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

By Ian Macmullen | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
RELIGIOUS SECONDARY SCHOOLS AS
THREAT TO AUTONOMY?

IN THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER, I defended the view that secular schools, suitably managed or regulated by the state, can be effective instruments for cultivating children's autonomy. If this is so, we must next ask whether a liberal state that aims to ensure that all of its citizens develop as autonomous persons can consistently fund, or even permit the operation of, various religious schools as alternatives to these secular, autonomy-enhancing institutions. If, as I shall argue, nonschool institutions and experiences cannot be relied upon to develop children's autonomy, liberal education policy must take seriously the possibility that certain types of religious school might pose an unacceptable threat to children's future autonomy. In this chapter, my focus is on secondary schools: I contend that radical opponents of religious education go too far by calling for a virtual prohibition on religious schools, but that their arguments do justify a much more extensive scheme of public regulation than is found in most liberal democracies. Toward the end of the chapter, I indicate the scale and nature of the proposed regulations by sketching the hallmarks of what should be considered a permissible religious secondary school. In the next chapter, I propose that religious primary schools should also be subject to significant regulation, but that the demands made of primary schools should be different and less extensive because the particular developmental needs of preadolescent children from religious families are such that a distinctively religious primary education can play a positive role in laying the foundations for future autonomy.


THE DEVELOPMENT OF AUTONOMY CANNOT
BE TAKEN FOR GRANTED

As we shall see in the next chapter, by the age of eleven or twelve (when secondary schooling begins), most children have the cognitive capacity for the kind of formal thought and hypothetico-deductive reasoning involved in autonomous reflection. But, of course, this bare cog

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