an infuriating decision.

    Oh boo-hoo.

    The School’s “over-subscription criteria” … in descending order, are being in care, going to the parish church, being a practising Anglican, being a practising Christian, and being a baptised Christian. It is a mind-boggling, somewhat sinister list to read.

    Indeed so Nick. The enormity of your crime – for crime it is – grows with the reading of your story.

    … when a quarter of us tick the “No religion” box on the census form, it’s strange that we haven’t scrubbed something as divisive as theology from school admission policies.

    How so, “strange”? If people like Nick Barber not only don’t protest but bow to the political pressure at the exact moment their support for secular values is needed.

    Just think of the social-cohesion benefits that might follow. Instead of instructing our youngest and most impressionable citizens to separate themselves along religious lines, we could be spending five days a week teaching them what they have in common.

    The glorious future that you have denied us, Nick, that future – the future for which you are directly responsible by your actions.

    Nonetheless, even the most heathenish of us view faith schools with amused resignation.

    False. I do not – nor did I as a Parent.

    … all of us, devout or doubting, should be outraged by unfair discrimination wherever we see it. If a school hired Nick Griffin to sort out its over-subscription problems, we might not chuckle so indulgently.

    I’m starting to wonder why you need my criticism. Oh wait, I remember, you failed the test.

    The topic always reminds me of my grandfather’s uncertainty, in the 1970s, about whether to allow a Jew to join his golf club. Shouldn’t we be appalled by this?

    Yes. Your digging a bigger hole Nick.

    Defenders of faith schools don’t tend to concern themselves with such ethical niceties.

    Defenders of faith schools like Nick Barber?

    “My own children go to a faith school, and it’s excellent, so that’s all right. Whether they’d be so complacent if they worshipped a different deity is never discussed. And they never acknowledge that it’s exclusivity, not godliness, that gives these schools their edge.

    Got a mirror, Nick?

    Imagine if a School [X] prioritised families [insert criterion for child places] those parents’ children, in turn, would be more motivated than the pupils in … [School Y].

    All very British Middle Class Nick. You appear to be enjoying this weak attempt at self-punishment a little too much.

    If only some schools were biased towards non-believers …

    Like the schools that don’t apply religious criteria Nick, those schools? Like the school my child attended? They exist Nick, and my child’s school year spectacularly out-performed the nearest, and supposedly superior, religious school. I’d like to think it had something to do with parental involvement beyond admission.

    By now, a fair number of readers, both religious and secular, will have me down as a deplorable hypocrite.

    You got that right.

    I’ll also add that thousands of atheists go through the same charade every year, many of them slumping in pews, week after week, just to ‘prove’ that they’re Christian.

    Two wrongs don’t make a right.

    Eat at Joe’s Café, a million flies can’t be wrong.

    Abject capitulation to the status quo is a new way to change the World we live in for the better.

    I’ve not heard that one before. I think I can see why.

    I knew I was doing something wrong. But here, for what it’s worth, is how I let myself off the hook.

    This had better be good.

    My principal argument is that because we live so close to the school, our daughter should have been a shoo-in, anyway.

    If you didn’t like the criteria for admissions you had two options:

    • Change the criteria

    • Choose a different – strike that – better school

    Having her baptised was merely our way of beating an unjust system.

    No.

    Having your Daughter baptised was subjecting yourself – and, more importantly, your Daughter – to the dominion of the Church. You caved in. If you really want forgiveness Nick, first be clear that you did wrong.

    That the system is wrong is not an extenuating circumstance – it is a call to action. You recognise that the call exists – you are a self-described atheist and therefore bound to answer that call . Yet you merely ran up a white flag. That does not lessen the magnitude of your crime it compounds and expands the appalling nature of your crime.

    … for my part the decision was made easier, not harder, by my atheism.

    I see no logical connection.

    If I had a shred of spirituality I might have been conflicted about standing in a church and taking the Lord’s name in vain.

    Lying to yourself, your Daughter, your Partner, the School, the teachers, members of the Church … need I go on?

    At this point I feel constrained to add, Nick, that I would be most grateful if you could, please, stop calling yourself an atheist. You appear highly likely to give the rest of us a bad name. I’m really sorry to have to say that – I hate preaching. I mean, it’s not as if I think of myself as being morally superior or anything …

    We all tell the odd white lie to keep our children happy.

