AS NEW concepts become established in our normal vocabulary we often need to question the assumptions they carry. This last week the Ofsted Chief Inspector has been probing independent faith schools on their teaching of citizenship, and their potential intolerance. The words "faith schools" are now used repeatedly to signify schools where an overt perspective is held; where Christianity, the Jewish faith, Islam or Sikhism is taught as part of the process of education.
But there is a problem with the assumptions which are embedded in the concept of "non-faith" schools. For "faith" is an outlook on life by which a person chooses to live. And we could say that every person so chooses, actively or by default. We can have faith in money, science, progress, technology, fame or God, and these commitments may or may not be exclusive. (One can have faith conjointly in science and technology, for example, but God and money might be more difficult.) In this sense of the term every school has a range of faiths which it teaches implicitly or explicitly. They may well be embodied in a school's mission statement, and involve ideas like excellence, service, self-fulfilment, responsible citizenship, or rounded education. It does not seem contentious to say that in all schools staff and students are probing issues of faith much of the time.
Yet, throughout much of the modern era, some educational traditions have tried to deny this. They have often asserted that what children were to be taught was not a matter of faith, but of universal publicly agreed knowledge. They were to be taught the facts, and taught objectively, in a value-free way. History is a good example. The history of "1066 and all that" was effectively a catalogue of the political regimes, monarchs and movements that dominated British and world history. Yet the actual process of study gradually uncovered other histories: ones that were social, economic, cultural, ideological, women's, the underdog's or religious. The value-free approach presumed that the history of the British Empire was important and the 19th-century missionary movement could be more or less ignored. But this can be seen now as a value-laden assumption, and one which can be challenged in the light of long-term effects. History, properly understood, has always been a matter of faith: of faith in nation, empire, Rome, God, Allah, free trade, individualism, the Revolution. …