Rye College and Aquinas


Before deciding whether they are willing that Rye College should be run by the religious Aquinas Academy Trust, Rye parents and residents might wish to give some thought to whether it is desirable for Rye’s only secondary school to be taken over by an organisation named after a 13th century Italian Catholic theologian, some of whose (saintly) pronouncements are far from well suited to the education of young people in the 21st century. Here is just a selection:

St Thomas Aquinas. Detail from an alterpiece painting in the National Gallery by Carlo Crivelli

The inferiority of women: “The male is separate from the female because the male is more ordered to intellectual operation.” “Woman is subject to man because in the male reason predominates.” “Man’s superiority over woman flows from his having been created first.” “Man is the image of God in a way a woman is not.” “A woman’s hair is a sign of her subjection.”
Witches: the 15th century witch-hunter’s manual Malleus Maleficarum began by quoting Aquinas and quotes him over 100 times. Promoters of the witch phobia which followed often quoted Aquinas more than any other source.
Marriage and parenting: “Marriage should be indissoluble because the father is useful in the education of the children (a) because he is more rational than the mother (b) because being stronger he is better able to inflict physical punishment”.
Heretics (i.e. people who think for themselves): “They deserve not only to be separated from the Church by excommunication but are also to be severed from the world by death.”
Seeking after truth: Bertrand Russell on Aquinas: “He is not engaged in an inquiry, the result of which it is impossible to know in advance. Before he begins to philosophise, he already knows the truth: it is declared in the Catholic faith.”
That is the nub of the problem with faith schools: They already know the truth. And their particular truth is always the best or even the only one.
Is it not time that it became a human right for children not to be indoctrinated at school with whichever exclusive truth their school exists to promulgate, which has always been the raison d’etre of religious schools? Education should not be the imposition on children of the beliefs of others but a fostering of the ability to think for oneself, assess evidence and gradually develop their own beliefs and values and make their own life choices and decisions. It means teaching them about the many different ways in which mankind has attempted to make sense of the world, and allowing them the freedom to decide which, if any, of those beliefs they eventually wish to embrace.
There is abundant evidence that the recent encouragement of “faith schools” has allowed the existence of some schools which have been permitted, at their worst, to censor the broad national curriculum, teach creationism in place of science, ignore other religions, promote misogyny, practise gender segregation, create cultural isolationism, foster intolerance, withhold sex education, demonise homosexual people and generally stifle freedom of thought.
It is of course important to acknowledge that the vast majority of religious schools cannot be faulted on any of these counts. But however enlightened they may be, it cannot be right that religion and education in this largely secular country are still, and perhaps increasingly, linked in a way that is not permitted for government schools in the US and several other countries. The freeing of education from the grip of religion is long overdue.

Photo: Kenneth Bird

Image Credits: Kenneth Bird .

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  1. This article makes a confusing range of points. The author is clearly not really interested in Rye College or the best interests of the students but instead wishes to expose her belief that the ephemeral, subjective views of contemporary culture should take priority over the rights of parents for the education of their children.
    Nothing expressed in this article reflects the reality or achievements of the Aquinas Academy Trust. Instead the focus is on the name of a 13th century saint and resentment towards 13th century attitudes. The article contributes nothing useful towards the debate and is most disappointing.

    • As the above comment was not justified by anything actually written in the Opinion piece, it did not seem to warrant a reply. However, for the record, and as the debate continues, there is nothing in the original which in any way justifies the assertion that the writer favours what the comment describes as “the ephemeral, subjective views of contemporary culture”. That is an absurd misrepresentation of the views expressed. Furthermore the statement that “The author is clearly not really interested in Rye College or the best interests of the students” could not be further from the truth. After 40 years as a teacher, in a variety of schools, and as a parent and grandparent, I care very much that all children should receive the best education possible to enable them to achieve their potential and live happy and fulfilled lives. That should not involve having to attend a school controlled by any organisation with a religious agenda. Compulsory worship, obligatory religious observance or biased religious teaching should have no place in education. The U.S., which is a more overtly religious nation than the U.K., does not permit government schools of a religious nature, and its constitution enshrines in law the separation of church and state. That helps to ensure true freedom of conscience.

  2. Thank you Elaine for that learned treatise.
    Now of all times Rye parents should be very wary of their children being exposed to a Christian educational system.
    There is a national enquiry at present examining past abuse by clergy and the Archbishop of Canterbury was almost in tears this week apologising for their behaviour.
    This is particularly relevant because children from Hastings, St Leonard’s and Brede were directly exposed to these dangers in the not too distant past.


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