    I’ll thank you not to judge the rest of us by your own standards, thank you Nick.

    … there’s another reason why I don’t feel too bad about the baptism, and it brings us to the unlikely hero of this story: the Vicar.

    Unlikely. At last, we agree on something.

    It was his suggestion that we have our Daughter dunked in the font. When I objected that, as a church-dodging sceptic, I wasn’t comfortable with the idea, he floored me with his reply.

    You don’t have to see it as religious if you don’t want to. When I was younger, everyone got baptised; it didn’t matter if their families went to church or not.

    This is your hero Nick? Your Vicar dissembles, presumably denies his own faith and equates a specific religious practice with secularism – against all sense, tradition and logic?

    You can just see it as a traditional way of welcoming your daughter into the community.

    Ah, the old religious tradition is a social norm trope – what tripe.

    I had my diary out 10 seconds later.

    Pathetic. Not even the suggestion that the value of truth had a role to play. No evidence of even the most cursory use of sceptical thought. In short the utter surrender of everything you say you stand for. Deary me, Nick, what a sorry tale to tell.

    All’s well that ends well.

    But it didn’t end well Nick. In fact, by your own admission, it ended in the worst possible way.

    But it still felt as if we had taken a trip back to an earlier, less enlightened era.

    Your telling us?

    Shouldn’t a little girl be able to cross the road to school without all that rigmarole first?

    Yes.

    Nick: You’re preaching from the bottom of a pit of iniquity – of, by your own admission, your own making – and I can’t hear you.

    You’re not forgiven Nick. You were presented with one of the most important decisions you will ever make, and you were found wanting. You really need to get some gonads.

    There is a small group in your story that I do feel a profound sorrow for and who, in time, I can only hope will rise above your petty foolishness: Your Daughter and her school class.

    Peace.

  7. I made some comments on the Indy page so I will be brief here, and just say that an atheist school is illegal under UK law. All schools must provide RE and a daily act of (Christian) worship. Parents can opt their children out of either or both (but rarely do for fear of stigmatising their kids); 16 year olds can opt out unilaterally.

    My kids are not opted out at their state non-faith school: I think it is good to learn about religions. That said, my 6 year old daughter announced last week that the thing she “most hated” about school was RE. I asked, neutrally, why she felt that. She said “because it’s all complete nonsense, isn’t it?”

    Proud dad: my work here is done. She might get an opt-out for her birthday.

  8. My kids went to a non-faith school which far out-performed the nearby RC school. Admittedly I was already chair of governors at that school before they began attending. – Some would say I am militant!! – Certainly I am prepared to take on those who undermine standards.

    Without wanting to be big-headed, – perhaps Nicholas Barber could learn something from my example, although the indications are he would just run away from the problems rather than take a stand for secular parents.

    • In reply to #12 by Alan4discussion:

      Hi Alan,

      My kids went to a non-faith school which far out-performed the nearby RC school.

      Ditto.

      You’re not being big-headed, good schools have good governors. I didn’t have to get that involved, my Daughter’s school was very well run. It has since gone downhill, which I put down to a significant drop in parental involvement.

      One of the OP Writer’s biggest errors is to focus only on admissions. One day out of thousands.

      Peace.

  9. How manyschools provide a daily act of christian worship and why is this time wasting allowed to continue.
    We had a servitce in assembly once a week with no further law enfocement. What did others endure?

    • In reply to #14 by jjbircham:

      How manyschools provide a daily act of christian worship and why is this time wasting allowed to continue.
      We had a servitce in assembly once a week with no further law enfocement. What did others endure?

      I remember having prayer first thing in the morning in first grade,1963. It was like the Pledge of Allegiance, it lasted a couple of minutes. But that came to a halt when Madalyn Murray O’Hair sued the government to have it removed in 1963 (separation of church and state). Thank goodness for Thomas Jefferson including that idea in the un- constitution

  10. I would home school my child before I would bend over and spread them like that. Sir Richard has plenty to say about the British government subsidizing secular schools. I’ve wondered if the good ole US of A does the same, but to be perfectly honest, I haven’t tried to answer that question. I’m afraid I’d blow a gasket at the answer.

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