by Marie K Daouda
Thursday, 28
October 2021
Idea
18:28

Why children should be taught original sin

Katharine Birbalsingh shouldn't be attacked for stating the obvious
by Marie K Daouda

No one who believes in original sin should be let anywhere near children — especially not Katharine Birbalsingh, headmistress of the Michaela Community School and Chair for Social Mobility. At least that’s what thousands of people said after Birbalsingh tweeted the following yesterday:

https://twitter.com/Miss_Snuffy/status/1453262136298311689

Birbalsingh is despised in some quarters of the education establishment. Her Michaela School’s silent corridors, its penalties for students who fail to submit their homework, and its insistence on the parents’ duty as educators do not blend well with ‘modern’ educational methods.

The conflict between Birbalsingh’s methods and people who reject original sin is almost 250 years old.

We owe it to one of the main sources of he French enlightenment and of the rejection of reason in favour of emotions — Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In Émile, or on education (1762) Rousseau defends innate human goodness. More than a treatise on education, Émile is a lengthy illustration of Rousseau’s main philosophical principle: Mankind is good but society makes us evil. Rousseau presupposes the existence of  ‘the child’ as an independent entity.

Rousseau is, as often, rather naive: no baby is born without adult implication, no infant could survive out of a social system, and no child could reach the spontaneous promptings of Natural Law if the world around prevented it. And any parent would be grateful that toddlers are not as big and strong as adults.

The doctrine of original sin does not contradict the goodness of mankind. Rather it acknowledges that goodness faces a constant struggle. It takes into account how difficult it is to make the right moral decision, which often is the hardest and more demanding. I would know what is right; yet without a strong training in virtue from infancy to adulthood, I could silence the good impulse in favour of an evil that would make life easier for me.  “For I do not do the good I want to do. Instead, I keep on doing the evil I do not want to do”, writes St Paul to his Roman pupils.

When Rousseau was banned from the Enlightenment clique for his rejection of reason, he wrote Les Confessions (1782), where he justifies all the things he had done — including abandoning his own children because he believed the state ought to provide for them materially and intellectually — not apologising for them at all. Instead he posed as a victim of circumstance.

St Augustine would have tutted disapprovingly, as his own Confessions were not about making excuses, but about thanking God, his mother St Monica, and his spiritual father St Ambrose for their firm loving injunctions to virtue. Augustine notoriously stood against Pelagius, arguing that being cleansed from original sin by baptism does not grant permanent perfection but is akin to shaving one’s beard: one must to dive back into God’s grace repeatedly and to persevere in virtue.

Educators have the duty to see the imperfections of the children entrusted to them. To believe that a rude child is perfect won’t do him or anyone around him any good. Acknowledging someone’s shortcomings and addressing them with affection grants that person the forgiveness of corrected moral flaws, and the improvement of intellectual skills.

Is this something we can afford to do without?

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Peter LR
Peter LR
10 months ago

Katherine is a wonderful educator and wonderfully sensible person. She has endured so much hostility from people incapable of achieving what she has. I suspect that 90% of parents would love their children to be at her school. Not only do they receive great character training but they achieve some of the best exam results in the country.

J Bryant
J Bryant
10 months ago

So much common sense in such a short article.

J Bryant
J Bryant
10 months ago

I suspect many of those critics would only be happy with an education system geared up to turning out little woke socialists.
I’m not trying to be facetious, but isn’t that exactly the goal of many (most?) educators today? They barely hide their motive any more.

JP Martin
JP Martin
10 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

This is correct. My colleagues will often lament their inability to indoctrinate their students. They joke about how “if only we had as much influence as the rightwing media believe, blah blah”. They are completely uninhibited about this.

JP Martin
JP Martin
10 months ago
Reply to  JP Martin

Personally, I am lucky that I do not depend on my academic salary for survival so I enjoy the freedom to say what I like. Most of the time, there is nothing to say because it has already been said in the past. The lines have been drawn over time. We have had these unpleasant conversations before so we all know each other’s positions. The hardcore ideologues are impermeable, anyway. What you say never reaches them. The nature of the work is independent so it limits interactions (this is both good and bad, I find). These things come up again with new people or when the ‘usual suspects’ do not notice who is in the room.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
10 months ago

Under State education teachers get paid whatever the outcome of their teaching. If their pay was docked if their pupils did not learn and pass their exams there might be some incentive to teach effectively.
If the IQ of each pupil was assessed before entry into their class and the average exam result failed to reflect the average IQ at the end of the term then their pay should be reduced. It would give some incentive to provide a effective teaching. They would demand that punctuality and discipline was enforced so that they would maximise their chance of getting full pay.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
10 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

This has long been the problem with education systems in many countries. Very often the poor teacher with bad outcomes earns as much as an excellent teacher.

