David Cameron and the Conservatives have today unveiled their manifesto and their “big idea” for social engagement that will change Britain for better.
Now as someone who grew up in the Thatcherite era I’m not a natural Tory supporter and for other reasons I will not be a Tory voter. But I have some empathy with the idea that a government would actively promote the involvement of local communities in running the important aspects of their lives. With one caveat: but an important one. If as Cameron suggests this will “include allowing people to set up their own schools” there needs to be some serious oversight involved.
In the first place there is a duty on government to provide a good standard of state education for all citizens of this country to access. If your local school is failing, it is an abdication of that responsibility if the government gives you carte blanche to set up an alternative without first trying to correct the failing. Secondly, there needs to be rational guidelines on what is taught in privately run schools.
Of course you know where this is going, the first people to take advantage of a free for all in education will be the religious; the fundie Xians, the Muslims, the Jehovahs and the Mormons et al. It will be the perfect opportunity for these people to isolate their offspring from divergent theologies and ideologies. Worse it will be a cover for them to deny an accurate scientific education and access to critical thinking skills.
Unfortunately the Conservative party is not sensitive to these risks any more than Labour’s Ed Balls is and if (as seems very possible) they get to be the next government and if they actually make their manifesto manifest, this is a pitfall that all sceptics, humanists and atheists need to make plain to them. I am expecting activists at the door shortly and it is a point I will making strongly when they do.
Don’t get me wrong, community power and individualism is in my view a good thing to promote, but we have to be mindful that not every community is benign. In the U.S where home education and private colleges have a long provenance, religious wing-nuttery finds refuge. We don’t want it here.
"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"