Saturday, December 13, 2008

Teacher sacked for saying santa doesn't exist

This interesting seasonal story made me think – do teachers have to lie to keep their jobs? Do they have to pretend to believe in Santa, tooth fairies, bogeymen, Narnia, angels, Jesus, Allah and God. The parents of one tearful child explained that the teacher had said this because of her religion. In other words, her actual truth (Santa doesn’t exist was trumped by the view that her religious views were false).

In England state schools have to teach Religious Studies by law. In other words it is decreed that teachers must lie, as they cannot logically all be true. In fact, they are by definition a range of relativist beliefs, the tragedy being that their believers are absolutist in their convictions. Even worse the law states that Christianity must have a prominent position in all this. In other words, let’s tell lots of lies but we have one lie that needs more time than the others.

If this wasn’t bad enough a daily act of worship is also mandated by law, with a 51% bias towards Christianity. Thankfully, the great majority of schools, as reported by Ofsted, simply ignore this law. It would seem that legally mandating the daily chanting of lies is a step too far for most people.

What a mess. The lesson here, I suspect, is that education should be secular and that religion is a matter of personal belief and has no role in schools, as it causes more problems and contradictions than it’s worth. Religious education is a farce. It needs to be replaced by Philosophy which takes a more ‘educational’ approach to such issues.


The teacher wasn’t sacked; she was a substitute teacher who is still registered. The school, in Manchester, simply said they wouldn’t use her again.


Hall Monitor said...

This story made ! Check it out for all the crazy stories from our schools.

Anonymous said...

Since the teacher wasn't sacked, I suggest you change the title of your post.
Further, teaching religious studies doesn't imply claiming they are all true. It is about informing about claims, not making them.

You really lost my respect here, I just unsubscribed from your blog.
Thanks amd bye.

Donald Clark said...

Wow, someone who is unwiling to read something he/she disagrees with. Hope you're not an educator.

Why make 'informing about incompatible views' a compulsory part of every child's curriculum?

Bye - anonymous!

Mark S said...

I'm an atheist myself, but I'd have fired her too (though as you and other commenters said - she wasn't really hired in the first place). Religion has no place in school or government. But Santa Claus, to me, has no relation to religion. Yeah, he's an imaginary figure, like God and Jesus and the Devil and all the other bogeymen in the skies that the priests and other professional liars and gullibles have cooked up, but unlike those others, Santa is harmless and is a way to get little kids excited about the holiday season.

You're looking at this from the wrong angle. She should have been fired for being so insensitive as to ruin a little kid's fantasy of a big-bearded Santa bringing him/her presents for being good! Has nothing to do with religion. Just like 'treating others as you would like to be treated' (paraphrased) has nothing to do with religion. It's common sense. I don't need a cult-leader to remind me of it.

For all I know the Santa thing might have some connection to religion, but that doesn't mean one has to believe in the fairies to enjoy it for/with their kids.

Donald Clark said...

You're right on Santa Claus but suppose a bunch of fundamentalists wanted tehir children to believe in angels and demons. Are teachers meant to uphold neutrality on all religious beliefs no matter how absurd? Scientology?

Mark S said...

Yes, they are. To me, being an atheist, I think all religions are just made-up fairytales. And teachers should keep their noses (and more importantly, mouths) out of it.

Should a teacher be saying Tom Cruise is an idiot because he's joined a cult (ie, Scientology)? While he/she has the right to think Tom Cruise is a fool, and I would agree, I certainly would never say it to students. Because it's no different from saying that people who believe in God, or Buddha, or any other fairytale or bogeyman, are fools. And, unfortunately, the majority of the world believes (or at least publicly says they do)in that crap.

To bring this discussion back - does being offensive impact learning in a negative way? I'd guess it might. So teachers shouldn't be offensive. : )

Richard said...

I asked myself what I would have done - and I'm not sure.
As an atheist largely in the Richard Dawkins camp - I think education, especially that paid for by my taxes, should be entirely rational. I feel that religion not only has no place in schools, but that educators have a responsibility to counteract the brainwashing and intellectual subjugation of religious organisations.
But Father Christmas? A figure with no divisive dogma whose only message is 'be good'?
Kids generally learn not to believe in FC of their own accord - or through older children. Its a harsh lesson - but also a good one. If they can learn not to believe in FC, then maybe they can learn not to believe in all that God nonsense too. However it seems to me that it is a lesson that children have to be ready to learn if it is going to be effective. If the teacher upset the child, then perhaps they made an error of judgement that should be acknowledged. However it does sound as if the schoool over-reacted becuase of the emotive nature of the mistake, and that also is a wrong message to give out.

Mark Berthelemy said...

Hi Donald,

I couldn't let this one go by. Not your comments about the news article (as we don't know enough about the context to be able to say what and how it happened), but about your perspective on Religious Studies.

I am a former Science teacher, who often had to teach about conflicting theories and issues around science's role in society. Some of these I had strong opinions (or even beliefs) on. Yet, as an academic subject, you need to be able to look at things from all sides, so that you have enough information to make up your own mind. That's the skill I hope I taught my students.

