Faith & Reason: Beware the New Dogma about Faith and Education ; There Are Unexamined Values at the Heart of All Schooling. Critics of Plans to Build More Religious Schools Only Fool Themselves When They Deny It

By Storkey, Elaine | The Independent (London, England), September 8, 2001 | Go to article overview
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Faith & Reason: Beware the New Dogma about Faith and Education ; There Are Unexamined Values at the Heart of All Schooling. Critics of Plans to Build More Religious Schools Only Fool Themselves When They Deny It


Storkey, Elaine, The Independent (London, England)


THE RESPONSES of commentators and interviewers to the White Paper proposing the expansion of "faith-based schools" this week has been revealing. For they uncover a number of presuppositions which are normally not articulated.

Critics were happy to ignore the fact that the formation of our national educational system rested upon the work of the churches in the 19th century. They said little about the continued quality of 5,000 Church of England and other denominational schools. Instead they drew on the unspoken assumption that faith must be chased out of education because it is illogical that it should be there. At best, it is irrelevant, at worse, divisive, fuelling a sectarianism manifest in Northern Ireland, as the events at Holy Cross Primary school so frighteningly witness this week. On this view it is as absurd that we should expand the role of faith in education, as that we should breed rabbits in the bath.

What worries me is less some kind of affront to Christianity, Judaism or Islam than the lack of self-awareness of this position. That makes it easy to retreat into knee-jerk responses. It becomes much harder to do that when we reflect on past attempts to push Christianity out of education, by Bismarck, for example, or Lenin or Goebbels. What happened as a result was not that education was freed from faith, but that it became undergirded by a different faith: Nationalist or Socialist, or National Socialist. But this process does not have to be politically defined.

British education has long experienced successive waves of different kinds of faith. We've had learning through self- expression, faith in science and technology, IT specialisation, individual achievement, or the Thatcher- Woodhead belief in the universal significance of testing. (You will be tested on what I am writing, later . . .) All of these have been expressions of various forms of commitment, which have rested in turn on values and beliefs about who people are and what education is. Educational systems have been, and inevitably are, imbued with faith.

When I was young, people laughed rudely at the French educational system, saying that an official in the educational department always knew what was being taught at any hour of any day in any school in France. But then the national curriculum instituted a similar uniformity in Britain, which was welcomed by many as a mechanism of control ensuring impartiality. Yet, though it might impose some sort of standardisation, the national curriculum is no more "objective" a form of education than any other. It inevitably embodies values and assumptions which we take on faith: for example, that certain subjects are important and others less so.

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Faith & Reason: Beware the New Dogma about Faith and Education ; There Are Unexamined Values at the Heart of All Schooling. Critics of Plans to Build More Religious Schools Only Fool Themselves When They Deny It
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