DOREEN WACHMANN COLUMN
Ofsted must respect frum school values

FUNDAMENTALISM is defined as a form of religion, especially Islam or Protestant Christianity that upholds belief in the strict, literal interpretation of scripture.

It began with 19th-century British and American Protestants who reacted against theological liberalism and cultural modernism.

The term later became applied to an extremist form of any religion, including Islamism and charedi Judaism — a convenient adjective with which to damn a way of life of which one does not approve.

In more recent years the term has, paradoxically, become applied to secularism. According to the Urban Dictionary, secular fundamentalism is the adherence to an anti-religious ideology that militantly ridicules, mocks, scorns and satirises religion.

Last week, charedi educationist Rabbi Avrohom Pinter used the term to describe Ofsted’s current onslaught on the curricula of charedi schools, led by chief inspector Amanda Spielman.

No surprise then that Spielman was one of the “seven women who refused to be silenced by religious bullies”, chosen by the National Secular Society last International Women’s Day.

She was praised by the society for continually working to prevent shocking “religious demands getting in the way of the education and welfare of schoolchildren”.

They praised the fact that she was tackling illegal faith schools and was opposed to the 50 per cent religion-based admissions cap at faith schools, as well as her condemnation of the separation of boys and girls.

The question needs to be asked whether our mainstream Jewish community is leaning over too far backwards to try to satisfy Ofsted inspectors and is not sufficiently aware of the very real threat to religious expression in this country through this fundamentalist secular agenda.

There is not enough general awareness of the anti-religious secular agenda which is motivating so much of the crackdown on charedi educational institutions.

The Ofsted crackdown on religious schools began as a reaction against the extremist Islam 2014 Trojan Horse controversy. But humanists were not slow to jump on to the anti-religious fundamentalism agenda and come up with their own militant fundamentalist agenda.

The mainstream Jewish community should fight against this as strongly as it does against Labour antisemitism.

Rabbi Pinter compared the British charedi educational situation with that in America where, he said, “the right to express religion is protected by the law and the constitution — here the government can do whatever they want”.

But what happens in the UK is also beginning to happen in America where currently charedi educationists are horrified that the New York authorities are beginning to insist on minimum hours of secular curriculum in Yiddish-speaking yeshivot and are worried that, like in the UK, they may have to teach about life-styles antithetical to Torah teaching.

Here Ofsted inspections are a part of life for every educational institution.

In America, Jewish educationists are currently horrified at the very thought of non-Jewish inspections of Jewish schools.

Here every Jewish school has to jump through hoops to try to satisfy inspectors who may have an anti-religious agenda.

When will we stop trying to satisfy the insatiable secular educational bullies and fight for our right to teach our religious values?

Ofsted certainly has a right to demand safety in our schools and their buildings and also a decent secular education so that our children can be successful in navigating the modern would.

But they do not have the right to encroach on our intrinsic values and try and impose alien ones on all our children.


Don’t let children become slaves to internet

LAST week’s headline telling parents to worry less about their children’s screen time because there was little medical evidence against it was very misleading.

It was like giving a blanket hechsher to kids becoming as hooked on their machines as their parents are.

Mobile phone addiction is a massive problem as people no longer interact face-to-face and substitute online so-called “friends” for real ones.

The latest craze is for people to use a bot for counselling instead of a real person, as if a mere robotic machine can substitute for human empathy.

Our world is rapidly becoming depersonalised as the virtual online world takes the place of reality and human communication.

The internet is a wonderful tool if used wisely, if we are in control of it and not its slave.

Kids are particularly prone to addictive behaviour which is why, medical evidence or not, parents should encourage their children to be as naturally creative and communicative as possible and only use gadgets if they actually enhance the quality of their lives, rather than undermining their basic humanity.

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