I’m not surprised that Michael Gove’s free school program has run into difficulties. The focus of discontent has so far been limited to fundamentalist (i.e., extreme) Muslim schools. It’s easy to see the danger of allowing a school to be run by people who may hold backward, harmful views about issues such as the right to equality for women or homosexuals, or even for people who hold other beliefs. But the problem is wider than that. We need to teach children to think for themselves, rather than force-feeding them world views that are subjective, limited, and in many cases harmful and abusive. Religious schools deprive kids of a basic human right – the right to freedom of belief, which requires an open mind and free access to information and ideas. Religious schools segregate children and emphasise the differences between people, rather than their similarities, and foster alienation, disdain and even hatred.
It’s right that religion should be taught in schools. After all, it’s probably been around for as long as there have been societies, and in almost all of those societies it has exerted a very strong (and often very harmful) influence. In all societies around the world religion is still (unfortunately, in my view) adhered to by a significant proportion of the population, and still exerts a powerful influence. Religion (or rather religions, in the plural) are a part of our culture and a part of our history. However they should be taught objectively, not subjectively, in an atmosphere of openness, where children feel able to ask questions, to be critical and so, over time, develop their own world view. At present, this doesn’t usually happen. Instead, generation after generation of children are sent to schools where they’re brain-washed into accepting the religious beliefs of their parents. It’s very interesting, and rather damning of the credibility of religion, that despite this so many of them grow up rejecting those beliefs.