Last week Maralyn Parker, the education editor of the Sydney newspaper The Daily Telegraph, made some pretty inflammatory comments about religious schools. She described small religious schools as ‘ghetto schools’ and claimed that small Christian and Islamic schools teach creationism and hatred of homosexuals.
If this wasn’t provocative enough, she suggested a direct causal relationship between Christian ‘fundamentalist’ and Islamic schools and growth of religious bigotry in Australia. Her solution: abandon choice in schooling.
While a defense of the specific teachings of Christianity and Islam is best left to religious scholars and leaders, it is important to take a rational look at Ms Parker’s claims about the effect of religious schools on Australian society and the usefulness of her policy response.
It is easy to fall into the trap of believing in the romantic ideal of public schools. In public school utopia, every school has a racial and ethnic profile that reflects Australian society. Every teacher is energetic, inspiring and entirely free from prejudice. All students embrace each others’ differences and learn together in a spirit of harmony and respect.
The reality is that no school meets that ideal, be it public or private, secular or religious. Every school falls short in some way.
Given that there is a common and agreed upon set of values that should be promoted by all schools for the benefit of society, the question is, are religious schools more likely to fail at this role than public schools?
For example, some religious schools may teach against the practice of homosexuality but they also teach that above all else one should love thy neighbour. Public schools teach that homosexuality is normal and acceptable, but you would be hard-pressed to find a public school free from homophobia.
No school is perfect just