Stephen Law is having an interesting discussion with the head of a UK Islamic school. Prof. Law quoted the head as saying “[t]he essential purpose of the Islamia school as with all Islamic schools is to inculcate profound religious belief in the children.” and suggested this was an intolerable system of education. The head’s response includes:
It is slightly absurd to imagine what approach we should have taken to teaching about Islam to these Muslim children if the objection is to us telling them that Islam is true. The reason we offer to Muslim children for accepting the truth of Islam is that this is what Allah wants us to believe, what he has written in the Qur’an, and also what the prophet Muhammad wants us to believe – him being the messenger of Allah. Are we really supposed to then say, “But you shouldn’t believe that just because we say so; you should make your own minds up”? That is not what Islam teaches. In Islam, there is no question about the existence of god, the validity of the Qur’an or the veracity of the prophet. Nor, given that, is there a sensible choice about being Muslim. It would be self-contradictory to teach Islam to children as a matter of choice based on personal opinion.
Isn’t that interesting? None of the slippery avoidances you find in Christian responses, it’s just straight out: our Holy Whatever says we are not to question it, so we won’t. Aside from the obvious objections, I wonder if he finds it coincidental that what he’d consider the most important concept in history just so happens to demand unquestioning acceptance. Why would the most important concept in history need to declare itself above the marketplace of ideas? It’s a ridiculous, desperate strategy, but one that unfortunately seems to be psychologically effective. The objections to The Golden Compass show the same lack of perspective, and I like the way this columnist puts it (via Pharyngula):
If your ancient, authoritarian, immutable belief system is threatened by a handful of popular novels, if your ostensibly all-powerful, unyielding creed is rendered meek and defenseless when faced with the story of a fiery, rebellious young girl who effortlessly rejects your stiff misogynistic religiosity in favor of adventure, love, sex, the ability to discover and define her soul on her own terms, well, it might be time for you to roll it all up and shut it all down and crawl back home, and let the divine breathe and move and dance as she sees fit.
Exactly. I’ve said it before, but it’s always worth repeating: The War for Children’s Minds is a bloody brilliant book. It doesn’t bash religion, it bashes teaching what to think instead of how to think. This problem seems to go hand-in-hand with religious education, but needn’t.
I’m increasingly of the opinion that Critical Thinking classes for secondary (junior?) school students would be the best education initiative in decades.