New Internationalist

Faith schools debate

Our May 2009 edition on Multiculturalism will be released soon. It’s a subject on which people have strong opinions and on which ‘experts’ endlessly split hairs. One controversial feature of contemporary cultural diversity are faith schools, especially when they receive state support. We decided to run a piece in which a former student spoke about her experiences, voicing her own particular perspective.

Have a read of the article and then let us know what you think by leaving a comment below. 

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  1. #1 Jenny 28 Apr 09

    Oh dear!

    At the start of the article I had some sympathy for faith schools but Laura McAllister may just have convinced me against them! So is it not possible to be homosexual and a Christian? As an ordained presbyter working with two gay ordained colleagues and a lesbian student minister all with a sincere Christian faith and a depth of spirituality, hers is just the sort of attitude that I would not want promulgated and cannot accept.

  2. #2 HalimaB 30 Apr 09

    in two minds

    I was rather sympathetic with the article apart from 2 worries - the ’love the sinner’ comment about homosexuality, and the idea of ’believe’ in evolution.
    both of those could be overlooked to some extent if the teaching really is as open as suggested. I am not religious, but accept that religion does bring comfort to millions of people. But - it is a belief system and when it conflicts with facts, I have a problem. Homosexuality is real, and not a ’lifestyle choice’ - sexuality is far more complex, in any case then the lables heterosexual or homosexual imply. fact.
    Evolution is not a ’theory’ in the was suggested. It is a fact. The ’holes’ are not doubts of that fact, only phases and mechanisms within it. Creationism is not science. Other than that I have no problem with religion. But I do find this a more subtle way of imposing a worldview as Truth, and am very, very wary of it.

  3. #3 munner 30 Apr 09

    Separate Schools

    I live in Richmond, BC, Canada. I drive down a road every day that has a Chinese school, a Muslim school, a Christian school,and a Public school. I can't help but think that these children are being isolated from each other, just like their families are by clustering in the same neighbourhood!! It is possible to live in a neighbourhood and never have to speak English. We are robbing our children of the chance to mingle with other cultures and to learn more about them first hand. Separate schools lead to a divided community and eventually to a divided country. We already have violent gangs based to a large extent on their ethnic origin!

  4. #4 Brian Fink 30 Apr 09

    Evolution and Homosexuality in Faith School

    The article is fascinating, and it's refreshing to read a mostly relaxed perspective on an otherwise controversial subject. I do, however, have a couple reservations about the material:

    1) Laura, in her opening statement, said, ’...the teachers had that Christian perspective: that God has created all these different things for us to study. Maths and science are parts of the character of God...’ Then, later, after NI introduced the matter of evolution, Laura said, ’At least at Chairo we looked at evolution as theory and looked at intelligent design as being the truth because when you compare them there are a lot of holes in evolution that you can't explain.’ So, if God created all the subjects of study, did he create this putative theory of evolution, too? I gather, from her clear distinctions between the two (’theory’ vs. ’truth’) that evolution, if taught as a scientific theory, was done so with a smirk and in passing.

    The fact is, if truth is what you want, then you ought to consult your priest. Science is a vastly updated database of records and observations with contributions made every second -- it does not claim to know the truth about our origins, but attempts to explain them logically. Consider the progressively updated age of our ancestors: they keep getting older and older.

    2) Laura's casual response to the sex education question surprised me. Discussing this topic of faith schools is new to me, and isn't one I've invested much thought into. I had the myopic notion that faith schools wouldn't dare touch the topic of sex education, and if they did, it would be so matter-of-fact as to sterilize the whole human experience of it. Therefore, when Laura answered the question with ease, and commented on the pleasurable aspect of it, I felt humbled. It pleased me to read this part.

    That pleasure, however, didn't last long. Laura's acceptance of homosexuals was very reminiscent of the United States' ’Separate but Equal’ policy of race relations between the whites and blacks. History has shown us the consequence of that.

    This topic alone can spur a completely separate debate about the validity of a homo-/tran-/bisexual's creed. For now, I won't go there.

    I think that Laura summarizes her school's true attitude toward homosexuality when she says, ’Sure, from attitudes projected they might have felt uncomfortable from their own insecurities...’ Attitudes projected by WHO? Her teachers and pupils. Insecurity: why? Because of these attitudes.

    While Laura probably transferred to her secular university with a moral uprightness rare among her fellow pupils, with competency in math and reading, I am still dubious of the school's integrity as it pertains to critical insight of oneself and one's culture, whatever that culture may be.

