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Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Together and apart

A lesson – should one be needed – in the lunacy of forced superstition in schools comes to us from Sheffield in Yorkshire, where the headmistress of a primary school is accused of racism for scrapping an assembly that was for Muslims only. (Yes, racism – that idiotic conflation of race and religion again.)

Julia Robinson inherited the silly two-assemblies practice when she took over at Meersbrook Bank Primary School, where the majority of pupils are white British. So she ordered a review.

About a fifth of the kids are from ethnic minorities, and a weekly assembly just for Muslims was being led by a parent.

So she set up a working group to look at alternatives. This was on local authority advice, according to a story in the UK’s Daily Telegraph.

Robinson told staff she wanted assemblies to suit all faiths (I would add “or none” – in other words, superstition-free gatherings held to discuss important matters – but I guess you can’t have everything).

But a number of parents complained. She’s now resigned.

A sympathetic member of her staff said Robinson had done all she could to bring about assemblies to suit everyone (except the nonreligious, it seems). She did the right thing and took advice from the local education authority, but, when she tried to stop the assemblies, she was accused of being a racist.

No prizes for guessing which religion the complaining parents were from.

Doesn’t this just make the case for getting religion out of schools altogether? Crises like this can probably be found – but with less attendant publicity – in schools throughout the country.

Simply keeping religion out of schools (except as an academic subject) would solve the problem in one fell swoop. Assemblies can bring about community cohesion only if everyone who takes part is singing from the same song sheet.

And that song sheet should be about matters that affect the school, that affect the kids’ lives and their education and their community. It should allow kids to explore what holds them together, to share thoughts, to hear school announcements, to make suggestions about how their school is run and feel they are making a contribution and playing a part, whatever – not having totally useless mumbo-jumbo forced down their throats.

Instead, there was a separate assembly for a handful of the children of Muslim parents and another one for mainly kids who don’t give a monkey’s, with perhaps a few Christians in the mix somewhere – assuming kids of that age are yet able to grapple with the ideas that go to form a religion and can actually be said to be Christian.

Surely, this situation strengthens the case that, even for the children of religion-soaked parents, a nonreligious assembly is best.

And of course there’s the very obvious fact that having two assemblies rather goes against the idea of having an assembly at all. What is the point of an assembly if the school doesn’t assemble – in its entirety?

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