One of the more pleasant aspects of being a home educator is the amused condescension with which one can view those parents who are scrabbling around desperately for a decent school. The fools! Don't they know there's a better way of doing things? I have been thinking about this recently as a consequence of observing the new intake of parents with small children who have started attending our church this month.
Selective education is widely regarded as unfair and divisive. Still, whatever the disadvantages of the 11 Plus, at least it focuses upon the supposed abilities of pupils. The same cannot be said of the exciting and popular game of getting your child into a church school, or "faith school" as we now call them. This process, by contrast, centres on the ability of parents; specifically their ability to be as cunning, hypocritical and duplicitous as is humanly possible. The strange thing is that although almost all parents are aware of this, it is considered tactless and in rather poor taste to draw attention to it.
Modern life offers few more entertaining spectacles than that of militant atheists transforming themselves for a few years into seemingly devout churchgoers. At one time it was only necessary to put in an appearance once a month or so and have your child baptised, but these days the competition is so stiff that if you want a glowing reference from the priest, you have to put in the hours. Our local secondary school requires a ten year record of church involvement, which realistically means starting no later than the day after your child is born.
Several of our friends went through this process and we thoroughly enjoyed observing the various mental gymnastics this entailed. Of course the "Road to Damascus" style conversion is embarrassing and hardly ever convincing, so in general the thing is handled with a little subtlety. The first sign might be when the father of a young child announces casually that he himself attended Sunday School as a child and thoroughly enjoyed it. The next time you see him, you learn that his son is now going to the Sunday School at St. Jude's. No mention of school is made at this point and it is considered poor form to crack jokes about using religion to get into a good school. When the subject of St. Jude's secondary school does come up, the parents typically come out with a lot of humbug about liking the ethos of the school and how smart and well behaved the pupils appear to be. Only as an afterthought is academic achievement mentioned, "Of course, I believe their A level results are quite good as well."
The sheer effrontery is, in many cases, absolutely breathtaking. Individuals who have raved on for years about churches being full of paedophile priests and sanctimonious hypocrites, begin chatting about Father James and what a good sort he is, "Very liberal, hardly like a priest at all in some ways." By this time, the guy's wife is on the rota for flower arranging and Creche duty, while he is helping to organise the Summer Fete.
The churches themselves tend to be quite philosophical about all this. They know perfectly well why there are so many parents of young children offering to help out with Junior Church and so on. They also know that after their children reach twelve and are safely in secondary school, 99% of these same parents will drop church for good. Their attitude is that at least some of the teaching at Sunday School might rub off on the children and that it is better for them to come to church from the ages of five to twelve than never to set foot in the place at all.
We all do whatever we feel is necessary to help our children and It is hard to criticise a parent who feels that the only way to get a decent education for their daughter or son is to fight for a place at a church school. It just seems a shame that such antics should be required to get into the best schools. It surely cannot be edifying for a child to observe parents engaged in this sort of self-serving behaviour and it is at least worth considering how this might affect a child's view of religion in later life.
We have ourselves attended church regularly since moving here. Simone serves there most weeks, which means carrying candles and crosses, genuflecting at the right time, crossing herself all over the place and so on. When we moved here she was six. There was never any question of her applying for the church school and for some years we were viewed with suspicion in the church. I mean, why should a father and daughter attend church like that if there's nothing in it for them? You know where you are with couples wanting to marry there or get their kids into school. But just coming to worship the Lord? That's seriously weird! I got some really strange looks when I began running the Youth Club there. I almost felt like pretending that I was only doing it for a school place, just to allay suspicion.