Government schools and indoctrination

Last week, Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, launched a document called “Proud of our Diversity“, which has been described as an LGBT+ manifesto.

In the section on education, he says, “Schools are not only a place for learning but a miniature version of society and we must implement nurturing practices in education and promote the rich diversity of our social fabric in schools in order to overcome homophobia and transphobia in society as a whole. ” Among his proposals for how to do this are the following:

Advance LGBT+ inclusion in the education system by updating the national curriculum to reflect LGBT+ historical figures and LGBT+ rights.

Ensure that inclusive Sex and Relationship Education is made compulsory in schools with a focus on sexual health, healthy relationships and tackling homophobia and misogyny.

First, notice that this is about the national curriculum – in other words, this is something that will apply to all state schools (at least in England, Wales and Northern Ireland). Second, notice that it includes compulsion: it will be compulsory for pupils to be given lessons designed to seek to ensure that they do not practice homophobia or misogyny (however those words are defined).

Christine Blower of the NUT liked it, and said parties standing for election should adopt its proposals. “This includes making it compulsory for all schools’ sex education policies to include a positive portrayal of same-sex relationships, promoting LGBT History Month in all schools, and encouraging schools to develop a curriculum that is inclusive of LGBT issues”.

In Scotland

Meanwhile, in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, as part of a plan on LGBT rights, has included a pledge to “Promote children’s health and well-being right throughout early years, primary and secondary education, so that all children and young people learn tolerance, respect, human rights, equality, good citizenship, to address and prevent prejudice and about healthy relationships through refreshed, age-appropriate strategies and resources.”

David Robertson was not impressed:

“We are concerned that what is being proposed is not teaching children facts but indoctrinating them with a particular political/sexual philosophy.” The bottom line is that we are opposed to our state education system being used for social engineering and for foisting propaganda upon children. We believe that no one should be subject to bullying but that the way to combat bullying is to teach people respect for all human beings, not to indoctrinate children.”

And in California

Across the Atlantic, similar things are happening. In Bakersfield, California, a Baptist pastor called Chad Vegas, who had been a long-time (and highly respected) school board member, announced in July that he was not going to run for re-election.

He wrote a letter about his decision to his congregation, part of which reads

“Today, I sat in a meeting as our board voted to bring into our district policy the full spectrum of the LGBTQ agenda. I realized as I listened to the numerous legal justifications and requirements that board members uphold these deeply offensive and immoral laws that I can no longer serve in this role. I am a Christian pastor above all else. I could not vote for these policies. I can not remain on a board to enforce these policies. I spoke out against the board voting for this. I called on them to realize that they will answer to God on this vote, and they should fear Him more than the state. I did not prevail.

I plan to address further my own personal realization that government education has been hijacked as a cause for the indoctrination of your children in nihilism, hedonism, and atheism. I will also address more my realization that I was naive not to think this was the only direction government education could go.”

Note those words: “government education has been hijacked as a cause for the indoctrination of your children in nihilism, hedonism, and atheism.”

He was asked by thousands of people to reconsider his decision not to run for re-election. In response, part of what he said was this:

The State and Federal governments have co-opted your local schools. They mean to indoctrinate your children in their radical secularism. They mean to cause your children, and Christian teachers and administrators, to bow to their sex gods. I simply can’t be part of enforcing that.

It is now law in CA that your children must be taught how to have safe homosexual sex, how to obtain an abortion, and that gender does not correspond to biological sex. Think of that! It is legally required to teach your children the LGBTQ sexual mores while simultaneously illegal to mention God.

And he added: “We must wake up to the reality of where our state has headed. We must prepare the church to live as sojourners in a foreign land, a land that feels more foreign by the day. We need to help parents find alternatives to public schools as they disciple their children.” 

What are schools for?

This all raises the question: “Is that what schools are for?” In fact, it raises the even more basic question “What are schools for, anyway?”   One starting point is the National Curriculum which Jeremy Corbyn referred to.

