Profiting from Religious Schools

On Friday 15 March, Keith Vaz snuggled up with one of Britain’s leading neoconservatives to officially open Leicester’s first free school. The school in question being Krishna Avanti, in Spencefield Lane, Evington… and the working-class-hating neoconservative who was welcomed into our midst being Michael Gove.

Built on the former site of Leicester Grammar Juniors, the new Krishna school was set up in September 2011 by the Avanti School’s Trust — a body that aims to promote the ideals of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), that is, the Hare Krishna movement.

Although the free school takes pupils from all faiths, ISKCON teachings will clearly be a central part of the schools curriculum, including not least the troublesome idea of Vedic creationism.  As Meera Nanda notes about the rise of Krishna schools in the United States:

The intellectual force driving Vedic creationism is a pair of American Hindus, Michael Cremo and Richard Thompson, both resident “scientists” of the Bhaktivedanta Institute, the research wing of ISKCON. Cremo recently published a huge book, Human Devolution: A Vedic Alternative to Darwin’s Theory, which ties together his (and Thompson’s) previous and even larger book, The Forbidden Archeology, with literature on paranormal phenomena to argue for creationism from a spirit-centred, Vedic-Hindu perspective. While Cremo insists he is offering a “scientific” alternative to Darwin, almost all of his evidence comes from paranormal phenomena, including studies of extra-sensory perception, faith-healing, reincarnation and past-birth memories, UFOs (unidentified flying objects) and alien abductions.

Vedic creationism poses a clear and dangerous challenge to science, but it is not much different from the type of creationism that was taught in Sir Peter Vardy’s Christian academies; or from the evangelical hot air being preached in Lord Edmiston’s three Christian academies in the West Midlands. (For more on these schools, see “Schools for Scoundrels.” Note: much like David Samworth who runs two academies in Leicester (“From Pie Factories to Academies”), Lord Edmiston is a member of the secretive Tory pressure group known as the Midlands Industrial Council.)

Profit of course is key to the whole concept of academies and so-called free schools, and so it is no surprise that the Avanti School’s Trust chairman, John Simpson, is the former Chief Executive of Tribal Education — which is a division of the highly profitable Tribal Group plc. A company whose well-heeled chairman is a board member of ITV plc (John Ormerod), and whose board room includes the former Finance Director of the private equity giant 3i Group plc (Simon Ball).

It is a nonsense that schools should be run for profit, and it is a double-nonsense that creationism (the claim that god created the earth in seven days) should be “taught as a science while Darwinism (evolution) is taught just as another scientific theory!”

Creating more faith schools will only ever serve to “increase segregation and division in working-class communities.” Therefore it is increasingly vital if we are to move forward, not backwards to the nineteenth century, that we must fight collectively for schools to be democratically run for the public good.

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