The Nativity Cat

A late night sewing session produced the first of (no doubt) many costumes destined for the school nativity. Milla is a cat. Specifically an orange cat. She is thrilled about this and I love her enthusiasm for taking part in school performances.

But. But, I do feel a little uneasy. We are an atheist family. Our local school is a Church of England primary school (for international readers: despite being state run a great many primary schools in the UK are C of E controlled meaning that Christianity is part of their way of life). Although on the surface I had the option to apply to a non-C of E primary in reality I had no choice but the village school. The positives far outweigh this one negative.

So we have to find ways to work around their religion. I do feel frustrated that the school’s solution to our beliefs versus their Christmas celebrations and plays is to ask us if we’d prefer Milla not to take part. Considering they started prep for Christmas back in September/October I don’t want my child to be excluded from such a big part of their work. What I want is for our beliefs to be included and respected.

The pre-school she attended were happy to talk about celebrating Solstice and to switch terminology for Milla. But it doesn’t feel like the school are prepared to include our beliefs in discussion about theirs. Both of us having been through C of E primary schools Mr Kat and I are of the opinion that religions should be taught in schools but should not be the foundation of a state-run school.

Where does it leave us? In the same place as the cat in the Nativity: we’re there but we don’t really belong.

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  • Reply Rachael Iddon December 3, 2011 at 11:23 pm

    Hi Kat, I hope you don’t mind me adding my thoughts. My children also attend a C of E primary school. The same school that I went to in fact. When I was at school, I remember there being a strong Christian teaching so I shouldn’t have been so taken aback by it when I visited as a parent (but it did seem a bit full on).
    Having said that, I wanted them to have the experience of being in a C of E school. I don’t particularly expect them to become devout Christians, but like it or not, Christianity is the predominant culture in British society. I want them to understand why we have certain traditions. I want them to be familiar with classic bible stories. I don’t want them to accept all the teachings without question. I never really understood all the Christian stuff I heard as a child but the seeds were planted. I found that as I explored other religions and traditions (particularly yoga philosophy) I came to make more sense out of Christianity and to get more comfort from it. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that maybe exposure to other traditions helps to strengthen your own, core beliefs. Your children are likely to identify with your atheism and no school can take that away.
    I am an occasional church goer and recently had the children baptised but I don’t think I could ever be called devout.
    Anyway, I understand your frustration that your beliefs can’t be fitted in better. Hopefully it won’t stop your children having a great experience at school. I hope this doesn’t come across as preachy (pun intended) and I bet you still need a hanky at that nativity!

  • Reply Rachel December 3, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    I am a practising Christian, but believe very fervently that education should be secular and not religious. I think faith schools are at best misplaced, and at worst socially divisive! I share this not to be contraversial or difficult (although that’s fun sometimes) but just to reassure you that not all Christians share the seemingly universal belief that faith schools are great.
    I am sure that you will bring Milla up to be respectful of other beliefs, and politely questioning of assumptions, and that is the most important thing. Or perhaps the only thing.

  • Reply geekmummy December 4, 2011 at 8:37 am

    This kind of thing is something that has caused much discussion in our house recently, as we are in the process of applying for a primary school place for the geekdaughter. As an atheist family we want her to be educated about all different religions, but we don’t want any emphasis on any particular one as “the truth”. We believe it is the place of schools to teach fact, not belief – that should be handled by the church.

    Fortunately our local school is not religion-based, but it is still state-run, and as such still has he legal requirement for a daily act of worship, which will be predominantly Christian. In making our school choice we have looked around 6 local schools, and in all cases when the question of religion has arisen we’ve been given the same response – you may remove your child from religious education and acts of worship. But I don’t want to remove my daughter from an aspect of school – it will make her “different” at an age when differences are to be regarded with suspicion. Like you I’d like the school to respect her religion.

    I don’t think it’ll help, but the geekdaddy did write to our MP about this this week, to ask that the legal requirement for an act of worship in schools be re-examined.

    I’m very interested in reading your posts about living an atheist life, thanks for sharing :)

  • Reply abby December 7, 2011 at 9:59 am

    Ugh, I feel your pain. After a lot of discussion, we decided Milo would not be participating in the school nativity this year. Ours was an easier decision than yours, as Milo is younger and only attending two mornings a week, so we didn’t feel like it would be that big of a deal.

    Cue me helping out at the school yesterday morning and listening in shock as a group of children from the nearby {non-religious} primary came to sing to the kids. Every single song was Christian, things like Mary Had a Baby. I was not pleased and quite shocked as I come from a country where there is a definite and clear divide between church and state.

    I don’t know what we’re going to do as he gets older. A lot of grumbling, probably :)

  • Reply Eve G December 7, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    It does make we wonder how the school would handle it if you had a different faith rather than none (They must have experienced children from different religoius backgrounds before. How did they respect their beliefs? Surely not by expecting them to be excluded from Christian celebrations).

    This lack of diversity is one downsides of small village schools in our area that I had slight concerns about. I think its so important schools consider diversity not from an “us” (Christians) and them “non Christians” perspective but from an inclusive “there are many different beliefs about life” one.

  • Reply Rachael Iddon December 7, 2011 at 10:35 pm

    Hi there, I just wanted to add, in defence of (our) C of E school, although there is quite clearly a very strong Christian agenda, it is not to the exclusion of learning about other faiths. My children have learned about Divali and Eid this term. Hopefully they’ve learned to spell them better than me :-/
    I was also wondering how a school such as ours would ‘deal’ with a child of another faith?
    It was my daughter’s turn for the nativity today. I managed not to cry but it was tough. Especially when they sang ‘Mary, rock your baby’. Soooooo cute.

  • Reply Kat December 20, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    Thank you all for your comments, they are very insightful. They do cater reasonably well for other religions but seem unable to grasp atheism!

    @ GeekMummy – I will write to my MP!

    @Abby – so very peculiar that our history has led us to religion being such a big part of primary education. Very surprising the non-CofE school were all over the Mary songs but I guess Ruth’s revelation on the daily act of worship may explain that?

    Milla was an excellent nativity cat but the importance of doing a play (and you know they won’t be doing any other plays, urgh) means that Milla loves the nativity and every mention of Jesus. Hey ho, I’m sure she will find her own path.

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