It was introduced by the Education Reform Act of 1988, by the Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher. According to the 2004 edition of the secondary teachers’ handbook to the curriculum, “The school curriculum will aim to promote pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and prepare all pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of life.”

That includes, among other things,

The school curriculum should pass on enduring values, develop pupils’ integrity and autonomy and help them to be responsible and caring citizens capable of contributing to the development of a just society.

It should promote equal opportunities and enable pupils to challenge discrimination and stereotyping.

It should develop their awareness and understanding of, and respect for, the environments in which they live, and secure their commitment to sustainable development at a personal, local, national and global level.

In other words, the curriculum includes teaching pupils about what is right and what is wrong; it is about teaching them values.

And to be honest, schools have always taught values; they have always taught pupils about what is right and what is wrong. A lot of the time, that is not controversial.

golden-rules

Many primary schools teach children “Golden Rules” – which most people would consider completely uncontroversial – things like “We are honest: we don’t cover up the truth” and “We look after property: we don’t waste or damage things”.

And these are not simply taught as school rules; most if not all primary school teachers would believe that these are universal truths that apply out of school, and not just in school. And that belief would surely come over in what they say to their pupils.

Indoctrination?

So – when teachers speak to pupils about being honest and looking after property, are they involved in indoctrination? The answer is that they most certainly are. Indeed, originally, the word “indoctrinate” simply meant “to teach”. These days, to indoctrinate means to teach someone to accept a belief uncritically. And I think that most primary school teachers would teach children to accept uncritically that one should be honest, and that one look after property.

In other words, education has always involved indoctrination. The only question is “What values and beliefs are children indoctrinated in?”  For of course the values of parents may not be the same as the values of the teacher.

What is becoming clear  (whether one is in England, Scotland, or California), is that governments increasingly take the view that it is their duty to determine the values which children are to be indoctrinated in. Furthermore, they do not just see state schools as places where children are taught about mathematics, grammar, history, and science. They see state schools as places where children should be taught values – the values that will make children fit with their vision of what a citizen should be.

In a sense, it has long been accepted that schools should teach children appropriate values. But two things are changing.  One is that politicians increasingly think it is their job to declare what those values are.  The other is the values themselves: the values that politicians hold and proclaim today are not the same as the values that politicians held 50 or 100 years ago. And for those who hold to traditional Christian values as taught in the Bible, that is a major concern.

That is why David Robertson says “We are concerned that what is being proposed is not teaching children facts but indoctrinating them with a particular political/sexual philosophy.”

That is why Chad Vegas says “Government education has been hijacked as a cause for the indoctrination of your children in nihilism, hedonism, and atheism.”

The idea that rulers should have the power to decide which values children would be taught is a fairly recent one. Today, many people simply accept it uncritically. But is that what Christians should think?

The Bible does not specifically answer that question – largely because in Biblical times everyone would simply have assumed that children would be brought up by their parents and taught the values of their parents. No one would have dreamed that rulers would have the power to indoctrinate children, though some philosophers might have dreamed about it.

But just suppose, for a minute, that one had been present at the Council of Jerusalem, described in chapter 15 of Acts, when there was an important gathering of apostles and elders. And suppose, with all those leading Christians present, someone had asked “Do you think it would be a good idea if Caesar set up schools throughout the empire, where all children could be instructed in reading and writing and arithmetic, and taught the values that Caesar wanted them to be taught?”

I think there can be no doubt that not only would the answer have been “no”, but that the apostles and elders would have been horrified by such a suggestion.

And yet, oddly enough, many people in the church today seem to accept such a situation as completely normal.

The terrible consequences of British folly in Libya

A few months ago, I wrote about the way that government action so often achieves exactly the opposite of what was intended.

This past week has provided another vivid illustration of that, in the publication of the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report on Britain’s military intervention in Libya five years ago – a report that has widely been described as scathing.

The result of the French, British and US intervention that took place in 2011, the report finds, “was political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of ISIL [Islamic State] in north Africa”.

