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COMMENTARY

The bias of denominational education

04:04 AM February 04, 2020

When I attended a Catholic parochial school, I believed, along with every student in that school, that Catholicism was the one true and only path to “salvation.” Ten years of that and on to another 4 years of Catholic university education cemented what I thought would be my lifelong denominational path.

But, as a lifelong skeptic thereafter, science taught me to be rational, logical, and sensible. The 14 years of Catholic education did not provide me with such virtues. While this view is from a Catholic perspective, the same can be said with other sectarian schools. The motivation of these schools revolves around proselytizing a belief.

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Until 20 years ago, many people never had the opportunity to be outside of this stuffy, absolutist ideology (Pope Francis calls this “rigidity” a cause of Christian decline) perpetrated by people who themselves have been in a profound spell brought on by the very same captive exposure I went through as a student.

Despite the transformative influence of information technology, the gurus of the denominational system continue to harbor moral grandstanders as if the whole world revolves around them. This is uniquely true in the Philippines because the Catholic population, at 86 percent, and as high as it is, is uniformly present throughout the populace. (Only 16 percent of the world’s population are Catholics). The non-Christian population is almost entirely in the southern reaches of the islands. We grew up without any contact with non-Christians.

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Back in the day, the informational isolation gave students no other way of independently confirming what the teacher said. “Argumentum ad ignorantiam” (appeal to ignorance) reigned, and the science argument was never sufficiently advanced to counter this fallacy. The deference fostered by the system intimidated the staff, or they were genuinely ignorant of things we take for granted today. Imagine a high school teacher running around talking about Adam and Eve. The religious bias runs amuck in a sectarian system.

The intensification of belief has been brought on by the sheer dominance of the religious culture and the resulting pervasiveness of biases in everyday expression. This leaves students desperately stifled into becoming compliant thinkers. In a knowledge economy, we need critical thinkers, not compliant ones. The many years of this system of education have arguably already given us very poor representation in the STEM economy.

The power of religious conditioning at an early age, reinforced by family and cultural norms, has the potential to be the person’s identity throughout one’s life. The seeds of prejudice and intolerance are planted at a time when a child is not able to discern what is right and wrong. When a child should be taught human values of tolerance and respect, he is instead stuffed with doctrines and fear.

On the academic side, faith-based schools avoid any subjects that contradict the doctrine. Creationism and “intelligent design” are examples of religious teachings that have been debunked by the scientific community. There is a near-universal enmity toward LGBTQ issues among most religions. The absolutism of a religious education does not advance the cause of progressive thinking.

The vaunted goal of setting a moral compass as a denominational goal has increasingly fallen into disrepute. You can trace the divisiveness, the prejudice, and the intolerant nature of the Middle East from the subjugation of its people on the extremism of religion. Lest anybody think it’s a Muslim problem, it is well to review the Inquisition and the more recent genocide at Srebrenica.

You’d think that after 9/11, the forces of sectarian education would rethink the “life after death “ mantra. It’s no secret that the motivation of the people behind this carnage was the paradise that supposedly awaited their “martyrdom.”

Seventy-eight percent of private schools in the Philippines (25 percent in Japan) are denominational (and mostly Catholic). No doubt about our religiosity. But are we more tolerant, less prejudiced, more progressive, and better critical thinkers? Decide for yourself.

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Edwin de Leon ([email protected]) is a retired science teacher, high school principal, and a secular humanist.

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