Faith in Schools? Autonomy, Citizenship, and Religious Education in the Liberal State

By Ian Macmullen | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
THE CIVIC CASE AGAINST
RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS

ON WHAT GROUNDS, if any, should a liberal democratic state discriminate against religious primary and secondary education in its policies on school funding and regulation? It has been suggested that a sufficient reason, perhaps even the only legitimate reason, for the state to discriminate against religious education derives from a consideration of the civic educational role our schools should play. This suggestion raises a host of questions, three of which I hope to address in this chapter. First, what are the legitimate civic goals of education policy in a liberal democratic state? Second, how and why does so much recent liberal democratic theory assign these civic goals a special status? In particular, I explore the claim of Stephen Macedo (2000) and John Rawls (1993/1996) that civic goals are the only permissible goals of liberal democratic public education policy, and the related but different argument by Amy Gutmann (1999) that they are the only required goals of such a policy. Third, is it the case that religious schools—at least those of a certain type—are inferior to common, secular schools for the purpose of advancing the civic goals of education?

I should say something immediately to clarify the relationship between the contents of this chapter and the shape of my larger argument. I think Macedo and Rawls are wrong to argue that the state must limit itself to pursuing civic goals, and I think Gutmann is wrong to say that a liberal state may limit itself in this way: toward the end of the next chapter and throughout part 2, I shall argue that the cultivation of individual ethical autonomy must lie at the heart of liberal education policy. But for the moment, I am interested in the internal logic of those, like Gutmann and Macedo, who mistakenly believe that liberal states can do without a commitment to the value of individual autonomy. In the next chapter, I shall argue that the policies they advocate toward religious schools cannot be justified if we limit ourselves to the narrow, merely civic view of the goals of public education policy. But first we need to understand the claim that religious schools have a civic case to answer.

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