Monday, May 22, 2006


The Opening Salvo

Well, the meeting with the head teacher… Hmm, what to make of it. His position was basically that the school doesn’t push religion nearly as much as other schools in the area, and that if there was to be an inspection of the school tomorrow, they would probably by pulled up for not complying with the government guidelines regarding collective worship. Alarmingly, he told us that there is to be an inspection next year, and he agreed that there will probably have to be an increase in the amount of religion in the school in preparation for it. Terrific.

That aside, he said that in his opinion were there to be a debate about religion within the school community, the likelihood was that when it was over we would end up with more religion in the school, rather than less. In other words, back off. If we push our point, he seemed to be saying, we’ll only have ourselves to blame if it backfires and we end up with more religion in the school — something he claims not to want any more than we do. He was at pains to stress that he is a public servant, just doing as he is told. (Mmm… only following orders? Where have we heard that before? It certainly seemed to strike a chord with my husband, who pointed out that we are living in volatile times, with fundamentalist religion causing huge problems across the world, that there are times when you need to stand up and be counted — maybe this was one of those times. And I thought I was the one passionate about all this). We said that whatever the outcome is likely to be, if there is to be a debate we want to make sure our views are part of it.

He was very resistant to the idea of holding a humanist assembly to counter-balance the fundamentalist assemblies our daughter has been subjected to, saying that it would not be the school’s policy to invite people in from outside the school to conduct assemblies. When we suggested finding someone from within the school community to hold such an assembly he was non-committal.

On the subject of RE we were bemused to find that he did not know whether RE lessons included anything about non-theistic worldviews, especially in view of the fact that I wrote to him some weeks ago on this matter and the meeting had been arranged for a good few days. He did say that he would find out, and although again he was non-committal, he didn’t seem to have an objection to such subjects being included.

Again, he was at pains to stress that the school has nothing to do with setting the syllabus for RE, that it is the responsibility of the local SACRE.

Where we feel we had more success was when we told him about the incidents in the playground. The school has a very good policy of using assemblies to discuss issues — bullying, racism etc., — which have come up in the playground, and he agreed that the incidents would fall into the category of things that might be dealt with in such a way, especially when we pointed out to him that if our children had been challenged about their religious beliefs, rather than just about their beliefs, the school would be very quick to deal with it.

What struck me throughout the meeting was the language used. Non-religious people were consistently referred to in the negative. They were ‘non-believers’, ‘those without beliefs’, ‘people of no faith’… Eventually it started to really grate on me. As parents, we have made a positive choice to bring our children up without religion, as atheists and as humanists. We do believe (though in scientific fact, not in the supernatural), we certainly have beliefs (humanist ones) and we most definitely have faith — in ourselves and in humanity. To continue to portray us in such a negative way is… well, at risk of sounding like some of the religious nuts who have had their knickers in knots lately… an insult.

If you want to stand up and be counted, count me in.
Atheist mummy, I love you!!! Are you interested in a blog about this very topic?
An old saying: "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, bamboozle them with bullshit."

Why should the other side enjoy the liberty of endless bullshit? (Truth is finite, bullshit is infinite.) I suggest you ally yourself with local Pagans, etc. and DEMAND equal time for non-Christian religions! Perhaps in the ensuing babel, a few bright minds will see that it is ALL bullshit. Be sure to throw the Flying Spaghetti Monster and The Invisible Pink Unicorn into the fray.
I just noticed from your profile that you've just started this blog. Welcome! and "Well begun!"
I hear you, and feel your pain. It makes me SO ANGRY. Count me in on the being counted! As an atheist going through school in australia I wasn't forced to attend, but they made to pick up rubbish in the playground while the other kids did RE. nice.
But appropriate, thomp. While you were clearing up the rubbish, they were creating it.
Sooo excited when I signed on this morning and read all your supportive comments. What a lovely welcome to the blogging community!

Simon, if you want to support a legal challenge to get schools to include stuff about humanism in schools, the British Humanist Association are in the middle of organising one, and they are looking for people to write about their experiences. I've submitted something to them but I'll get hold of some more info and blog about it soon. Had a quick squiz at your blog the other day — good stuff!

Now, I'm off to click your links and find out some more about you all.
Here is some advice for new bloggers.
I know you didn't ask, but I'm in a giving mood today:)
Sounds like a very frustrating experience. I had a similar experience with a head who used a similar line.."sympathetic...atheist's the law...I'm under pressure from christian parents as well..." The latter point I felt was very easy to deal with. If christian parents want a christian school then there are plenty of church schools around (funded by the tax payer) for them to send their children. Our school is a community school for all beliefs.

Whilst worship in assemblies may be the law, the head is wrong to turn down more diversity in the assemblies, and this should be challenged very strongly. First of all, when clarifying the law to schools the govt said only 51% need to be "christian" and even these should NOT resemble in any way a church service. The other 49% can be anything the schools wants and the govt is keen for schools to embrace diversity. So your request is more in the spirit of the law than his line!

Make sure you ask to head about the language he/she uses, whatever the school does it should be done with socially inclusive language. At the very least if they do a prayer the head should tell children "some people" believe, and every time remind children they can pray if they want to but they don't have to.

You should also ask the head if he/she allows christians to come in and speak to the children (including any local vicars). If they do, then it is utterly unreasonable to turn down the offer of a Humanist to come and speak, nay, it's downright discrimination.

Good luck
And please come over and check my blog some time
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