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    Ignore, Outlaw or 'Exhaust and Excel'?

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    by Jonathan Ferguson
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    The UK's backward, authoritarian faith schools represent a broken society. Is it time for a third way in the faith schools debate?

    No-one who values individual liberty and secularism to the slightest degree can be remotely satisfied with the current situation in the UK.

    The Baghdad Bomber's bizarre fetish for a proliferation of faith schools was no less devastating than his war on Iraq.

    Indeed, Tony “TB” Blair never did manage to spread and proliferate the prescribed contagion of  a gloriously flamboyant and sexy carnival of petit-bourgeois diversity, such as the more naive and easily-led-by-the-nose Britons were hoping for.

    Instead, his strategy can be summed up in four simple words:

    Make Britain Medieval Again.

    Admittedly, it goes without saying that in the UK (as elsewhere), not all faith schools are equal. A Church of England school in Yorkshire is not on the same level as a Salafi madrassa in Pakistan.

    And I very much doubt that a school run by Reform Jews would have the same necessarily negative impact as an ultra-Haredi institution. 

    To mention Wahhabis, Deobandis, Jehovah's Witnesses, Scientologists and King James 1611-ridden Young Earth Creationist fundies in the same breath as Unitarians, Quakers, Anglicans, and dare I say it, Catholics and Orthodox Jews, seems to me to be levelling all distinctions down.

    For if everything is superstition, then nothing is superstition.

    If everything is child abuse, then nothing is abusive towards the future pioneers and creators of this very same great society and civilization.

    But then, isn't this precisely what is at issue? Doesn't this, in itself, hold the key to a third way beyond maintaining the horrific and unsustainable status quo, versus banning faith schools entirely?

    Is there a secularist vision that avoids this false dilemma? 

    I believe there is, and I am shortly to outline it.

    I do not claim to be a policy expert, but there is obviously a clear division of labor here. Social scientists, legal experts, and many other individuals with specialist knowledge, are free to evaluate and critique these suggestions, at their leisure.

    I wrote the following as a Medium article:

    Instead of banning faith schools, what about a policy of ‘Exhaust and Excel?’ By this phrase, I mean setting strict regulations that will indirectly drive hatemongering and backward faith schools out of business, while letting serious faith schools prosper.

    Setting inviolable positive standards might thus be deemed more acceptable than the negative or ‘prohibitive’ approach advocated by some secularists.

    For example:

    1. Commit them to the Flames!

    Any form of pseudoscience must be forbidden without qualification. Any teacher who endorses the Young Earth Creationism of Christian or Islamic fundamentalists must be disciplined, and reported to the appropriate authorities.

    2. No Country for Old Morals

    Schools, following the example of the Netherlands, must teach LGBT toleration, and provide regular updates and evidence to the government.

    Those who do not will be heavily fined, and upon repeat offenses, more serious consequences will ensue.

    Schools that repeatedly breach standards will be reported directly to the media, if deemed appropriate.

    Other appropriate topics may include sex education. (Schools will not have to teach a particular view on the morality of abortion, but they will have to educate pupils both on the basic facts, as well as on the various moral arguments existing among various individuals).

    3. Humiliate the Humiliators

    Schools must have clear procedures for bullying, and these must be centred on religious hatred, LGBTphobia, and other forms of bullying and hatred that the more backward and regressive school authorities will not want to engage with, and may even to wish to encourage.

    These suggestions are all in a rather raw and crude state, but the ‘Exhaust and Excel’ principle, if developed into a serious policy framework, may avoid the regrettable expedient of banning faith schools either selectively or in toto.

    For it is very clear that in many countries, the status quo is thoroughly intolerable.

    A climate of fear and even of terror for the most intolerant and bigoted faith schools must ensue, and the most regressive and backward ones must be driven out of business.

    The authorities of these schools must feel they are unwelcome here, and are internal exiles in their own country. And they must either change their ways, or perish.

    By contrast, the faith schools where the students are respected will prosper, thrive, and flourish, as is only right and fitting.

    It is only fair that I finish with a crucially important acknowledgment of the potential value of a religious education.

    Religion is not in itself a good or a bad thing, and it all depends on the context. With the exception of (say) Aum Shinrikyo or Scientology, the positive of negative value of a religion depends upon the context.

    And again, while religious education has its risks, so also has a rootless relativism and subjectivism. Many of us who grew up in a relatively conservative religious environment can look back not with horror and bitterness, but with a certain coolness of ambivalence, upon the traditions we were raised in.

    And while I would part company from my childhood instructors at church and Sunday school on certain scientific and social issues, I cannot deny that I was instilled with a strong sense of right and wrong, and of the objectivity of the truth; including that of the moral law, which is emphatically not a matter of subjective opinion, no matter what the cowardly, mediocre, elitist detachment of over-privileged metropolitan intellectuals might tell you.

    So, let’s make sure that faith schools work to serve the children, and not the demagogic, backward, obscurant dogmatists and superstitious, sectarian scaremongers at the worst of these schools.

    Let’s drive the little Choudharys and Master Gantrys out of the education system entirely, and ensure that social and cultural integration revive and run apace with the staggering changes that are underway today.

    However, the real question at issue as of here and now, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, May 2017, is this:

    Will the petit-bourgeois decency of our ailing career-politician establishment permit such a daring and audacious move as the ‘Excel and Exhaust’ agenda?

    If not, then they should consider the possibility that there are plenty of more noble and courageous souls who are fit to stand to attention in the cause of liberty, rather than warming their flabby bums on yon luxurious emerald couches in my Waning Watchtower of Freedom.

    You are all utterly, utterly expendable.

    The fearful omnipotence of our ballot is hanging over you like the Sword of Damocles.

    And if we cannot see the right breed of stallion to run for liberty, we will see fit to purchase others from such merchants as we choose.

    Future elections in this great nation of mine will punish with the utmost severity those who in times of dangers, take the broad and easy path that leadeth unto civilizational destruction. 

    The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.

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    religious education, secularism, education, religion, faith, United Kingdom
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