In one hour and twenty minutes from now, an episode of BBC Newsnight featuring me will go to air. It will talk about ACE schools in the UK, and it also has interviews with Professor Michael Reiss, and Paul Medlock from Maranatha Christian School. The film is by Anjana Ahuja.
(Disclaimer: The BBC will not be marketing the episode as ‘Newsnight featuring Jonny Scaramanga’).
Tune in from 10:30 on BBC2, UK viewers. Everyone else, I’ll try my best to get them to put it on the Newsnight YouTube channel afterwards.
If you are killing time until it goes to air, I heartily recommend that you read Paul Braterman’s blog on the subject:
Evolution is a lie says the school. Good curriculum, says England’s School Inspectorate
So yesterday I was on the Jeremy Vine show. UK listeners can catch up on BBC iPlayer here (You want the episode dated 12/06/2014, and my segment starts at 1:09:29). International readers, I hope to have a way for you to hear it in the near future. There’s also an accompanying BBC News article online called “Life in a Christian ‘fundamentalist’ school“.
Defending ACE on the show was Giles Boulton. It may surprise you to learn that I like Giles (as does pretty well everyone that’s met him). He was the ‘cool kid’ at my school, and when I saw him a couple of weeks back at a school reunion, he was thoughtful. He was clear that he didn’t support some of ACE’s positions (he called their political views “crazy”), and equally clear that children need to question things and consider other ideas. He argues that ACE can be supplemented with other good quality teaching to produce a balanced education. I think this is naïve at best, and doesn’t recognise all the ways the environment of a conservative Christian school and the PACEs serve to discourage students from expressing individual thought or challenging core ideas. But still, Giles is undoubtedly well-intentioned and I expect the additional philosophy lessons he offers his students are good.
He got shouted down a bit on the show—partly because he was defending the indefensible, and partly because the debate was loaded in my favour. Jeremy Vine gave Giles a hard time, while I didn’t get asked any difficult questions, and I got to set the terms of the debate because I spoke first and for longer.
Still, the reaction from Twitter was overwhelmingly in my favour. There was no specific hashtag for the debate, so finding tweets about it involves wading through the entire @bbcradio2 and @thejeremyvine feeds, but yesterday I could find exactly one (1) pro-ACE tweet when I looked (here’s my Storify of Twitter’s reaction).
Check out the BBC article; I think it’s pretty good:
The Trojan Horse investigation has focused on an alleged plot to take over some Birmingham schools and run them according to Islamic principles. But while the role of Islam in education has come in for scrutiny, across the UK many students also follow a strict “fundamentalist” Christian curriculum.
For 29-year-old Jonny Scaramanga, who attended Victory Christian School in Bath until he was 14, the experience was “horrendous”.
“At 8:15 I would arrive at my ‘office’ – a desk 2ft wide, with dividers 18 ins tall, designed to remove ‘distractions’,” he said.
“Every morning we had an opening exercise: reciting pledges of allegiance to Jesus Christ, God and the Bible. Next, we recited that month’s scripture passage; we had to memorise around 10-15 Bible-verses each month.”
He said the school adopted a “fundamentalist attitude” to religion, adding: “If you believed what they believed, you were Christian. If you believed anything else, you were not Christian.”
This blog is not dead. I’ve just been busy making some things happen in the real world.
Tomorrow, I will be appearing on the Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2 for a live interview. This is the biggest show on British radio. There will also be a live phone-in (0500 288291; email firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter @thejeremyvine/ @bbcradio2). It would be awesome to have other ex-students or people with relevant knowledge calling in. The show’s on air from 12; please make your voice heard if you have time (and that goes for people who disagree too; the show is all about debate).
As you’re no doubt bored of hearing, I was on BBC1’s The Big Questions last week, debating the question “Can children be damaged in fundamentalist religions?”.
While Twitter was busy talking about my hair, something fairly historic took place. On British television, for the first time to my knowledge, two Christians (of very different sorts) publicly denounced Accelerated Christian Education.
In the battle to save children from indoctrination and poor education, my contribution was probably the least important in the whole segment. By the end of the show, even the person they’d invited to defend fundamentalism agreed that she condemned Accelerated Christian Education. Here’s what happened.