B Luck
B Luck
10 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

‘Payment by results’ was the main system used to pay teachers in Britain during the second half of the nineteenth century. While it did incentivise more effective teaching methods, I think it also led to other problems, such as excessive teaching to the test (e.g. teachers focusing only on the examined subjects—the ‘three Rs’—to the detriment of history, the sciences, classics, music etc.). It was evenutally abandoned around 1890 I think. Might be worth checking out?

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
10 months ago

It would seem the Education industry at every level, and accross the West, is out to wreck the students and society.

It is comparable to if the Medical industry set out to do harm to the patients health at every process when they interacted.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
10 months ago

It’s about humility. The left’s rejection of original sin — be it the theological concept or its modern secular avatar — is another way of saying that we, the left, are a higher evolution of humankind and are ourselves the standard of good. It’s equivalent to the evangelistic “once saved, always saved” doctrine of some fundamentalist Christian sects. It’s a heresy, but a very seductive heresy which allows the bearers to convince themselves that they are literally incapable of sin.

Karl Francis
Karl Francis
10 months ago

Interesting, thanks.

Ian McKinney
Ian McKinney
10 months ago

I generally abide by the maxim that Katherine Birbalsingh is right about everything.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
10 months ago

Perhaps many (especially the woke and progressives) who despise Birbalsingh’s views should perhaps take a deep breath, and read or re-read Lord of the Flies.

Andrew D
Andrew D
10 months ago

I’ve long thought that the doctrine of original sin is the most realistic assessment of the human condition, regardless of whether or not you believe in other aspects of Christian doctrine.
Of course many of those who denounce Katharine Birbalsingh do believe in original sin – when it comes to what they call ‘Whiteness’. But no redemption is offered for that sin, it’s the antithesis of the Christian doctrine.

T Doyle
T Doyle
10 months ago

Brilliant article. So fundamental to humanity and reality. Birbalsingh is real role model.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
10 months ago
Reply to  T Doyle

Indeed, short, succinct and revealing.
Dr. Daouda is part of the editorial committee of History Reclaimed; a site I would highly recomment for those interested in history. The site publishes pieces from historians of stature (e.g. Andrew Roberts and David Saul) with the purpose of providing a corrective to the abuse of history for political purposes. It’s not full of crazies who see everything the west has ever done as an unalloyed good, but takes a balanced view looking at the good and bad and coming to an overall assessment; what is doesn’t do in start with a presumption of guilt. A couple of the latest posts included one on Christopher Columbus and another on the Bengal Famine.
I apologise for posting this here, it may be inappropriate, but I thought some might be interested.

Last edited 10 months ago by Linda Hutchinson
Geoff Haigh
Geoff Haigh
10 months ago

Anyone who has any experience of young babies soon notice how manipulative they can be, especially with young inexperienced parents, who so doting that they fail to recognise that they are being manipulated byu the child to secure feed and treats.

V Solar
V Solar
10 months ago

At last someone has clarified the meaning of ‘original sin’. Thank you Marie K Daouda! The term comes up so often these days and is so misunderstood. Personally I find it to be a realistic and useful concept.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
10 months ago

My generation mostly had children who were indulged and not disciplined. In most cases this has not had mostly good results in adulthood, though it must be said to that some children thrived despite this.

Edward De Beukelaer
Edward De Beukelaer
10 months ago

Another way of looking at ‘original sin’ is that nobody of us is born ‘pure and anew’. we all carry the past: from our parents to …. yes the beginning of earth… in us. However difficult this is to imagine, unless we can clearly draw the line where ‘we’ (‘you ‘I’) starts and the outside influence stops, we have to accept it is a continuum.
This has a lot of implications, lost/ignored in many discussions (and research), especially things social and medical.

Annemarie Ni Dhalaigh
Annemarie Ni Dhalaigh
10 months ago

A great article. Barbalsingh is a wonderful educator. Original sin is a very liberating concept. It offers the freedom to choose and teaching children about it gives them the opportunity to develop into adults. That is why progressives hate it.

Ri Bradach
Ri Bradach
10 months ago

Excellent defence of the point made by one of the few leaders in a position of leadership in today’s errant society.

Thank you.

David Jennings
David Jennings
10 months ago

Thank you Ms. Daouda for an excellent article on an important subject, expressed concisely. I hope we see more of you and such articles. This is why I enjoy, in North America, reading UnHerd.

James Joyce
James Joyce
10 months ago

I really don’t understand what is going on here. As a Yank, I’m instinctively against mixing religion into the public schools (US flavor), and I think teaching right and wrong can be done without this.
But I’m as against being “woke” as a non-woman can be. “Wokeism” is a religion. I’m an atheist. I’m against religion being used in the public sphere–look at Senile Joe Biden and all his references to god.
What is going on here? I don’t know which side to be on here.