According to the chairman of the committee, Crispin Blunt, “we had no proper appreciation of what was going to happen in the event of regime change, no proper understanding of Libya, and no proper plan for the consequences.”

In other words, the government hadn’t a clue what it was doing.

Perhaps the most memorable bit of the report is where Sir Alan Duncan, a serving Foreign Office minister, is quoted as describing the plans for postwar planning as ‘fanciful rot’.

What happened in Libya?

In 2011, as part of the “Arab Spring”, there was an uprising in Libya against the rule of Muammar Gaddafi, which turned into a civil war. NATO intervened on the side of the rebels, and the civil war came to an end with the fall of Gaddafi. Shortly afterwards, David Cameron visited Tripoli and Benghazi with the then French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, receiving a hero’s welcome. It looked like it was a great success.

A year after Cameron’s visit, however, the American ambassador and three others were killed in an attack by Islamists in Benghazi. And it was pretty much all downhill for Libya after that. The political situation continued to decline, and a second civil war started in 2014 which is still ongoing.

One of the most chilling and poignant events was the murder by ISIS of 30 Christians in February 2015. They were kidnapped, paraded, and beheaded simply for being Christian. One by one, they were urged repeatedly to recant their faith in Christ. Not one did. In the first YouTube recording, one is heard saying in Arabic, “Jesus, my life is in your hands,” as he felt the knife on his neck. The man beside said, “Amen.”

The mother of one of the young men was interviewed on TV a few days later. She was asked what she wanted done to the murderers. Sobbing, she said: “We forgive them and pray for the Lord’s mercy for them and for their families .” The interviewer, a secularist Muslim, afterwards commented: “Now I understand how Christians take to heart the glorious words of Jesus about loving one’s enemies and forgiving those who persecute them.”

But the problems caused by NATO’s intervention are not just being felt in Libya itself. Hence the recent article in the Independent entitled “How David Cameron’s intervention in Libya is fuelling war and terror around the world.”  

It is, however, greatly to Britain’s credit that the House of Commons has published this report. Daniel Larison (contrasting the UK with the US) comments:

At least there is some attempt at reviewing the errors of the Libyan war in the U.K., and Cameron is being belatedly called to account for them. There has been and will be no such effort made in Congress, and the only thing that Clinton’s opponents seem interested in investigating is a lone attack that likely wouldn’t have happened had it not been for the wrongheaded intervention that she supported the previous year.

Do not put your trust in princes.

In other words, it looks suspiciously like this is yet another case of government doing something, and achieving exactly the opposite of what it hoped to achieve.

When I wrote in April about how government policy often achieves the opposite of what was intended, I was looking at health policy: the way that government advice on healthy eating in America and Britain may actually have caused British and American people to have less healthy diets.

But it seems to me that if it is bad when the foolishness of governments cause unfortunate consequences for their own people, it is surely worse when the foolishness of governments cause problems for people of other lands. After all, one could say that the British and American people elected their governments, so while it is not exactly fair that they suffer the consequences of the folly of their governments , there is an element of justice in it. However, it seems particularly unjust when the people of one nation suffer because of the folly of another nation’s government.

Furthermore, while it is foolish for governments to give out advice on health which is based on ignorance and bad information, it is much more serious when governments start bombing people as part of a policy based on ignorance and bad information.

I have said it before, but I’ll say it again: the schemes of governments often fail, and the actual consequence of policies is sometimes the opposite of the intended consequence. And yet people keep on seeing politicians as saviours. We really need to heed the warning of the psalmist (Psalm 146:3): “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men who cannot save.”

Yemen, political alliances, and the righteousness of nations

I’ve written before about my concerns about Saudi Arabia’s bombing of civilian targets in Yemen, including schools and hospitals, and the resulting deaths of men, women, and children.

But perhaps the most worrying thing about this is the involvement of the American and British governments. One form this has taken is that America and Britain are arming the Saudi government. That is not to say that the American and British government are selling (or giving) arms to Saudi Arabia – but they are allowing arms manufacturers to sell arms to the Saudi government, something that they would not be prepared to do for just any government. And this, in itself, virtually amounts to the American and British governments arming Saudi Arabia.