  5. #5 Maria Consuelo Spera 30 Apr 09

    I feel there is a huge mess around the subject

    I am a catholic born girl , but i do not think of myself as a catholic person anymore.
    Italian schools have always had this drive for catholisism but when you start to approach the wider world, you understand religion is something people cling on to for their hopes to come true.
    I remember reading plenty of archeological based magazines and finding out that cavemen carved out the figure of a woman to rappresent the planet they were living ant it raised my curiosity.
    I know that in todays societies religion is used to coerce people to rage wars against others .
    Besides there are many views i do not share with the Roman Catholic Church:
    the way they look at the homosexual community
    their wanting to impose their laws on our STATE
    the statments made against the use of condoms.
    When Moazzam Begg was released from GUANTANAMO i bought his book. My understanding is that he was brought up by learning other people's faiths to respect HUMAN BEINGS.I wish my dad had brought me up in the same way

  6. #6 knowlsy 30 Apr 09

    My experience of a Catholic school in the UK was fantastic, we weren't taught the pseudo science 'creationism', sex education whad no 'catholic angle' and the staff we're gay, streight, christian, of other, or no faith.

    So what was christian about it you may be wondering? I think it was the attitude of much of the staff, their care, consideration, and the love they had. Of course this isn't confined to faith schools, but I have found it's made explicit and tends to be more present in the catholic school's i've been to compaired to the state schools (I used to do youthwork bits so have spent much time in both)

    This is something i've always found in the many masses i've been too, never have the priests homilies been about the wrongs of homosexuality, scathing sex before marriage, they're all about how you treat people, and how you should with love and kindness. It tends to be when things get more evangelical that this stuff comes in... check out Allports work on the psychology of religion [a href=’’]

    I know plenty of gay catholics, the consensus seems to be that it's not incompatible with faith at all, and the biggots are biggots anyway, and they use religion as an excuse to wrongly voice their opinion. If you can find some stuff on Allport, Cygnar or Altemeyer and Hunsberger on religion and prejudice, that shows this division up pretty well.

    Of course the big difficulty is with faith schools, how do you have a school focused one community enough to for a sense of belonging to develop, but then have a good appreciation and understanding of (that you get from mixing with) other cultures?

  7. #7 Vera Gottlieb 30 Apr 09

    Teaching religion should be left to churches and/or theological centres, whatever their denomination. Singling out leads to discrimination and this in turn leads to unrest.

  8. #8 Leigh 30 Apr 09

    Dubious journalism by the NI individual:

    1. No mention of non-evangelical Christian schools - Catholic, Anglican, UCA and Lutheran are rather significant non-evangelical schools (excluding the Sydney Anglican Diocese).

    2. NI: ’Faith schools teach creationism’ shows a selective understanding of faith schools.

    3. Yes, homosexuals have had and still do have a hard time in many churches. That is changing, sadly too slowly. It's slow work exorcising old ghosts.

  9. #9 Kevin McCready 30 Apr 09

    Is Anti-science Anti-Christ?

    Sad, very sad. Laura has obviously not had an education if she still believes in creationism.

    Kevin McCready

  10. #10 David 01 May 09

    Looks like people out there are still arguing about faith, culture and values etc etc. I am thankful that I work in a truly international school that appears to be beyond these arguments. Look at

  11. #13 B. Weenink 20 May 09

    Kudos for Laura!

    She has expressed herself so well! We appreciated phrases like...a Christian Christian foundations in their children...God has created all these different things for us to study.----and closing with ’There are lots of different things that you are faced with, but knowing my purpose made it easier.’
    I felt that many of her critics did not have the multicultural sirit which was the theme of May's issue. To say that she is uneducated if she believes in creationism sounds like tunnel vision. It remins me of the Tower of Babel. ’Let's stick close together and all talk the same language.’
    We live in a pluralistic society with variety and choice. Our forefather's chose to found Canada on Christian principles. Our national anthem includes the words,’God keep our land, glorious and free!.’ This is still our prayer.

  12. #14 Reuben P 22 May 09

    At the start of this article I thought that this woman was a well informed and intelligent person, the more I read the more I could not believe the low-level brainwashing that she had taken in. Her views on homosexuality and evolution/ science revealed how poor her education really was. I thought that the point she made about Evolution being a theory and ’intelligent design’ (whom see's this as intelligent)being the truth. Whilst I believe in evolution I would never be so arrogant as to say it was 100% unlike her, whom was 100% behind intelligent design.
    As I am a liberal whom would not stop anyone in having their own beliefs I welcome this article, espicaly as it highlights the inadiquices of faith schools and vindicate my views.
    Also I feel that she has never read the whole of the bible, if she had maybe she would see how out of touch it was and she could maybe explain how Christians can pick and choose which part of the bible they want to believe in! As many parts are clearly meant for people living over 2000 years ago! Just look up what it says about women menstruating!

  13. #15 Tuckeroo 22 May 09

    I first welcomed sweet Laura's gentle, winsome views but eventually they reached by moral sinews, cutting deeply. Whatever Laura says, 'Faith Schools' are wrong.

    Imagine: Apartheid South Africa (or the USA deep south) 50 years ago. Blacks are 'genetically inferior'. A 'Christian' school accepts them, demonstrating how much Jesus loves everyone (even blacks!).

    A black child attends, receiving rich intellectual and material benefits 'in God's name'. But every moment, she hears the moral message that shames her - unlike the rest, she is black - a destiny she never chose and for which she is not culpable.

    ’But we really love you, despite your inferiority. We're very good at loving inferior people. Be so grateful you're here in our caring school. You can't help being inferior, but God's people can make you feel good despite it’.

    Fast-forward to now, and Laura's school. 'Black' becomes 'gay' or lesbian; the Bible stigmatises them as morally inferior. But this school ’loves the sinner’. How patronisingly self-righteous! If it really were love it would acknowledge their dignity as full members of the human race.

    It is an evil pretence. You don't demonise people then say you love them. The stage is being set for life-pervading, agonising, personal shame, with potentially appalling consequences. Young Australian gays' and lesbians' suicide attempt rate is four times that of heterosexuals and occurs much earlier - 15 years on average. Faith schools are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

  14. #16 23 May 09

    Scary she's now a teacher

    At the worst, faith schools and communities are a means of maintaining and reinforcing beliefs and attitudes that would not otherwise withstand the light of reason and true compassion.

    Laura's answers to questions about homosexuality and evolution confirms in my mind that she had been served a large dollop of religious propaganda rather than facts.

    ’Hate the sin, love the sinner’ is a trite hypocrisy that can only possibly seem reasonable to someone who have never been at the receiving end of prejudice. How could anyone call homosexuality a sin, and still claim to be non-judgemental? Condemn the person, then turn around and blame them for their insecurities!

    There are gaps in the science of evolution, as there are in any science, but nothing compared to the gaping holes in creationist fantasies. Intelligent design simply looks at the gaps in scientific knowledge and say ’Ahah! They can't (yet) explain that scientifically, therefore a supernatural agent (God) MUST be responsible.’ It is a tragedy that this nonsense is allowed to masquerade as science in the classroom.

    Sadly, this woman is in turn serving the same religious propaganda to a new generation.

  15. #17 Gerry 20 Jul 09

    Catholic and Public Schools

    I am a Catholic currently teaching in a public high school. Most of my experience and training, however, has been in Catholic schools.

    In order to understand what a Catholic school is, one must first focus on the word ’Catholic’, which means universal. A truly Catholic school must be universal. It is therefore to be open to students from any socio-economic background, and any ethnic or religious background. One of my most memorable experiences as a teacher in a Catholic school was when one of my Sikh students invited the class to the local temple. It was a wonderful field trip. I was always humbled by the fact that my Sikh students were so open to learning Catholic teachings and traditions, and this was an opportunity to further build understanding and respect between our two faith communities.

    Catholic schools are supported by solid, official church teachings which view and lovingly accept every student as a precious child of God. These ideals, unfortunately, are not always followed by Catholic schools. This provides a challenge which the Catholic community needs to continually address.

    I cannot comment on the ideals of other faith schools, but I do support their right to exist. I believe that my province of British Columbia, Canada, addresses the issue fairly. Any school that meets certain standards has the right to partial funding from the province.

    I really enjoy my current teaching position in a public high school. The ultimate goal of both public and Catholic schools is to bring to fruition the gifts present in each child. The sharing of our successes in achieving this goal is to the benefit of all.

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About the author

Dinyar Godrej a New Internationalist contributor

Dinyar Godrej has been associated with New Internationalist since 1989, but joined as an editor in 2000. His interest in human rights has led him to focus on subjects like world hunger, torture, landmines, present day slavery and healthcare. His belief in listening to people who seldom get a chance to represent themselves led to unorthodox editions on (and by) street children and people with disabilities from the Majority World. He grew up in India and remains engaged with South Asian affairs.

Dinyar wrote the original No-Nonsense Guide to Climate Change (2001) and edited Fire In The Soul (2009).

An early fascination with human creative endeavour endures. He has recently taken to throwing pots in his free time.

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