I have been teaching for 12 years, the last six of them in two inner city FE colleges which cater to 16 - 18 year olds who achieved poor GCSE grades at school but are still able to do A levels, and those who wish to resit their GCSEs or study vocational courses. I teach across the English curriculum, from ESOL and the very low level Key Skills qualifications to A Level and Foundation degree, so whilst many of the students I teach struggle with their courses, they are still in the top 75%. Many of them are first or second generation immigrants, with about 70% identifying as ethnically Asian, African or Caribbean. The majority of these identify as either Muslim or Christian and actively engage in some of form of organised religious practice. One of the reasons I am leaving the teaching profession is because I feel I can no longer teach those students.
I teach classes where the majority of pupils believe that evolution is a pernicious and ridiculous lie. I teach students who believe that because they have souls and are believers they cannot be possibly be descended from monkeys. Many of the black Christians have had evolution presented to them, from the pulpit, as a white racist theory that depicts black people as closer to the apes than white people are. They are presented by their pastors with an alternative racist view, of black people as closer to God than the whites of Babylon. While this in itself is difficult enough to confront, consider this: because many of students are brought up to be deeply suspicious, indeed contemptuous of scientific theories, they feel no need to be concerned about global warming. God, after all, will provide for his own. As one Evangelical Christian girl declared to her classmates 'This world is all wrong - we don't need to recycle rubbish we need to recycle souls!' Ask girls like her about science and they will talk to you of the evils of cloning and Frankenstin foods going against God's natural order. The head of science's response to this problem has been to switch to an A level syllabus in which the theories of evolution and natural selection are not part of any compulsory unit.
I had a bright young boy make, with total confidence, and with the agreement of many of his classmates, the declaration that scientists didn't discover anything, that they got everything they ever pretended to discover out of the Khoran. He can't read the Khoran, because he can't read Arabic and his Moslem sect believe that translations of the Khoran are corrupt and invalid. He speaks enough to learn key secton by rote and has the rest explained to him. This idea, which he considers an inviolable fact, has been presented to him as yet another form of colonialism, as white western unbelievers appropriating sacred Islamic knowledge. A girl in another class complained about her English teacher's use of the term Christian creation myth. The complaint was upheld and the teacher advised to show more sensitivity with her terminology. The teacher is herself a Christian.
Both Christian and Muslim students are united in the belief that homosexuality is vile, disgusting and utterly wrong. The same girl I mentioned above complained vehemently when I challenged this assumption (and I do challenge it, constantly and relentlessly, in the classes I teach - another reason why I was affronted by the recent gay rights meme). The advice I received from a senior manager was to tread very very carefully so as not to offend and to only really challenge it if I thought there was a gay person in the class. I replied, with a special little muff-diving smile, that that meant he sanctioned me challenging it every time. I suspect he still hasn't worked it out.
Colleagues who teach psychology have struggled with students who have been brought up to belive that mental illness is the work of Satan. Some of the students they and I have taught attend the Mission Ensemble de Christ, the church where Victoria Climbie underwent exorcism (see section headed 'Blinding Incompetence').
As I said above, I received an excellent education. I came from a profoundly homophobic, peculiarly racist and largely dysfunctional home, but that education exposed to me to the principles of humanist thought, rational enquiry and scientific principle. It taught me to test and challenge my own and other's preconceptions. In the frightening shifting sands of adolescence and family strife it offered me practical realities and superbly articulated principles to cling to. The education system I work in now is increasingly structured so that I cannot offer the same realities and principles to my own students. I am not allowed to challenge their prejudices, and I will not tacitly condone them by failing to challenge them. I think the the distinction between science and religion should be vigorously defended. There are those who see a place for religious theories in science classes, who think intelligent design should be at least be mentioned alongside evolution and natural selection to show sensitivity to other belief systems. They may think that such a practice would promote tolerance and understanding, in fact it would merely endorse existing prejudices and validate cultural and racial divisions.
I haven't caught up with yesterday's comments yet, but I will, I will.