Saturday, September 29, 2007

Message Boards

What is it about Internet message boards? Don’t expect intelligent debate or reasoned argument, somehow the anonymity of cyberspace seems to induce petty point scoring, smart-alec one-liners or just downright abuse.

My posting on ‘Jolly Grammar’ elicited some of these responses in the TES Staffroom. I’m not criticising the TES, it’s the only forum where teachers can let off steam; the unions don’t do it, not does that ‘voice of the teachers’ the General Teaching Council. But it’s a shame that the usual suspects dominate the discourse – don’t they have anything better to do with their lives?

‘Network Norwich’ is a web site devoted to the activities of the local churches. I’ve posted several times about Graham Dacre’s plans to takeover Heartsease School and run it as an academy. I’ve continually asked the same three questions of the millionaire second hand car dealer turned Pentecostalist preacher –

1) Does he believe the earth was created 6,000 years ago?

2) Does he think that abortion is ‘evil’?

3) Does he think that homosexuality can be ‘cured’?

One typo in a posting (I spelt hear as hearq) gave a certain Mr Long the chance to question my ability to spell, although he did spoil it all by calling me a “whimp” and asking if I needed to change my “proffesion”. Naturally I instantly went into teacher mode and corrected his spellings.

Therefore, I’m grateful to Mr Lind who wrote a thoughtful piece,

In your posting of the 22nd Oct, you asked Mr Dacre to reply to three questions.
Could you please tell me why these three particular questions are so important? Surely Mr Dacre's answers to these questions, what ever they may be, should in no way influence the outcome of the Academy. What you are inferring is that if he answers "yes" to any or all of these questions then he is not fit to fund, or be involved with, a school which will adhere to the standards already set down nationally by the education authorities.

Or are you inferring that if Mr Dacre says "No" to your three questions, he'll be a fit a proper person to run the Academy, and that you'll publicly withdraw your opposition?

But wait a minute! Wouldn't that be just what you're campaigning against; a bigoted viewpoint that only has one answer, with no debate?

I’ll come clean straight away, I’m opposed to all academies, whether their backers are creationists or not. I just don’t support handing over state schools to private organisations or individuals. Of course the government claim they are ‘popular’ with parents and are over subscribed. So there is Gasworks Comprehensive with its peeling paint, rotten window frames and leaking roof; next door a brand spanking new academy opens. Yes, a bit of a no-brainer, it will be ‘popular’ with parents.

I’m also opposed in principle to faith schools. There’s no evidence that they improve children’s academic performance. In effect the state gives churches massive subsidies to run schools, they pay all the wages and 95% of maintenance costs. Interestingly when this system was introduced with the 1902 Education Act it was the Baptists and Methodists that led the campaign of civil disobedience, thousands refused to pay rates and scores of ministers were jailed. Only the Anglicans and Catholics had the resources to run ‘faith schools’.

Numerous academic surveys and investigations have shown that ‘faith schools’ reinforce social divisions. This is particularly the case in inner-London where both Catholic and Church of England schools select pupils from wealthier backgrounds compared to the social composition of the area where the schools are sited. The most notorious example, exposed by the ‘Guardian’, was Canon Slade School in Bolton.

The other argument is why are school being handed over to Christian organisations when their own congregations are in free-fall? According to the Church of England’s own figures, if you extrapolate the attendance graph, by 2050 it will cease to exist.

The Heartsease bid is the most troubling one thus far. In general there is the secrecy and duplicity surrounding academies. Schools have to publish exam results under the Freedom of Information Act; because academies are ‘independent’ this stipulation does not apply to them. There is the lie that academies are replacing ‘failing’ schools, Heartsease has had its problems but is now an ‘improving school’. Of the original 25 academies none of them were in special measures or under ‘notice to improve’ orders.

You could also ask, ‘what experience does Graham Dacre have of education?’ On the one hand I don’t believe that you should leave everything to the ‘experts’ but on the other side I wouldn’t want open-heart surgery delivered by a team from St John’s Ambulance.

Then we come onto the issue of Graham Dacre and ‘traditional Christian values’. I’ve got friends who are Catholic and Church of England but they wouldn’t touch creationism with a barge pole, they want tolerance towards people with different sexual orientations and for their children to receive balanced information about abortion.

How would the new Heartsease academy be run? Let’s be honest, the Pentecostalists don’t exactly hide their light under a bushel. An academy governing body would have one parent and one local authority rep; the rest would come from the foundation that has funded the academy (they will run the school in perpetuity). Where is the proposed funding for Heartsease coming from? Graham Dacre’s Lind Trust is putting in £1.95 million and the Church of England Diocese of Norwich £50,000, some mis-match there. Although a sceptic might argue that the C of E are good cover for a Pentecostalist take-over.

So just what does Graham Dacre believe in? For some time he belonged to the Assembly of God influenced Proclaimers International. He split away in December 2004 to form his own church and then in March 2007 merged with Mount Zion Family Life Centre to form the Norwich Family Life Church. On their web site Mount Zion mention a number of ‘world-class speakers’ that they have had the ‘privilege’ of hosting – faith healer Henry Hinn, witch finder Rick Godwin and the late Ed Cole, who had some interesting advice about condoms,

“ [they] don’t protect people, they protect lifestyle. Condoms are porous with each pore approximately fifty micra. Human sperm is 400 micra and cannot pass through. But the HIV virus is 4 micra. Four dozen passing through is not a guarantee of protection from disease. Safe sex is done with your wife. No wife, no sex.”

Traditional Christian values? I’m sure that Graham Dacre and his supporters must read ‘Network Norwich’ but in all these months none of them have deigned to reply to my three questions. I’m sure many Heartsease parents would want answers to the questions. Is someone who believes in creationism a fit and proper person to run a school? Would there be informed choices about abortion and sexual health in the new academy? How would they deal with homophobic bullying? Some research points to half suicide attempts amongst teenagers coming from gays or lesbians.

The Canadian web site Religious Intolerance reported that the Pentecostalist Assemblies of God viewed

‘the issue of homosexuality as not a matter of discrimination but of morality. Thus, in order to preserve the moral and spiritual health of the nation, gays and lesbians must not be granted equality with heterosexuals. Homosexuality is regarded as a conscious choice; a lifestyle; the implication being that an adult can change their sexual orientation. They believe that all sexually active gays and lesbians are destined for hell. However, those who repent and accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour will be converted to heterosexuality and attain heaven. A homosexual is not permitted to join the denomination as a member. Thus, ordination is out of the question.’

You can allow democratically elected councillors and officials to run schools (it isn’t always perfect) or you can allow narrow-minded, intolerant bigots, who just happen to have a few millions to spare, to launch a take over bid. I know which one I’d choose.

The point is Mr Lind, how can you have a debate with someone who won’t enter into dialogue and hides or disguises their views?

At the risk of repeating myself I’ll ask the same three questions to Graham Dacre

1) Does he believe the earth was created 6,000 years ago?

2) Does he think that abortion is ‘evil’?

3) Does he think that homosexuality can be ‘cured’?

Waiting to hear from you Graham.
Anti-Academies Alliance


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