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

By Ian Macmullen | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
CIVIC EDUCATION AND THE AUTONOMY
PROBLEM IN POLITICAL LIBERALISM

IN THIS CHAPTER, I ask first whether the inferiority of religious schools for civic educational purposes would be sufficient to justify liberal democratic states in a general refusal to fund such schools, especially against the objections of religious parents that the alternatives—common, secular schools—tend to foster a kind of ethical autonomy that corrupts children and their religious faith. My answer is that civic goals alone cannot provide sufficient justification for such a policy. I reach that answer by rejecting the principle of political primacy, a move that has profound implications for liberal political theory and practice: once we reject political primacy, we shall have to think differently about all policy proposals that would advance the political values of the liberal state at the expense of the private values of certain citizens. But, returning to the particular case of religious education, some reflection on the relationship between the virtues and capacities of citizenship, on the one hand, and individual autonomy, on the other, will suggest that it is actually incoherent for liberal democratic theory to regard the development of autonomy as an unintended and undesirable cost of civic education. Indeed, our reasons for wanting to reproduce specifically liberal democratic political institutions depend importantly upon the noncivic value of individual autonomy, so we need to reconsider the legitimacy of using such a value to guide public policy in a multicultural state. This reconsideration will be the task of part 2 (chapters 3 through 5).


CONFLICTING EDUCATIONAL GOALS:
THREE APPROACHES TO RESOLUTION

What should liberal democratic states do if the pursuit of civic goals through public education turns out to be in tension with other values? Gutmann (1999, p. 287) has a simple response: “Political education— the cultivation of the virtues, knowledge, and skills necessary for political participation—has moral primacy over other purposes of public

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