By Jessica Elgot
August 19, 2010
Robyn Rosen makes some excellent points about Richard Dawkins’ baffling documentary on faith schools, and I won’t repeat them.
But one glaring point stands out for me:
Dawkins claims that faith schools “indoctrinate” children, illustrated by a long clip of little girls playing clapping games – a montage implying that faith was like some sort of obsession or disease that our children might pass between themselves.
Apart from how embarrassingly staged it was, it makes no sense. Children might become obsessed with a particular card game, or make believe game, but just because you teach them something doesn’t necessarily mean it will catch on. Try spending the morning teaching them trigonometry. They won’t be copying that in the playground.
Dawkins goes to great lengths to point out how irreligious this country is. Seven per cent of people attend church, for example. He uses that as an example of why we don’t need faith schools.
But a third of schools are faith schools, so roughly 33 per cent of the population attended one. If faith schools really do “indoctrinate” people, then they aren’t doing a very good job of it, because most people in this country have no faith. It’s a glaring flaw in Dawkins’ logic and one he never addresses.
What Jewish schools do teach is a deep understanding of tradition, of history, of chesed, the value of community, a respect for religious beliefs and enables those who want live a religious life to do so as fully as possible, with a deep knowledge of Jewish law.
Many will go on to lead observant lives, go to yeshivah, train to be rabbis, and be heavily involved in the community. And whether we like it or not, many will not. Many will go to synagogue once a year, or not at all.
The idea of faith schools poisoning the minds of children so they become unable to think for themselves is an entirely false assumption, proven, sadly, by how poor attendance of synagogues and churches is across the country. What is certain however, is how many intelligent, thoughtful, respectful and successful young adults Jewish schools in this country produce. And Dawkins is too proud to admit that.