Why don’t we just ban fundamentalist schools?

For a while now, I’ve been wondering if programmes like Accelerated Christian Education should just be illegal. I think I’ve done enough to establish that it’s harmful. So far we’ve had:

And that’s just for starters. And without getting into the physical and emotional abuse which has occurred in so many of the schools, which is not just a coincidence.

So it’s bad. But not everything bad is illegal. Freedom of expression; the right of parents to choose their child’s education; religious tolerance – these values are crucial to the pluralist democracies we hold dear. And just because people of generally liberal (ish) persuasion rule our country now doesn’t mean they always will. If an explicitly religious party came to power, wouldn’t liberals want that party to allow their children a secular education? 

And, realistically, who knows better than parents what’s best for their children? Even when parents get it wrong, can we be confident the state – our blundering, useless government – would do it better?

Those are not trivial arguments. I’m still researching this topic, considering the various viewpoints, and making my own conclusions. Anything I say at this point is tentative and provisional. But my core feeling is that something as harmful as ACE needs to be stopped. We are doing children a disservice by wringing our hands about relativism and cultural imperialism.

The truth is that although we like pluralism as an ideal, not many of us have the stomach for it in its purest form (thanks to Katherine for pointing this out). Absolute pluralism would allow the KKK the right to teach their children to hate black people. It would allow the practice of female genital mutilation in the UK.

We are not, when we really think about it, that kind of pluralist. We all know there are some things that we don’t want in our country (and preferably on our planet); we’re just not sure where to draw the line. I’m pretty sure, wherever the line is, ACE is on the wrong side of it.

In practice, the US and the UK are happy to legislate on matters like this where it seems clear cut (in the wake of 9/11 and 7/7, they passed legislation that didn’t seem to worry about pluralism even slightly). The UK and a majority of US states have banned corporal punishment even in private schools. The British House of Lords squashed a legal appeal from Christian schools on freedom of religion grounds. Children’s health was deemed more important than the right of the parents to practise their religion.

If we can legislate on corporal punishment, why not science? Creationists make an empirical truth claim – that the Earth can be shown by science to be less than 10,000 years old. This is demonstrably false. Intelligent design has been defeated in scientific journals, and it’s been defeated in court. Endorsing pluralism on Creationism in schools amounts to saying it’s OK for parents to lie to their children.

Then there’s the right to freedom of religion. The emphasis here is on the parents’ freedom. Various religious education campaigners claim, “Children belong to their parents.” It seems that many conservative Christians view children as their property. That’s not right. Children are individuals, and they have their own right to religious freedom. That includes being educated with the skills to form their own religious views in later life.

By stopping children from asking questions, fundamentalist education robs them of this opportunity. It is not a legitimate expression of parents’ right to religious freedom to deny their children that same right.

The popular fundamentalist curriculum Accelerated Christian Education has been repeatedly accused of indoctrination. Brian Hill, a Christian Professor, writes,

“ACE stands in direct line of succession to those who sought, by emotional manipulation, to obtain decisions for Christ which by-pass the individual’s rational autonomy.”

Experts comment that fundamentalist curricula like ACE and A Beka neglect higher order thinking skills. Those are the very skills needed to evaluate truth claims and come to your own decisions. In Keeping Them Out of the Hands of Satan, sociologist Susan Rose writes that the ACE curriculum “may make it difficult for… children to be able to question and evaluate ideas that they may be exposed to later on.”

This is not an accident. The fundamentalists do not want children relying on human reasoning, which they regard as fallible and prone to leading them away from God. The ACE Science 1109 textbook reads,

“Man should never trust his reasoning because man’s reasoning is not God’s reasoning.”

Fundamentalist education teaches lies as fact, and it does this in ways which may deny children the right to freedom of religion. The issue is not taxpayer’s money – it’s the child’s right to learn the truth, and to receive a quality education.

So, at this point, it seems quite obvious to me what the right thing is here. Next time I look at this subject, I’ll consider the arguments of the people who disagree with me.

On another note…

I’m thinking of reducing my posting schedule, for reasons which I will explain later. I’m going to try posting once a week for a while, and see how that goes. So for the next coupe of weeks, expect a new post every Monday. If anyone wants to submit a guest post, I will still be accepting those and they will be in addition to my posts.

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