Peter M Howard ::

Public Schooling, Religion, A Manifesto

17December2005 [myth]
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a few thoughts on public schooling… a lot to do with religion and state stuff

1. public schools SHOULD NOT promote ANY religious values/teachings. They SHOULD, however, teach basic ethics (preferably as a separate class, as well as worked into the syllabus). They should also teach Philosophy, and ‘Religion’ as an overview of world religions — possibly as an offshoot/sub-section of Philosophy.

2. Religious schools should teach their own Religion/Belief System as an individual subject. They should ALSO teach Philosophy, containing material on world religions and Ethics (independent of religious systems). Further, they should be FREE to modify ALL individual subjects taught based on their Religious beliefs. Parents should know/easily be able to find out what a school’s religious stance is, and how that may vary from the ‘public’ syllabus.

3. There are two main subject areas I see being affected, potentially dramatically, by such policy: Science (particularly in regards to little-e ethics, and evolution) and Sexual Health. The State should NOT control what is taught, but SHOULD set basic humanist standards for public schooling. In regards science: this would mean a class should be taught the scientific theories along with their shortcomings, and the basic ethical discussions. A religious school should be free to condemn embryonic stem cell research in a science class, with (necessarily) follow-up in a Religion class. A public school should cover the ethical issues, and may cover religious objections. It is important that in a science class, the public school shouldn’t dismiss ethical concerns.

And in the case of sexual health: a public school SHOULD teach about disease and the various options available, but should NOT assume abstinence (in fact, it should probably assume that its students are experimenting, and should educate against worst-case-scenarios). A religious school SHOULD be free to assume abstinence, and leave teaching other sexual health scenarios to individuals and their families (the families of course knowing what the school teaches).

//this is all predicated on my basic belief that the government should fund ALL education EQUALLY, regardless of whether a parent chooses to send their child to a public, private, or sectarian school. Thus, if a parent doesn’t like what is being taught in a public school, it shouldn’t be difficult to transfer to a school with shared beliefs.

And related, any government-funded or -sponsored public awareness campaigns should work from _very_ basic ethical expectations, with respect for Religious beliefs. This would mean they should fund abortions as a public health issue, but should not actively promote them. Nor should the government declare abortions immoral. There should however, be more debate about the ethics of abortion (taking into account all parties: particularly the mother and the unborn child), without making explicit religious assertions.

Essentially, the state should be agnostic and humanist. ANY state-controlled education should be agnostic. (Atheists of the sort that are just as bad as fundamentalist christians should just go to private schools with shared beliefs). And it’s really important: all education options SHOULD be funded equally by the State. Obviously there’d still be private schools with significant fees, and facilities to match, but it’d also mean sectarian interests would be able to establish schools running at similar costs to public schooling, thus not costing the community nor families anything extra.

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