My wife and I have spent the last week or so trying to decide how we could prevent our child spending an entire school day with dangerous and deluded people. In the end, we took the most direct route, telling the head teacher we flat out refuse her permission to go – regardless of the consequences. After a few attempts at guilt-tripping us, or trying to persuade our daughter that she would be lonely without her mates, the school has reluctantly accepted they must, for once, do what they are legally required to do instead of including my girl in what my wife bluntly pointed out to them is an illegal exercise in brainwashing small children.
The problems began when my daughter brought home a note explaining the class was going on an outing to Rushen Abbey called Lifepaths. The thin excuse is that it is one of those ‘living history’ things where the kids would find out how the monks lived. Even if this is the time of year when Manx teachers traditionally stick the kids in front of a DVD then slip off to catch up on the paperwork, and even if it had been run by Manx Heritage - whose actual historical knowledge (as opposed to romantic suppositions) about Rushen Abbey could be scribbled on an A4 sheet with room to spare - it would still be a nice day out.
But the reality is far worse. The day is run by Scripture Union Ministries Trust, and while a decade or more ago SUMT were a harmless bunch of godbotherers trying to interest school kids in a good natured enough way, in recent years the local branch is run by evangelical hardliners whose track record is less than inspiring.
In 1999 SUMT volunteers were amongst those helping ‘persuade’ victims of a notorious pastor who could not keep away from underage girls that they really should not appear in court. A few years later, they were amongst suspects when the phone number of a service offering advice to teenage Manx gays was passed to a
TV network, who on their website suggested people bombard the local numbers for
such advice lines around the UK
with prank calls to put them out of action.
These events were a while ago, and while those involved then could well have moved on or grown up, the powers of SUMT over the young have increased since the latest Anglican bishop, far from distancing himself from the local evangelical lunatic fringe, seems to have embraced them while shunning those of his own flock with a middle of the road and responsible attitude to religious education. From his own postings to the faithful it seems that key ‘youth pastoring’ jobs have passed to evangelicals from other churches rather than Anglicans, and in his mandatory role as Chair of the Education Department’s Religious Education Advisory Committee he is openly using SUMT to spearhead campaigns to evangelize children wherever possible - and on the thinnest of excuses - during the school day.
More recently another SUMT associate was reported after the parents of a teenage schoolgirl found unsolicited texts on her cell phone. To the best of my knowledge, despite this and other complaints about inappropriate behaviour, he is still judged fit to ‘mentor’ teenagers at an island high school. Earlier this year, another SUMT project – where in theory volunteers go into schools to read Bible stories to kids who may never have heard them – acted as something of a Trojan horse for the distribution of creationist tracts. And so this worrying saga continues.
The funny thing is, we actually have less problem than most parents with responsible religious believers being around our child. For example both she and we got on well with the former local vicar round the corner, a witty, and multi-talented - if camp as a row of tents - character who suddenly went to minister to folk in
South America instead.
From rainswept Ramsey and a glum congregation of small town conservatives
(where, incidentally, we recently discovered both the Chief Education Advisor
and his wife, a local head teacher, sat on his parish church council) to one of
the sunnier, more progressive, countries of South America, and shortly after a
‘rationalization’ of the diocese which. quite coincidentally we can be sure,
lays off full time career clergy in favour of rabid right ‘hobby vicars’ who
play no role in the community other than to discourage progress, liberal
thinking or democracy….
Why on earth would he leave such a dream post?
Meanwhile, the Light Of Our Life and her classmates might be better off watching back-to-back Horrible Histories on CBBC instead of trudging around a muddy field being ‘supervised’ by adults who cannot even attain her reading age. Rather than be fed false history by rabid rednecks, it looks like she, at least, will spend the day with a younger class instead. I feel sorry for her, but there seems to be no alternative. Yet again, the Manx education system dismally fails a child actually interested in learning, and actually supported by parents who take an interest in her education.
I cannot pretend to be surprised. These days the only time the Manx education system surprises me is if it gets remotely close to fulfilling its basic function and my daughter learns something. Most days all she learns is that it seems possible to be as thick as two short planks yet earn well and be unsackable in the Manx public sector. You just need to prominently wear a cross around your neck.