Education and schools seem to be in the headlines every day, and the media’s (or is it the government’s?) barrage of negativity about what it insists on calling ‘faith schools’ continues unabated. If it did not know better, the public would be misled by the last couple of days’ coverage of the sex education debate into thinking that the majority of teenage pregnancies and homophobia originated in Church schools, because of those schools’ insistence that sex and relationships education be taught within a framework of religious values. In fact, precisely the opposite is the case.
In Ghana, I spent a lot of time wondering about the issue of happiness. Most Ghanaians have very few material possessions, and very few opportunities, compared with most British people. And yet they are unfailingly smiling, warm, welcoming and communicative, at least in rural communities. Are they happy because they have nothing? Are we grumpy and unhappy because we are comparatively rich?
I came to the conclusion that Ghanaians are happier not because they have nothing materially, but because of what they do actually have, but which is less obvious to our eyes, tuned in as we are mainly to material things. They do have strong extended families, strong community bonds, it is taken as read that everyone in a community helps everyone else, a clear identity and strong shared values and beliefs. We are less happy because we do not have these things. It isn’t our wealth as such that makes us unhappy, but the way in which we sideline those more important aspects of life in the pursuit of that wealth.
In a really small way, and swimming against the tide (which is perhaps why we are so unpopular with the media and government) we in Church schools are trying to reclaim a little of our lost heritage of shared moral values and community ethos. That’s why sex and relationships education taught in this context helps young people, and does not contribute to the fracturing of society. It’s the value-free zone out there which does that.
And as for the PM’s latest idea: booting out school leadership by parental vote – well! A cohesive society is built on dialogue and consensus, not on relentlessly oppositional behaviour. And not on cheap electioneering either.
I’d better stop here.