But it goes further than that. The New York Times wrote: “Mr. Obama has also supplied the [Saudi-led] coalition such indispensable assistance as intelligence, in-flight refuelling of aircraft and help in identifying appropriate targets.” Hmmm.

Three months ago, it looked like the UN were going to seriously criticise Saudi actions in Yemen, but then it caved in to pressure to remove the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition from the UN’s list of states and armed groups that violate children’s rights in conflict.

According to Ray Offenheiser of Oxfam,

“In June, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced that the U.N. had documented widespread abuses of children’s rights including the recruitment of 762 child soldiers, largely by the Houthis, and the killing of 785 children, mostly as a result of bombardment by the Saudi-led coalition.

Saudi Arabia promptly insisted that the U.N. remove it from the report’s blacklist and threatened to cut off relations with and funding for the U.N. if it did not comply. Amazingly, and to the U.N.’s great discredit, the threat succeeded.

It is tempting to view the U.N.’s betrayal of Yemeni children exclusively as a failure of the U.N.’s leadership, but this incident is not an anomaly. For over a year, powerful U.N. member states have helped insulate the Saudi-led coalition from culpability and, in so doing, fuelled its righteous outrage at attempts to hold it to account. Since its intervention in Yemen began over 15 months ago, the coalition has found the U.N. a highly convenient venue in which to be absolved of human rights abuses—thanks largely to the enabling of Saudi Arabia’s powerful allies, the U.S. and the U.K.”

In other words, Saudi Arabia was committing war crimes, and the U.S. and U.K. governments were doing what they could to protect Saudi Arabia from being criticised.

Journalist Daniel Larison put it this way:

“The Obama administration and Cameron’s government have not only provided the Saudi-led coalition with the means to pummel and starve Yemen, but they have gone out of their way to make sure that the coalition’s wrongdoing (and their complicity in it) is covered up as much as possible. The Saudis have worked hard to whitewash the coalition’s record, and in this Washington and London (among others) have given them significant help. “

Actions have consequences

Politically speaking, what is happening in Yemen is not actually helpful for the US.  Reuters reports that the Saudis’ bombing campaign has had the effect of greatly strengthening al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.  Meanwhile, Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, commented  “If you talk to Yemenis, they will tell you that inside Yemen this is not perceived to be a Saudi bombing campaign, this is a US bombing campaign.  What’s happening is we are helping to radicalize the Yemeni population against the United States.”  Put those two things together, and they spell long-term trouble for America.

But aside from the practical consequences of the Saudi action, there is a more basic issue: the US and the UK seem to be complicit in war crimes. And I do not just say that the US and the UK governments: I think that one could go beyond that and argue that since the US and the UK are both democracies, and since what has been going on in Yemen is no secret, but has been widely reported for several months (though not on newspaper front pages or in TV news bulletins), then it looks like the US and the UK as nations have blood on their hands. And one is reminded of the words of the book of Proverbs (14:34): “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.”

It’s about alliances

The question is “Why have the US and UK governments been behaving like this?” And the answer is “Because the Saudis are our allies.” For decades, the Saudi regime has kept on the right side of the US and the UK, unlike most other governments in the Arab world. Throughout the Cold War, Saudi Arabia was reliably pro-western. When the US decided to intervene after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, it depended on Saudi cooperation. And of course, without the cooperation of Saudi Arabia, the 2003 invasion of Iraq could not have gone ahead. The US was not about to do anything that would threaten their relationship with Saudi Arabia.

In other words, this is all about political alliances. And political alliances have a habit of having very unhappy side effects. The point is that political alliances are not simply about goodwill and friendship, despite the language that is often used about them. They are about power, and often lead countries to do things that they would never do if it were not for the obligations that alliance brings. Just go back 100 years, and consider World War I. The shooting of one man in Sarajevo led to just about every nation in Europe (and some outside Europe) getting involved in a conflict that led to at least 10 million violent deaths. But it was not so much the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand that led to the devastation of much of Europe – it was the political alliances that were in place at the time.

