Please Sir Can I Teach Nonsense?

So ‘faith schools’ want ‘exemption from new equality laws in order to carry on teaching that homosexuality is a sin’ do they. That’s interesting.

At the moment, many faith schools make children aware of different sexual practices, but underline that anything other than heterosexuality is a sin. In a submission to the unit, the CofE said that it would not wish to discriminate against pupils or parents on grounds of sexual orientation in the context of admissions or in disciplinary procedures. But it insisted that schools should be free to teach that homosexuality is at odds with the Bible.

Thus we see why the realm of education, if it is to be real education, has to be secular. It’s like politics in that way. Because ‘education’ has to mean teaching things that there is good reason to believe are at least approximately true. That means public, sharable reasons have to be given for them, or capable of being given for them. (Yes, even in literature classes. That’s why our teachers always asked for more evidence – quotations – on our papers and exams, remember? They were teaching us to back up our claims.) ‘Teaching’ that homosexuality is a sin doesn’t fit that description. It’s meaningless except in religious terms, hence it’s not teachable except within a religion, hence it’s not education properly understood. Claims that are based purely on faith and nothing else aren’t really education. It’s deceptive advertising to call them education.

But what about morals and values, ‘faith’ fans will squeak. Yes but even morals and values require something more than ‘because god’ if you’re going to teach them to everyone. And if you’re not what is the point? What is the point of parochial group morality? Good morality should be universal and crap morality should be done away with. If ‘because god’ is all you have, you can’t call that education, because it isn’t. Even religious people admit this, often defensively – they often say ‘yes but we do give reasons, we don’t just say “because God said so” and leave it at that’ – but then ‘because God’ is superfluous. It’s one or the other, and either way it’s out of place in education. ‘Because god’ is either superfluous because there are other (public, valid, groundable) reasons, or wrong and bad because there aren’t. There is no moral truth-claim that can adduce no secular public reasons but is nevertheless valid and convincing. Demands for the right to teach false and discriminatory nonsense make a mockery of the word ‘teach.’

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