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

By Ian Macmullen | Go to book overview

Chapter 8
THE ROLE OF RELIGIOUS PRIMARY SCHOOLS

IN THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER, I argued that the need for all schools to cultivate children's autonomy justifies subjecting religious secondary schools to extensive regulation, including curricular requirements, expectations for pedagogy and the justification of rules, and requirements of openness to those beyond the school's particular community of faith. In this chapter, I ask whether the same arguments and conclusions hold in the case of primary schools, and I argue that they do not. The liberal case for detaching children's educational environment from the ethics of their religious parents and communities is much less persuasive as a criticism of religious primary schools, which actually have the potential to play an important positive role in preparing young children from religious families for an autonomous future. As instruments designed to meet children's developmental needs in the first phase of formal education for autonomy, religious primary schools should be regulated differently from and altogether less extensively than their secondary counterparts, but some significant regulation is still needed to ensure that the foundations of autonomy are satisfactorily laid. At the end of this chapter, I sketch the necessary regulations by setting out the hallmarks of permissible religious primary schools and explaining how and why these differ from those for secondary schools discussed in the previous chapter.


AGE-SENSITIVE EDUCATION

Readers will recall that the regulations I proposed in the previous chapter are justified by the need to ensure that all secondary schools both adequately expose children to ethical diversity and provide them with the skills and inclination to respond in a critical-rational manner to such diversity. Children of religious parents need to attend secondary schools that encourage students to achieve a degree of critical distance from the familial religion if they are to have a fair chance of developing as autonomous persons, although Levinson's and Ackerman's arguments for compulsory attendance at fully secular, common schools overstate this case. My goal in this chapter is to demonstrate that religious primary schools, unlike religious secondary schools, are

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