In search of a secular education…

The Business Partner and I are currently thinking (fighting?) about things education-related for our little ones. Girl will be going into reception in September and despite the fact that he’s not even 2 yet we need to start making decisions about what to do with Boy when the time comes.  Having moved into a rental we are not sure where we are going to settle permanently so with the school decision comes, potentially, a house decision, which further complicates matters.

We have got as far as deciding that the private sector makes the school/house decision easier as then we aren’t complicating things with catchment areas but now the choice of school is proving to be more difficult.  So far we are wrestling with co-ed versus single sex – does the fact that they have a sibling of the opposite sex outweigh the impact of being in a single sex environment at school?   We hope it does as the options for co-ed private education in the county where we have chosen to live are limited.

The other question we are dealing with is the issue of religion in the schools we are looking at. Generally speaking they all seem to have some sort of connection with a local (C of E) church, although the one we saw this morning claimed relationships with the local C of E, Catholic and Baptist churches (Wit-woo!  Check out the diversity!), and they all claim to teach comparative religion and respect for ‘other’ faiths through religious education classes and in daily assemblies.  So far so lovely and tolerant.

The question we are asking is proving more difficult for schools to answer.  What about people with no faith?  What about the humanists and secularists, the agnostics and (whisper it) the atheists.  How are they catered for?

The assumption that is generally made is that children who don’t go to church or have a stated ‘alternative’ religion fall into a sort of lapsed C of E bucket. But that is not the case with us.  We struggle to call ourselves atheists, as that has taken on a fanatical, absolutist reputation (Dawkins, you don’t help) bordering on the evangelical, in part due to the way it is represented by the religious community (think the the Grinch that stole Christmas, ‘oooh, those mean atheists want to spoil our fun’).  Empiricists is a better word. Or Scientists.  Evidence-based belief. Happy to believe in your god when you show me empiricial evidence of its/his/her existence. Until then I’ll rely on the scientific method, thank you very much.

But how is this addressed in school?  I have no problem, per se, with sending my children to a school linked to a religious institution, providing they are not trying to force a belief on to them. The bible stories that the BP and I heard at school provide a framework for discussions about morality that are good and healthy and unproblematic as long as they are not treated as historical fact.  Its hard to get to the bottom of how these things are being taught and presented to our children as the teaching is heavily influenced by the individual teacher, and their religious leanings.

I don’t claim to have an answer to this, but what we are finding is that the schools don’t really have an answer either, and that nowhere (certainly where we are) can claim to be giving a completely secular education, which is what I think I would like, and what I think is reasonable.  Religion needs to be a personal choice and a choice for a family to make, so I’m not sure I should be thinking about having to ‘de-programme’ my child when (s)he comes home from school.  Ultimately I suppose its our duty to teach them an analytical and thoughtful approach so when the time comes they can make their own decision. I would love to think that we could find a school to do the same thing, but on current evidence I suspect that might be too much to hope for.

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