The decision of Parkfield School in Birmingham to suspend education on LGBT rights is a blow to secular society and a victory for theocracy. It comes after 600 Muslim students were withdrawn by their parents, 400 of whom signed a petition calling for an end to lessons on inclusivity and tolerance. Though the school’s decision is depressing, the dwindling numbers of students make it understandable. It does, however, raise questions about the place of faith in state-funded education. Though some apologists have tried to reframe the issue as one of the Parkfield children simply being too young, rather than of faith-based intolerance, any number of interviews with the parents belies this beyond reasonable doubt. Moreover, primary school is exactly when values of tolerance ought to be instilled, if we want our increasingly diverse society to continue coexisting with a degree of harmony. The purpose of an education is not to reinforce the ignorance of parents at the cost of the taxpayer. Sometimes, the role of education is to break the cycle and to prevent bigotry from becoming hereditary. Beyond the morality of it, it is indisputable that the ability to accept homosexuality, or any other sexuality for that matter, is a useful capacity to have in modern Britain.
Primary school is exactly when values of tolerance ought to be instilled
This is not indoctrination – as one sign at a Parkfield protest claimed – but the development of a skill set now as necessary to thrive in today’s society as computer competence. The sign in question read “education not indoctrination”. Perhaps Parkfield could provide extra-curricular classes on irony. Education – not indoctrination – is precisely what the school was offering before these parents withdrew their children. Though you have every right to raise your children in accordance with your values, your values must be challenged if they are harmful to your children and society at large. State education should raise a generation that can coexist and propel the country forward. But although this expression of religious bigotry in Birmingham is an affront to liberal enlightenment values, this kind of cultural isolationism, coupled with the blind aggrandizement of dogma, has been tolerated and even encouraged by successive Labour and Tory governments, in the form of faith schools. About 37% of primary schools, and 19% of secondaries in England fall under this category. The proponents of religiously selective schools are – if you’ll excuse me – a broad church. What unites them is dogma, from the dogma of small state and privatization to the dogma of religious superiority.
In such a diverse country, when the world is becoming ever more entwined, one’s understanding of religious and cultural nuance is of extreme importance
Faith schools have to adhere to the state curriculum, ‘only’ deviating in religious education. In such a diverse country, when the world is becoming ever more entwined, one’s understanding of religious and cultural nuance is of extreme importance. Admitting it is inexcusable. To teach children that only one religion or ideology pertains to real truth appears to be indoctrination in its purest form. Such a school may produce a fantastic mathematician, but if their world view is riddled with divinely imparted intolerance, hatred and misunderstanding, they are of little use to society. Indeed, they may even be a danger. Letting faith-schools select students based on religious criteria illustrates the pedestal that faith is so often placed upon. What other ideology would we allow to do this? Would we tolerate schools that only admit the children of Tory voters? Maybe the Department of Education should begin promoting schools that specifically exclude certain religions? Patently, this would not be accepted, and for good reason. Yet these inconsistencies violate the basic principles of a liberal society.
This is by no means a uniquely Muslim problem. A multi-cultural society means a society constructed of many cultures. If religious parents of any denomination are allowed to raise their children in cultural isolation, society ceases to be. It is neither possible nor desirable for the state to challenge the hateful, supremacist ideas that many religious parents pass onto their children inside of the home. Be that homophobia, misogyny, or the lethal concept of blasphemy. Because of this, it is absolutely essential that it is challenged by the education system. It is time to stop pretending that this is just a matter of opinion, a cultural misunderstanding. Homosexuality is not unnatural; our understanding of the natural world proves this. If we wish to live in a dynamic society composed of different interlocutors, we cannot allow antiquated ideologies that preach hatred and disgust for the other to be baked into future generations with state support and funding. The events at Parkfield illustrate the increasingly brazen nature of theocracy in our society. It is our duty to oppose such dogma, and the use of our money to suborn it.