Education: Secular schooling can indoctrinate as much as religious education

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Letters this week include criticism of Kenneth Wilson's view that religion and education do not mix, worries that there is an imbalance between the sexes among medical students and fears that doctors are having their natural compassion trained out of them

Your article by Kenneth Wilson in `Personally Speaking' ("Religion and education - no longer a sensible mix", 27 November), was a ragbag of opinion, assertion and judgemental accusation which missed the opportunity for a constructive contribution to the debate about the relationship between religion and education. For someone who appears to eschew indoctrination and embrace a liberal education, Wilson's assertion that "education and religion don't mix" seems not too far from providing a possible basis for inserting an indoctrinating approach itself! He might also ponder that secular education can be just as capable of indoctrination as that provided in a religious context. There have been increasing numbers of free church people, for example, who have sought church schools for their children as a result of perceiving a form of indoctrination at work in secular schools. Wilson's contrasting of religion as "conservative" with education as "liberal" may be convenient for his argument but it is ridiculous. The forces of conservatism can be well entrenched in education and religion can be challengingly radical. A "critical openness" approach to religion and education is a well-established characteristic of mainstream Anglicanism.

Wilson refers to a proposal (unspecified) for the church to take over a county school and here he is at his most unworthy, first, for ascribing selfish motives to the diocese's action, dismissing any possibility of a positive, mutually supportive partnership being at work; second, he makes assertions about how the admissions policy will work without providing any evidence that his scenario is the likely one.

There are those who advocate the separation of religion and education along French or American lines but whether they treat better than us this complex relationship is open to debate. Many argue that there continues to be a place for church schools in a pluralistic society, and at their best they keep more options open for longer than some of their secular counterparts.

Geoffrey Duncan

General Secretary of the Church of England,

Board of Education and National Society

What a sad and ill-informed little article by Kenneth Wilson. David Blunkett cannot tell the Bishops to "get your hands off our schools", because despite their state funding, church schools were founded by the church, still belong to the church, and (in the case of aided schools), are still part-funded by the church. I am sorry no one on Mr Wilson's Diocesan Board of Education could define Christian education to his satisfaction -- there are plenty of good definitions available. One is "to give children an experience of a genuine, loving Christian community" - and that is often what parents are seeking, not just moral education. I am not surprised that Mr Wilson is a "former" Anglican vicar. I hope he finds his way back eventually.

John Bailey

Diocese of Lincoln

Church schools are not government schools "claimed" by the church; Butler's 1944 Act introduced a genuine church/state partnership. Locally, our old church schools have been replaced by a new primary costing pounds 1.3m, pounds 200,000 of which is coming from the pockets of our congregation.

Second, "Christian education" is not an undefined, empty phrase. However diverse its application, it is an attempt to be open about the presuppositions of what is on offer. The problem lies in educational "autonomy" - a modernist term which often disguises from users and hearers its philosophical assumptions. Post-modernism sees the problem but at the price of surrendering to subjectivism.

It is precisely in order to avoid "indoctrinating" children that the values implicit in any approach to the curriculum should be made explicit. Values are widespread in, say, English or history. Those transmitted by, say, geography or foreign languages may be less obvious.

As to "Christian mathematics", distinct philosophies of mathematics abound. Russell and Whitehead, for example, saw mathematics as akin to logic and thereby as more of a human construct. The Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd saw it as more of an aspect of the created world. It helps the discussion if we make clear to one another the assumptions we bring to the debate.

GLE Locke

Kidsgrove, Stoke-on-Trent

Staffordshire ST7 4HX

expertise to share

As one of the most successful state schools in the country, we would be delighted to be paid for sharing our expertise with less successful independent schools.

Barbara Gibbs,

Head Teacher,

Newstead Wood School for Girls, Orpington, Kent. BR6 9SA

shortage of medics

In her article "Wanted: a convincing bedside manner" (27 November), Lucy Hodges considers the implications of the country needing an additional 1,000 medical students a year. One reason is the uncertainty of relying on the present large number of new graduates who come from overseas; another is the increased demands on practitioners made by recent scientific advances. However, a major factor is the increasing proportion of female doctors, whose whole-time commitment to medicine is less than that of their male counterparts.

Feminists are no doubt rejoicing that the male dominance of the profession will soon be a thing of the past. However, with as many as 80 per cent of the current medical student entry now women, what was a male preserve will soon be an entirely female one.

One factor underlying the change is the well-recognised earlier maturation and greater conscientiousness of school girls than boys, leading to their achieving higher grades at A-level. This is a regular feature of the school league tables which you publish. As the grades are used to screen applications to medical schools, this factor is distorting the medical student intake in a way which in the long run is undesirable.

A more balanced intake might be achieved by selecting medical students at age 21 instead of at age 18. The graduate entry to medicine which Ms Hodges discusses would achieve this and could be its greatest advantage.

JE Cotes Dm, DSc

(Retired Physician)

Durham, DH1 3TZ

As a GP trainer, I must take issue with Professor Harris of Leicester, who seems to imply that we are already producing a "high-quality, thoughtful and compassionate doctor, who can communicate..." In my experience I find that a majority of hospital doctors are sadly lacking in communication skills - after all, communication is what you get back - and compassion seems to have been educated out of them. Many reach consultant status with these deficiencies unrectified. Often it seems that their scientific background is actually part of the problem. Certainly they are high-quality and thoughtful; they are competent, knowledgeable and can diagnose and treat illness. Yet few (my patients tell me), seem able to recognise that the illness occurs in a person.

Anecdotally, most of us feel that a doctor with a background in the arts is more rounded, and is a better communicator. Furthermore, I understand that the only academic predictor of success in medicine is performance in English. This makes a mockery of medical schools' current insistence on high A-level grades in science subjects.

Not surprisingly, then, a large part of the teaching effort in the General Practice year of young doctors' training is given over to improving communication skills, and in teaching them not to be afraid of their compassion, but to recognise it and use it as an integral part of the doctor-patient relationship. Would that we didn't need to!

Dr Chris Barry, MA FRCGP

Chiseldon, Wiltshire,

SN4 0LS

what do graduates do?

There was a small but significant error in last week's article by Maureen O'Connor about What Do Graduates Do? 1998 ("Degrees that almost guarantee jobs", Education+, 20 November). The annual graduate employment survey is not carried out by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (CSU), but instead is conducted by careers advisers at higher education institutions on behalf of the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). CSU re-processes the national figures, supplied by HESA, for use in What Do Graduates Do? 1998.

Bob Ward,

Labour Market Analyst,

Higher Education Careers Services Unit (CSU),

Manchester

Please send your letters to Wendy Berliner, Editor, Education+, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5DL. Include a daytime telephone number. Fax letters to Education + on 0171 293 2451; e-mail:educ@ independent.co.uk

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