Yesterday morning we took Elisha to John Logie Baird primary school in order to enroll her for the term starting in August 2010. I had wanted to go along to speak to the head teacher after he’d said in the introduction meeting the week before that we could then ask questions specific to our child.
On that day I’d seen displays hung on the walls of the assembly hall, created by classes from each year. What got my attention was not the colourful work done by year 2 – a mural showing Dumbo the Elephant flying over some clowns, but the work done by year 1 showing the Christian story of creation.
Religious theology seemed a bit deep for year one, when year two was getting taught about flying elephants and clowns, so I made up my mind that I was going to question the head teacher regarding the level of religious agenda pushed upon the children at our follow-up meeting.
It turns out I was right to be wary, as he explained this morning that the children had a Monday morning assembly where they sung hymns and said a prayer, and an assembly most Wednesday afternoons that was conducted by a religious visitor from one of the local churches.
I knew immediately that neither saying a prayer to the invisible, almighty overseer at the start of a school week, nor the mid-week indoctrination session were the kind of thing I want Elisha to be exposed to. I told the head teacher that I was surprised and disappointed at the situation, as I didn’t think a non-denominational school would push Christianity to such an extent.
Especially surprising to me was the revelation of the Wednesday assemblies with Christian representatives coming in from outside the school for 20-30 minute sessions. That’s reinforcement of a specific religious belief if ever I’ve heard it, and I’m uncomfortable with the idea of my daughter being exposed to – let’s face it – indoctrination masquerading as education.
It was explained that the way the school operates was dependant on the local area authority and on the ethnic make-up of the surrounding area. Argyll and Bute council deems Helensburgh to be an area populated by white people who are likely to be Christian.
Unfortunately, from my perspective, this is fairly accurate. In Ghostbusters, when Venkman says “Nobody steps on a church in my town!” after Mr Stay Puft treads on a house of worship (or rather, doesn’t – the special effects for that scene are notoriously poor), it’s just lucky the film wasn’t set in my home town or the marshmallow man wouldn’t have been able to move for the bloody things.
So the local authority expects that the kids will be white and Christian and tells the schools that’s what they should deliver – more of the same. I knew all of this of course (been there, been subjected to that), but had held out hope after seeing the technology used in the classrooms that such a modern, forward-thinking school would be above blanket religious policy. It seems not.
The head teacher said they could try to accomodate our needs, and suggested things like having Elisha wait outside the assembly hall on a Monday morning while the rest sung their hymns and said their prayers, then wheeled her in after five minutes. Which is both absurd and ridiculous.
What I don’t want is for her to feel excluded from doing things the rest of her class are doing. On a Wednesday afternoon Elisha could be getting quality time on the classroom laptops with the other non-religious kids (there are bound to be others). Or maybe spending time on creative tasks she enjoys, or even brushing up on the stuff she’s not so good at.
But I do feel angry and frustrated at the local authority for having handed down a policy that promotes religious intonations first thing on a Monday morning. At that age the kids are too young to understand the long lasting, guilt fuelled affect on them that religious propaganda has. Not to mention that if their parents have true convictions regarding Christianity, the children will have spent hours in Sunday School the day before getting biblical stories dished up to them by the holy plate full.
I’m hoping we can work something out with the school so that Elisha can have the opportunity to enjoy a constructive alternative to the state-mandated worship periods without feeling like she’s being excluded when she’s done nothing wrong.
Yet, to be brutally honest, that almost feels like a futile notion, given the place and privilege enjoyed by religion in our society.