Give me a child until he is seven years old,’ said the Jesuit priest St Ignatius Loyola, ‘and I will show you the man.’
The Collins Dictionary of Quotations cites a more chilling version of those words, as an old English proverb: ‘Give me a child for the first seven years and he is mine forever.’
Inspirational message — or a warning against indoctrination? The question has renewed relevance this week after a Church of England diocese revealed it is teaching a controversial ‘pyramid of white supremacy’ in its primary schools.
Children’s minds are uniquely impressionable. They can be moulded in any way, according to how they are taught. I believe passionately that it is crucial to ensure all British children, from every background, grow up free from the taint of racism.
Children in Church of England schools are being taught a ‘pyramid of white supremacy’ anti-racism theory
But I strongly oppose the use of this unproven teaching tool. Far from helping pupils understand the importance of loving their neighbours — perhaps the most important of all Christian doctrines — it emphasises the differences between children on the basis of their skin colour and it encourages them to think of themselves as morally flawed.
It is a poisonous system, damaging young minds. And precisely because they are so young, most children will lack the critical faculties to analyse the teaching material and reject its errors.
On the contrary, pupils in this age group assume that whatever they are taught must be correct. To inflict this ‘pyramid of white supremacy’ on them is an abuse of the trust they and their parents have placed in the schools.
The pyramid graphic can be seen on the website for the Church of England’s Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, as part of a document called Responding To Racism.
The diocese, led by Bishop Martin Seeley, controls 87 local schools, all but two of which are at primary level for children aged 11 and under. Based on the ‘critical race theory’ fashionable in American universities, the pyramid claims that casual racism leads directly to genocide.
When white people deny that their skin colour gives them ‘privileges’ that other races don’t have, or when they claim that ‘not all white people’ are racist, they are somehow on a path to ‘mass murder’, ‘lynching’, ‘hate crimes’ and ‘police brutality,’ according to the graphic.
And white guilt is supposedly spread even more widely than that. Children who take no interest in politics, and who avoid speaking up when they suspect others of racist thinking, are being told that they, too, are directly to blame for racist murders.
It staggers me that in British schools, this theory — completely unproven and highly controversial even in the United States — is being taught as fact. On the graphic, there is a big blue arrow, leading straight from ‘normalisation’ to ‘genocide’; and the child who says, ‘Politics don’t affect me,’ is automatically condemned.
One of the other strange things about this graphic is how disconnected it is from British culture. One ‘step’ of the pyramid, headed ‘Calls for violence’, condemns the Ku Klux Klan and the burning of crosses: both vile, and both unknown in Britain.
These are aberrations of American society, particularly in the Southern states; but children in Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds are being taught about them as if they happened here — and will happen again, if the children themselves don’t submit to the tenets of critical race theory.
It also, bizarrely, belittles some of the best aspects of American history and culture.
I vividly remember visiting a convent school in the U.S. South and being horrified to learn that 19th-century black slaves were forbidden to learn to read. That was truly inhuman.
But the white nuns who taught the daughters of the plantation owners also, secretly, taught some of the slaves — and put themselves at great risk by doing so. That’s real Christian courage.
Yet critical race theory insists that all who live in a racist society are themselves racist, whether that’s Confederate America or modern Britain.
The worst, most dangerous aspect of this teaching is how insidiously it undermines basic Christian ideals. Protestant or Catholic, the commandment is the same: Jesus said that after loving God, the most important rule for everyone was: ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’
The diocese, led by Bishop Martin Seeley (pictured), controls 87 local schools, all but two of which are at primary level for children aged 11 and under
That means seeing everyone as equal; all the same in the eyes of God. It doesn’t matter if we’re black British, white British, African, Polish, Latin American, Indian or anything else — we’re all human, all neighbours. We’re all in it together.
When I went to Church on Sunday, all of us in the congregation offered each other the sign of peace — a handshake, a smile and a nod, perhaps a kiss for relatives. That was shared universally, regardless of any differences.
It made no odds if our neighbours were old, or children, or disabled, or new faces, or alone, or with their families… and it certainly made no difference what their skin colour happened to be.
But, according to critical race theory, skin colour should matter very much. In fact, the ‘pyramid of white supremacy’ emphasises that if I don’t discriminate — that is, if I take no notice of skin colour — I am the perpetrator of appalling race hatred.
How is a child supposed to reconcile those two opposite credos? Has the Church of England even begun to ask itself that question? What are its teachers meant to say when children become confused, and terrified of thinking the wrong thing?
My church is Catholic, but this is a danger that faces all Christians. In particular, the Church of England has a responsibility to avoid sowing division, because it is the established church. It represents Britain at its best and, though most people are no longer regular churchgoers, it retains a great deal of influence.
One of the most uplifting aspects of the Coronation in May, at Westminster Abbey, was how inclusive and diverse it was, embracing many religions and all the races of the Commonwealth.
I believe passionately that it is crucial to ensure all British children, from every background, grow up free from the taint of racism, writes Catherine Pepinster (pictured)
In that regard, the Christian churches, and all the faiths in Britain, have an important role to play as the conscience of the nation. It is right for senior religious figures to contribute to political debate. But the best way to do this is by practical means.
When the cost-of-living crisis was at its worst last winter and people were struggling with their fuel bills, many churches opened their doors to offer literal warmth to those who needed it. That was a practical response to a political issue.
But it’s quite wrong for the churches to seize on fashionable theories as a means of proving how woke and virtuous they are. The Church of England should not be chasing after ‘likes’ on social media.
Good Christians should be concerned about everybody, regardless of differences. Everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and dignity, and that’s what we need to teach each generation.
Drawing lines through our society and telling some children that they’ve been born on the wrong side, because of the colour of their skin, is wrong and must be resisted.
Catherine Pepinster is a historian and author of Defenders Of The Faith — The British Monarchy, Religion And The Coronation.