Friday, January 25, 2008

Least Favourite Meals

Schools make a dog's dinner.

Some philosophers are born, some are made and some just happen. I may have just made that up – though it is, of course, a paraphrase of a famous diktat.

My old mate and part-time philosopher, The Chef, had his Unified Theory of the Least Favourite Meal to fall back on when either the time or the meat was ripe. It goes something like this.

If you ask any group of school children what is their least favourite school dinner and remove that meal from the menu, all that happens is the next least favourite meal simply “moves up” to take its place. Eventually you'd be having fish fingers and chips every day until the kids were thoroughly sick of them!

Simple. Logical. Works. But, not from the Jamie Oliver School of Nutritious School Dinners.

It occurs to me that this insightful dictum can be applied to all sorts of things – things far more important than little Johnnie's lunch-time nosh. How about Johnnie's school for instance?

This is what was happening on BBC Question Time last evening. The Unified Theory of the Least Favourite Meal had morphed into the General Theory of the Least Favourite School.

The debate focused on the advantages, real or perceived, of faith schools and the dastardly tricks some parents will go to in order to obtain places for their children at these”good” schools.

Parents take the view that faith schools are better than non-faith. In individual cases, this may be correct. As a generalisation: it's a generalisation.

What was most interesting was the methods some parents use in order to place their children in a faith school – even though they are, strictly speaking, not of that faith. I suppose this does do some good in swelling the pews on a Sunday morning, but I'd be surprised if these phoney attempts to convince the local vicar you are a devout Christian really work.

An example. I started school as a bright-eyed five year old at a Catholic School on the south-side of Chicago. In those days, all white children went to the Catholic school because there were black children in the local maintained school. Therefore, about 25% of my school was Catholic and at least the same number were Jewish. This made for interesting education!

Even as a five year old I can distinctly remember the nuns being very angry on Jewish holidays! Al the Jewish kids stayed home!

While this anecdote may say more about race relations in Chicago in the 50's than it does about faith schools, it does resonate with the parents of today who think that their children should get an advantage (more perceived than real I would argue) simply by pretending to qualify for state-aided religious education.

The summing up was from the Labour Party spokesman who blithely informed the audience that, in any event, it would be impossible to do anything about faith schools – or independent schools for that matter – because the European Court would surely strike down any attempt to limit their existence as impinging on the parents rights to choose education for their children.

What we need are smarter parents

Until that happens, we're stuck with the least favourite meal. Bon apetit!

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