Political alliances and the Bible

Political alliances are, of course, not new. They existed in Old Testament times. The kingdoms of Israel and Judah were very much involved in political alliances – alliances which often involved military cooperation in the face of threats from common enemies. However, the forging of these political alliances by the kingdoms of Israel and Judah is rarely seen as a good thing in the Old Testament.

In I Kings 15, we read the unedifying story about how the two Israelite kingdoms, Israel and Judah, were at war with each other. But what was worse was that the king of Judah then made an alliance with the king of Syria, and paid him to attack the kingdom of Israel. In other words, we have an alliance which meant some of God’s own people were paying pagans to attack another group of God’s own people.

“There was war between Asa and Baasha king of Israel throughout their reigns. Baasha king of Israel went up against Judah and fortified Ramah to prevent anyone from leaving or entering the territory of Asa king of Judah. Asa then took all the silver and gold that was left in the treasuries of the LORD’s temple and of his own palace. He entrusted it to his officials and sent them to Ben-Hadad son of Tabrimmon, the son of Hezion, the king of Aram, who was ruling in Damascus. “Let there be a treaty between me and you,” he said, “as there was between my father and your father. See, I am sending you a gift of silver and gold. Now break your treaty with Baasha king of Israel so he will withdraw from me.” Ben-Hadad agreed with King Asa and sent the commanders of his forces against the towns of Israel. He conquered Ijon, Dan, Abel Beth Maacah and all Kinnereth in addition to Naphtali. “

The prophets warned that these alliances were not something that God wanted them to do, and that the results would be militarily disastrous. Hence we read in Isaiah 30:

“Woe to the obstinate children,” declares the LORD, “to those who carry out plans that are not mine, forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit, heaping sin upon sin; who go down to Egypt without consulting me; who look for help to Pharaoh’s protection, to Egypt’s shade for refuge. But Pharaoh’s protection will be to your shame, Egypt’s shade will bring you disgrace.

These alliances often led to actions which were spiritually disastrous. Hence the case of Solomon’s wives, as recorded in I Kings 11.

“King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been.”

And why was Solomon marrying all these foreign women? Well, the significant thing is that Solomon wasn’t marrying just any foreign women. He was marrying the daughters of kings. And it all started with Pharaoh’s daughter: I Kings 3:1 “Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt and married his daughter.” This is about political alliances. And the point is that political alliances invariably involve compromises – including compromises of principle.

Indeed, the prophet Jeremiah (22:20-22) calls Judah’s allies her ‘lovers’.

“Go up to Lebanon, and cry out, and lift up your voice in Bashan; cry out from Abarim, for all your lovers are destroyed. I spoke to you in your prosperity, but you said, ‘I will not listen.’ This has been your way from your youth, that you have not obeyed my voice. The wind shall shepherd all your shepherds, and your lovers shall go into captivity; then you will be ashamed and confounded because of all your evil.”

In many modern Bible translations, the word ‘allies’ is used. (Hence, in the NIV, “your lovers are destroyed” becomes “your allies are crushed”) But that misses the point that is brought out in the more literal translations that there is something dubious and illegitimate about these political alliances.

The Bible is unremittingly negative about the political alliances made by the kings of Judah and Israel in the Middle East in ancient times.  That, I believe, should warn us of the dangers of political alliances in the Middle East (and not just in the Middle East) in our own day. For these alliances could result in nations such as the US and the UK having innocent blood on their hands.

UPDATE: When I posted this, I had not seen the exchange between Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May in the House of Commons this week, in which Theresa May said (and the linked article in The Independent is worth reading) “Actually, what matters is the strength of our relationship with Saudi Arabia. When it comes to counter-terrorism and dealing with terrorism, it is that relationship that has helped to keep people on the streets of Britain safe.”

I think that what I wrote above is all the comment that is needed.  But I will add that I was absolutely horrified.