No, the Church of England is not ‘indoctrinating’ kids

It’s the woke, not parish priests, who are brainwashing today’s youngsters.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Culture Politics UK

This week, Professor Alice Roberts, vice president of Humanists UK, launched an attack on the Church of England. ‘We really don’t need more faith schools in this country. I wish the government would prioritise inclusive schools, rather than using taxpayer’s money to fund the Church of England’s indoctrination programme’, she said on Tuesday.

Oh yes, of course. That infamous, much-feared ‘Church of England indoctrination programme’. Most of us tremble in fear at its mere mention! Possessed with bleak and forbidding moral self-regard, this fanatical church has been raining down brimstone on unbelievers and the impious for decades. The hate-preachers of Anglican jihad punish with unremitting ferocity anyone who defiles the Book of Common Prayer. CofE fundamentalists have been unrelenting in their denunciation of Catholics, dissenters, Jews and all people who refuse to bake cakes, hold jumble sales or sing ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’…

Clearly, Professor Roberts’s condemnation of the Church of England is absurd on a number of levels. Anglican indoctrination doesn’t exist in any meaningful sense today. The stereotype of the placid or borderline-agnostic Anglican priest is based in much truth. Today, rather than concentrating their efforts on indoctrination in schools and society at large, most Anglicans seem keener to apologise for existing in the first place. The Church of England is so inoffensive that even arch-atheist Richard Dawkins has spoken of the beauty of its services.

This is because Anglicanism, unlike Presbyterianism or many other low-church Protestant sects, has always been light on theology. It has primarily been a projection of Englishness. This is why you see Union flags in Anglican churches, and why it places so much emphasis on hymns and ritual. It was always thus: Catholics were prosecuted during the Reformation not for heresy, but for treason.

The people actually keen on indoctrination today can be found elsewhere. In one camp, we find some proselytisers of Islam, who take theology very seriously, and are likewise keen on indoctrination. Elsewhere, we have the secular preachers of woke, who brainwash school pupils with their doctrines on trans and critical race theory.

It would be far braver and more honest for Professor Roberts to attack these fanatics for their indoctrination of children. But ‘progressives’ today are not interested in taking on the genuinely reactionary forces in society. Instead, they prefer to spout self-serving platitudes.

The power of foreign languages

Growing numbers of English schoolchildren are choosing not to study modern foreign languages at GCSE because they fear it won’t help them in their career. According to a survey by the British Council this week, youngsters are no longer inclined to learn French or German beyond the age of 14 because they don’t see their value.

Some lament this trend on utilitarian grounds. ‘The world is more interconnected than ever’, wrote Rachel Sylvester for The Times this week, ‘and businesses need employees who can communicate across borders’. One study for the former Department for Business, Innovation and Skills claimed that deficient language skills were costing the UK the equivalent of 3.5 per cent of GDP a year by limiting potential exports.

Yet there is so much more to be said for learning a foreign language than its putative ‘utility’ – which is a nonsense argument anyway, considering the indisputable fact that most global businesspeople do speak English. The most obvious benefit, rather, is that it sharpens one’s mind, improves one’s cognitive skills. It helps you speak and write with precision and clarity. Learning and practising foreign languages every day is the equivalent of doing a daily crossword. By contrast, to rely on Google Translate when it comes to second languages is the equivalent of using a calculator to do sums instead of using one’s brain.

Most Brits who know any grammar at all were taught it via French, because grammar stopped being taught in English lessons decades ago. To learn a second language – and I began to teach myself Italian over a decade ago – is not only to learn how foreigners speak, it is also to learn how your own language works, to learn grammar: to understand what different words actually are and do.

It can also be fascinating. This is partly why I taught myself Catalan, which has scant use in the global marketplace, but continues to intrigue. This is the language that sounds like Spanish, looks like French and is closer to Italian than both.

The technocratic argument misses the point. Learning any second language makes you a better thinker.

The twilight of the Irish diaspora

One of the most notable aspects to Shane MacGowan, the Pogues lead singer who died last week aged 65, was not just that he lived to this age. There is also the striking fact that for such an icon of Irishness – with his legendary boozing and spirit of irreverence – he wasn’t properly Irish at all.

MacGowan was born in 1957 in Pembury in Kent, while his Irish parents were visiting their relatives. Though he spent his first six years in County Tipperary, he and his family then returned to England, to Tunbridge Wells, also in Kent. He attended nearby Holmewood House prep school, before winning a scholarship to Westminster School. After that, he moved to London, where he became active in the punk scene. This is why his accent remained more recognisably Kent and London than Irish.

He was not what most would recognise as orthodox Irish, but he did embody a kind of Irishman of his time – the second-generation Irishman in England, who was proud of his roots but grew up simultaneously English.

The Irish have been migrating to England en masse ever since the 1840s. MacGowan was the product of a generation of postwar emigrants who moved to England between the 1940s to the 1980s seeking employment. I like to think of myself as partly of this generation, with my mother having moved here from Dublin in the 1960s. But there were legions more at my Catholic secondary school in west London in the 1980s and 1990s who had a far stronger claim to be Irish than I did, even if they didn’t remotely sound it.

With the emergence of the Celtic Tiger in the 1990s, mass Irish immigration to the UK came to an end. Sure, Irish people still move here, but not in waves and settling in Irish areas, but as cosmopolitan singletons, skilled in IT, and settling seamlessly among the natives. The Irish and Irish-English diaspora has assimilated almost completely. As a result, most white people in England today have a direct or indirect family connection to Ireland.

Shane MacGowan represents one of the last of his kind. His passing represents the twilight of the diaspora.

Patrick West is a spiked columnist. His latest book, Get Over Yourself: Nietzsche For Our Times, is published by Societas.

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