What are they teaching my kids?
Rob Deering is unimpressed by his local primary school's reliance on lazy, default Christianity
I have a son who’s six and a daughter who’s five, and they go to a secular primary school. In our fiercely competitive North London middle-class community it’s quite nice that the school, though much sought after, has a fuzzy, 1970s-ish Children’s Film Foundation vibe once you’re in. It’s like the primary school I went to, basically, which I like.
This term kicked off with Harvest Festival. I don’t know how they covered it, but my little girl came home chatting on about how God made everything. Her big brother loves dinosaurs, which is a nice spanner in the works, but he’s good to her, so the conversation went a bit like this: “God made everything in the world” – “Yes, including the dinosaurs” – “Yes, he made the dinosaurs extinct, because they wouldn’t bow down to him”. What the hell?
There are several things about this that offend me. There is that horrible sense of lazy cultural supremacy, where equality ends up meaning everyone should behave like a white middle-class Christian from the Home Counties; it makes me think of those old maths books – “Susan and Peter have twelve apples. If they give four to mother and four to father…” What if my name is Ramesh, or I’ve never met my father? It’s going to feel like my maths book is smirking at me, patronisingly, which is an unnecessary extra layer of harshness to add to what is already, let’s face it, maths.
The comedian Karl Spain has got a great bit about Ireland coming to terms with immigration that skewers this kind of not-quite-openmindedness: “Whether you’re Hindu, Muslim, Jewish or German, when it comes down to it we’re all Christians aren’t we?” My kids’ school has exactly this attitude.
My wife quoted my daughter as saying, “Christians are kind and give things to poor people; it’s what Harvest festival is,” and that she’d been learning about “our wonderful world, and Christians”. I can’t stomach the way Christianity claims all this stuff for itself – all kinds of people are kind and charitable; Harvest exists throughout all countries and cultures; the world is wonderful with or without frickin’ Jesus. They’re taking her lovey-dovey worldview and directing its golden beam at this belief system – she’s never come home saying, “Buddhists are kind and give things to poor people.”
I don’t think the school has planned this, and that irks me more than anything. I think I would have more respect for an evangelist teacher trying to indoctrinate my progeny into the true faith; I’d certainly find it easier to rail against. But it seems they’ve just wandered into it.
And there’s no going back. On TV you often see fictional children characterised as stupid. Whenever I see this I always assume that the writer doesn’t know any kids, because in my experience they’re never stupid, they just have less information at their disposal than grown-ups; often they’ll show their sharpest thinking in the mistakes they make, because they haven’t got all the facts. When they do find things out, that information sticks. You can almost see the enormous, blank notice board of their minds filling up with clear little announcements; if my son ever forgets what he told me, that “only nine people died in the Great Fire of London”, I’ll be very surprised. So when someone throws unchallenged Christianity into that mix, an opportunity is missed, a canvas has been spoiled – it’s a thoughtless footprint in the wet cement of their minds.
Now I want to complain to the school, but it’s hard to separate the two things; how can I show the school that what I’m offended by is not what they’ve taught my children, but how they taught it?
On past evidence, I’ll probably attempt to communicate this by being grumpy and not interacting with them at all. That’ll show them.