I know a former RS teacher very well. She has very strong Christian beliefs (as do I), and worked with a head of RS who was an atheist. Because RS is just as much an academic subject as, say, History or Science, their own particular beliefs were never an issue.

I won't go as far as unscribing from your blog as Anonymous (there is a lot that I learn from you). But, if you pass comments like these, that have no basis in fact then it will make me think twice about accepting some of the things you say on subjects that I know little about.

Donald Clark said...

I'm trying see where this line lies. Why is Religious Studies compulsory, and if so, why the legal bias towards christianity, when most of the population is secular? I'm genuinely puzzled as to why this, as opposed to many other subjects gets such big billing? My alternative was Philosophy, as it genuinely promotes a spirit of inquiry and comparison, taking all metaphysical, ontologcaol and epistemological perspectives into account. This is the way to deal with relativism, not to take a selected few (religious) systems in isolation.

The analogy with science, is not, I think fair. You would want to teach astrology, faithe healing etc in scoience becasue there's a crietrion for distinguishing between good and bad tehory, as defined by the scientific method. No such method exists in Religious studies.

Just as interesting, to me, is why people want to throw their toys out of the pram, rather than have a healthy debate i.e. anonymous(not you Mark).

Mark Berthelemy said...

Hi Donald,

I don't necessarily agree with the majoring on Christianity, but I suppose it could be argued that much of our history, laws and culture has come from a Christian (in its widest sense) background. So, to understand our country, you also need to understand something of Christianity.

Taking the global perspective, Christianity is still the largest religion (CIA WorldBook), and many studies put it as the fastest growing. So there's an argument there to understand something about it.

I agree that Philosophy, as in the study of how to think is important, but it's a separate academic subject (you can study Philosophy of Science, and Philosophy of Religion as well).

The reason I used Science as an illustration was not necessarily because it's based on the Scientific Method (although that can be argued to be as much based on faith as anything else), but because, within Science in schools you have to understand the impact of Science on society - and the impact of society on Science.

Yes, there isn't a Scientific Method for RS - but that doesn't discount it as an academic subject - no more than it discounts Art, History, Geography or Philosophy. All areas of study have their own preferred methods of doing that study - all of which need regular review.

Mark S said...

Comparing 'Religious Studies' to science or history is like comparing apples to oranges.

A more fitting analogy would be 'Religious Studies' and the study of literature (except for the non-fiction titles). Main difference is that the readers, hopefully, don't believe the fictional characters in the books actually exist!

Mark Berthelemy said...


I'm afraid you can't write off the deeply held beliefs, cultures and experiences of millions of people as something not worth studying - just because you don't agree with them.

Donald Clark said...

I'm not saying they're not worth studying, only that they should not be compulsory. I'd much rather see philosophy, history and several other subjects being compulsory before the deeply held (but incompatible superstitions) of millions. Why don't we just lob astrology into the mix? It's believed by millions.

Why not widen Religious studies out tom include oter belief systems, especially humanism. You may have noted that this proposition was recently rejected.

I'm in favour of the following humanist arguments. Humanists have always worried that too close an identification of morality with the six world religions usually studied in RE might lead to those students who not share religious beliefs (61% of 13-15 year olds according to a 1994 survey) thinking that morality also has little to do with them. The usual contemporary justifications for RE in the school curriculum – its contribution to social cohesion and mutual understanding, its presentation of a range of answers to questions of meaning and purpose, its role in the search for personal identity and values – can best be served by including humanist perspectives and non-religious students.

Mark Berthelemy said...

Hi Donald,

My comment about writing off studying RS was directed towards Mark, as that seemed to be what he was wanting.

I think you & I are actually in general agreement...

I also agree that RS should be as compulsory as any other subject. But I take this further - I also think we should keep as wide a breadth of study as long as possible. Having a basic understanding of the principles of studying History is as useful as that of Maths (especially Statistics) and English. My feeling is that we should look at what people need to understand when they watch/read/listen to the news and other opinion-based media - so they can interpret what is being said.

This probably means tearing up the whole subject-based system though...

I also tend to agree with you about the humanism side of things. But I'd also include some aspects of animism/primal/folk religions. In my mind, RS is less about the specific religion itself, but more about the methods by which we learn about and understand them.

Donald Clark said...

Sorry, I was a bit quick off the Mark there!

Paul said...

Though I too am an atheist, I am not sure the way she handled it was the best way. I would've given the child some facts about how the idea of SC started, and how "he" became what "he" is today. That can still get dicey since, like many legends, it's based in some salty human history. But perhaps you don't have to go all the way back in time, just give a few harmless facts without busting the child's bubble with a seemingly innocent rebuke like this.

I don't think her move necessarily warranted her being taken off the substitute list, but many times when parents get involved (for better or worse, especially with very young children), heads will roll.

Mark S said...

I hear ya Paul but I just think teachers should keep their mouths shut when it comes to certain topics when they know (or should know) that the child's parents will object.