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.

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