Letters - God only knows

Meditation and guided prayer are not brainwashing, as Nick Cohen ("How church schools brainwash children", 2 August) seems to think. They are well-established methods of exploring the relationship between an individual and the Deity, used by all the great religions of the world. Brainwashing tries to limit imagination. Hypnosis tries to release repressed memories. What Cohen describes is neither of these. Rather it is showing children an alternative way of being in touch with God, using their imaginations. Too often, prayer is described as talking to God. Meditative prayer is a way of listening. In any relationship, it is important to do both.

Moreover, parents at church schools have more rights than Cohen suggests. They are represented on governing bodies, which define and control the content and style of religious education. They have the right to withdraw their children from religious activity in school, even if it is a church school. Above all, they have the right not to send their children to such schools.

David Bowen
Dorchester, Dorset

Nick Cohen asks us to believe that the Church of England is brainwashing children by getting them to imagine they were present at the Last Supper. This is simply not true and is a slur on the thousands of good teachers in Church of England schools, who work hard to open children's minds. He does not mention other focuses for such exercises suggested by the Canterbury Diocesan Board of Education, such as imagining you are a little egg developing from a caterpillar into a butterfly, standing by the seashore or watching the clouds. Nor does he understand that these are not "instructions" but suggestions to add to a school's compendium of resources.

Just as some of these can lead children into thinking and learning about nature or the weather, imagining a story from the Bible can help children to understand something of what Christians believe about Jesus. Far from brainwashing, these are educational techniques that help children to concentrate and encourage them to think creatively, to wonder, to evaluate, to reason and to communicate. These are all among the skills required by the national curriculum, and could apply equally to other subjects.

Stephen Venner
Bishop of Dover Canterbury

Nick Cohen's revelations come as no surprise to those who have observed the C of E in recent years. Peter Bruinvels, a Church commissioner, said (Guardian, 20 July): "Schools are today's and tomorrow's future. It's about front-line evangelism." The Archbishop of Canterbury said last autumn: "The church school is a church. More is needed in terms of religion in schools than clergy visits and choral services in nearby churches." This brings the C of E into line with Catholic schools and with the growing number of Muslim schools. Ibrahim Lawson, headteacher of Nottingham Islamia School, said on Radio 4 last year that he was "quite unashamed" about being "in the business of indoctrination".

David Pollock
London N16

This article first appeared in the 09 August 2004 issue of the New Statesman, Why terrorists love Britain