What is it about parents of schoolchildren in my part of Kent? They seem to be perpetually ‘concerned’. The front page of my local paper is emblazoned with the headline ‘Grammar girls told “abortion is wrong”,’ a story about parents’ complaints following a Year 11 RE lesson in which abortion was discussed. It seems their 15-year-old daughters were given a ‘one-sided’ view on termination during what the local paper has decided to term ‘the controversial lesson’.
Only last month there was a bit of a to-do when a Church of England primary school in the neighbouring town (oh all right, Tunbridge Wells again) had mums and dads apparently moaning about something similar. It turned out that parents felt that Crossteach, a Christian group invited into the school, had been upsetting children by teaching them about sin. One parent is quoted as saying that the little ones were told that if they did not believe in God, they ‘would not go to a good place when they died’, that ‘men can’t marry men’ and that there was some sort of destruction of a model boat during an assembly to demonstrate the power of God. We can’t know if this was actually said or done, or how ideas were expressed, short of a recording being produced. The result anyway is that the group which these parents describe as ‘extremist’ and promoting ‘potentially damaging ideology’ has been banned from the school. Head teacher Dan Turvey was forced by these campaigning parents to put out a letter explaining that Crossteach would no longer be leading school assemblies or taking any lessons. Mr Turvey said in a statement that he was ‘deeply saddened’ by having to take the step and Crossteach did not ‘deserve the tarnishing of their good name and allegations of extremism’.
Crossteach happens to be the education charity that has landed itself in hot water at the grammar school as well, this time over what it might have been saying about abortion. Once again ‘a concerned parent who did not wish to be named’ (funny how they never feel they can stand up and be counted for what is so alarming them at schools they’ll have fought tooth and nail to get their children into) said the girls were told ‘abortion was wrong in all circumstances bar one – when both the mother and child’s life is at risk – there was no attempt to give a balanced view.’
Tonbridge Grammar School head Rosemary Joyce was clear on her position. She insisted the students were made aware that the visitors were speaking from a faith perspective and that there would have been the opportunity to question and challenge this perspective within the lesson and with their class teacher. She added, furthermore, that ‘no parent has raised concerns with us about the matter’. Crossteach has said it received positive feedback about the lesson, it was unaware of any complaint to the school, it is the school that sets the learning objectives, lesson plans are sent to schools in advance and lessons always included an opportunity for debate. It emphasised that debate was crucial ‘because it is always a curriculum aim for students to be able to justify their own views and respond to the views of others.’ Indeed.
The trouble is that articulating and explaining one’s view and responding to another view is becoming an ever-rarer possibility. Why? Because in the excitable, feverish world of social media where all now seem to exist and are constantly on the edge of outrage, scorn and malice, there is no room or inclination for the quite frankly tedious effort it takes to engage in debate. Why would you want to? It takes time. You need to listen, you need to think, you need to put together your own argument. Yeah, yeah. Whatever. You know your view, you know that other people who think differently to you are just bigots with hateful messages, so fire off your outrage in a few proddings on your hand-held device, whip it all up a bit, then get on to the local paper so that it can splash your unnamed fury all over the front page. Trial by media. Remind us of anything else currently happening?
Pity poor old Crossteach. All it has done is respond positively to a couple of schools around here and deliver a few specific RE lessons and assemblies in a C of E primary school with a bit of, well, Christianity. Why is it being invited to do this? Presumably because the teaching staff themselves find these matters a little too awkward. Blimey, it’d be more than your job’s worth to start on the God question. Just think about all that bother nowadays about using old-fashioned binary terms such as ‘girls’ or ‘women’.
Crossteach describes itself as a ‘charitable organisation that seeks to represent the historical Christian faith in a school setting’. So it does not hide, one assumes, the fact that it might mention things like forgiveness, sin, Judas, miracles, oh and perhaps a man called Jesus. Given that it is a Christian charity and students are aware of it as such, it is entirely reasonable it should offer its own view that there can only rarely be justification for the deliberate killing of the unborn child. By and large it sees that abortion is wrong. Some people agree with that position and some disagree with it. The point is that this is Crossteach’s position.
This does not mean it wishes not to explore ideas with young people in debate. Common sense tells us this is not what happened. The bright fifteen-year-old girls were in all likelihood shocked and disturbed by what they learned and were urged to think about concerning abortion (trigger warning: abortion is shocking and disturbing), so much so that they mentioned it later at home. Cue the Facebook/WhatsApp mums and dads all wound up about their progeny being asked to get their heads around difficult subjects, their daughters being smuggled the ‘wrong’ view. There is no wrong view. There are just views. Some of them well argued, some of them not.
There are those who feel that religion has no place in schools. They would see an end to all acts of religious worship, a ban on the wearing of any items with religious associations and faith schools of any kind being outlawed. That’s fine. So long as one takes a wholly consistent line, that is an entirely reasonable position. What is not fine or, in the modern parlance, what is not ok, is the downright hypocrisy of parents I keep hearing about around here. The kind of parents who know what it takes and can do what it takes to gain the advantages of a C of E primary or a traditional (leading) grammar-school education for their youngsters. Exactly what is it about the word ‘Christian’ that they do not get? Exactly what is it about the term ‘Church of England Primary School’ that they cannot quite compute? Who knows? This, however, was the comment from one (again unnamed) parent from that particular primary school. ‘No one minds Nativity plays and Bible stories but considering most of the parents at the school aren’t practising Christians, I think the feeling is that it is all too much . . . if you want your children raised as Christians there are plenty of Sunday schools.’ You couldn’t make it up.