Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Brain chemicals and fundamentalism - some light-hearted thoughts for the morning

There are days - just occasionally, mind - when I quite enjoy the bumpy fairground ride that is bipolar disorder. Today, for instance, I'm buzzing around the department like a very buzzy little thing (this regardless of the fact that I'm still sick of being overworked, bored with marking and tired out from unenthusiastic classes), feeling chirpier and more energetic than I have since December, when I got ill. It's pleasant. Hurrah for brain chemicals, at least when their effects are mild and useful.

Of course, this sudden cheeriness isn't actually encouraging me to work. I have spent the past hour perusing blogs and considering freedom of speech, particularly in terms of things like these thoughts on employers who limit their workers' opportunities to speak out. While it can perhaps be argued that there are jobs and situations where issues of security outweigh individuals' rights to write - not keen on the idea of an MI5 employee referring to classified operations, for example - it nonetheless seems that this excuse could be used to clamp down on important social criticism.

In not-unrelated thoughts, the flatmate and I watched this last night (on my tiny portable TV with the bad reception, since our incompetent cable company have ruined our viewing enjoyment). Now, it's possible that there was bias in the programme's aims, and I'd like to hear more of 'the other side' from those who work at the schools. Still, as someone who used to be an evangelical fundamentalist (and it feels a lot like I had a lucky escape from a cult there), the claims made in the programme rang some quite terrifying bells for me. What worried me most was seeing that the government is allowing groups who preach bigotry, hatred and some fairly blatant lies to run secular schools. I'm not opposed to faith - I'm still a committed Christian, after all. It's the literalistic, right-wing control of thought and belief that I see in fundamentalism, and its creeping influence in secular society, that I object to. I also have no problem with people taking the Bible literally, as long as they don't impose those ideas on others. I don't even object to faith schools, if parents have chosen to send their children there. But when such extreme ideas are mixed in with the National Curriculum and taught to children as fact, in local comprehensive schools where parents are sending their children to receive a state education, then as both an educator and a proponent of equal rights, I can't keep quiet about it. Especially since I know first-hand what kind of effect these ideas can have on young people. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to rework my thought processes on some very damaging ideas, relating to everything from homosexuality to heaven and hell. Not everyone who's exposed to these ideas will get the chance to challenge them for themselves.

Any opposing views on this one? I'd love to debate it.


Jinx said...

I beleive comprehensive, supposedly secular schools, who accept children of all background, should not favour one theory over another. So yes, secular schools should be allowed to "teach" that christians believe the world was made in 7 days, just as long as they highlight that it is not what all believe.

In the dispatches documentary it was made quite clear that the schools were not in fact preaching that the bible was Absolute Truth, just an explaination, and was open to interpretation.

On a personal note, i attend an inner city convent school (oh yes, its joyful) and some of the shit they teach there is horrific. A total gcse based soley on St. Marks gospel and catholic lifestyle. Basically, you believe abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia and divorce are completely wrong and immoral and should not be undertaken under any circumstances. I hate it, but then, thats just me.

Rasko said...

I'm a science-fascist and lost any reliigious faith I had a few years ago, but if I'm not mistaken there are some all-girl Islamic schools out there with outstanding academic results. Perhaps religion can be conducive to overall discipline and respect which can be welcome in an educational environment. Then again my mum visits some inner city catholic schools for her job and comes across lazy/jaded/whacko teachers, chaotic pupils and poor results.

In any case the brightest will probably be able to outflank outlandish notions which fail to consider the existence of the dinosaurs, etc. If the rest fail to question what they are told, it's their loss. Or maybe their gain. Simplification is always more comfortable, no?

Naomi J. said...

Interesting responses - thanks.

My worry over creationism being taught in schools at all was that it is in no way a scientific theory. It seems fine to me for it to be taught in, for example, Religious Studies lessons in order to help students understand what others believe. It's the idea of elevating it to the status of science, when it is not, that bothered me. It seems to be lying to children, essentially.

Rasko, I'd argue that it's not 'their loss' for children who are not able to question what they are taught. From my viewpoint, it's doing them a serious disservice. It doesn't mean they were too stupid to understand. It means they weren't given the resource of learning how to question - which is as much a taught skill as any other. It's a failure in the education system when it doesn't teach children how to think. When it teaches them NOT to think, it's a travesty.

Rasko said...

I concede I was being overly harsh. And I agree, one-way dogma that dissuades kids from questioning things has no place in schools. Faith-based ideas have no place in a biology classroom.

I would much rather build a rudimentry knowledge of world religions in the state school classroom through the history syllabus, and leave the more intense theological teaching to sunday schools, and their equivalents in other faiths. Add a little disclaimer when they explain Darwinism in biology if you must, "this might not be compatible with your personal/religious beliefs" blah blah, to legally avoid causing offense. But then again I'm not a teacher. I'm not even employed. So I'm just soapboxing.

Anonymous said...

Related to teaching kids religious ideas, we just watched the movie Jesus Camp, which shows kids raised in fundamentalist Christian households. The director makes no judgment about what the kids are being taught, which I liked as it makes you think, but the movie shows the fairly extreme views the kids are learning.

Naomi J. said...

Hey HtCWP,

Ooh, you found an old entry! Good stuff :) I have Jesus Camp waiting for me to watch it. I think I need to be in the right mood, as it could actually upset me - I spent many years being taught a lot of very fundamentalist things from a lot of very damaged people in a lot of very closed-minded churches... Thank God (literally) for finding ways to escape such thinking! I'll be interested to watch the movie, though. It sounds interesting.