Education Quandary

'Our village school is a Church of England primary. We are atheists. Does our daughter have to be indoctrinated?'
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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

Yes she does, unless you want to move house, or drive her to a distant school, which you say you don't. (Government take note: school choice is a joke in rural areas.)

You can withdraw her from "collective acts of worship", but as you sensibly point out, you wouldn't want her to be singled out from her community, or miss the useful notices given out in assemblies.

So all you can do is keep talking to her as she goes through school, making your own beliefs clear, and explaining how they differ from the beliefs she is being taught in school. Explain that her school has always been linked with the church, and the people who run it and teach in it are therefore church people, and that's why she is told so much about Jesus in class, but that other people see the world differently. You may want to tell her about other beliefs, such as Islam and Buddhism, since you say she gets no comparative religion lessons, and your village may well be a mono-ethnic community.

Beyond that, don't worry too much. The values of Christianity are little different from those of all the major faiths. Kindness, tolerance, and compassion are good things for any child to grow up with, and provided your daughter learns to separate in her mind these humanistic values from what you believe to be a myth of creation and salvation, not much harm will have been done. And educationally, of course, Church of England schools come out top every time!

Readers' advice

I read your readers' dilemma with irritation. It is the responsibility of a child's parents to educate their child. If they are convinced that the school is offering an ethos which is wrong, it would be a dereliction of their responsibility to send their child to it. Their duty is not discharged merely by whingeing that to do so would cost them some personal effort and they cannot be bothered to get in the car in the morning or to home educate.
Karen Rodgers, Cambridge

Panic ye not. If you try to ensure an atheist upbringing you will most likely finish up with a born-again evangelical or worse - a clone of Ruth Kelly. And she will learn all the right things to say 25 years hence when she wants to get your grandchildren into a "good school". She will also learn to read in public and to sing. Dear Brother Edwin would probably have been horrified that his hours of devoted plainsong practice and catechism drill developed not just my voice but also my secular humanism. However, he does not have to suffer the indignity of appreciating his ineffectiveness as he long ago returned to the carbon cycle.
Carol Blyth, Buckinghamshire

I too am an atheist, but was educated at faith schools. My experience is that, far from bombarding children with religious dogma, faith schools promote tolerance through the "equality" tenet evident in every religion. More importantly, they promote an ethos of care and a sense of "community" - something definitely lacking in the disaffected youth of today, as evidenced by Mr Blair's doomed new campaign.
Sim Dhesi, Berkshire

Next week's quandary

Can it ever be right to smack a child? As the mother of two headstrong boys, my hand sometimes itches to dole out a quick tap. I've always refrained, but if the Prime Minister - and lots of other parents - have succumbed, maybe it's an instinctive response, and also a quick and effective way of teaching children to behave?

Send your letters to Hilary Wilce by Monday, at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax: 020-7005 2143; or e-mail: Please include your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser