First apologies for the delay in posting – it has been caused by Extreme Pro-action. (Similar to Extreme Sports, only more dangerous.)

I just couldn’t help myself today. A major lefty think-tank, The Institute for Public Policy Research, has published a report entitled “What is Religious Education For?”; presumably not intended as a rhetorical question. They contend the very fibre of the current method of religious education (RE) in British schools, and its (sometimes inadvertently) ‘Christian’ approach to the topic. I happen to be of the persuasion that almost every institution of man is in need of continual upheaval and reconstruction in order to hone and perfect it – no matter how old something is, better as a museum than an active working model, in my opinion. I believe we can always create something better from the ground up than from the remnants of what already exists. This is where I take issue with conservatives – to conserve exactly what we had before is the OPPOSITE of what I want to do. And therefore I figure the subject of this report is very important (and for me actually something of a favourite), and we would be foolhardy to reject any possible ‘reconstruction efforts’. Where we MAY disagree would be the issue of what guidelines that reconstruction would use to take effect.

Lets take a look at some key points of the report by reviewing these quotes:

– Children should be encouraged to question their faith to find the best basis for belief supported by (empirical or logical) evidence

– Children should be taught atheism and paganism in addition to other belief systems

– There should be a greater knowledge of Islam taught in order to reduce the amount of ethnic prejudice

– The classes should reflect better the diversity that exists within our society.

Conservative commentators like those writing today’s Daily Telegraph leaders do not tend to see things in quite the same way! This morning’s Telegraph comment borrows, “Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me.’ He did not add: ‘…but only after they have been encouraged to question their faith and made aware of the arguments for atheism’.” A bizarre comment. Aside from the fact that the entire point of the report was to highlight that not everyone may choose to appeal to what Jesus said about ANYTHING, it is unclear that Jesus was in any way attempting to create a public education system by which to ensure that moral education is taught fairly and representative of the population!

The Telegraph’s leader goes on to link the headscarf ban in France (see previous post on this site) with this latest report from the IPPR, saying that they are “both coloured by the bossy prejudices of the European intelligentsia.” They may have a point. The record of the Left on matters of personal liberty and their unbalanced enthusiasm for the religious beliefs of ethnic minorities (to the detriment of Christianity) is suspicious at best. How ironic, then, that it should be the right-wing TELEGRAPH that goes on to reject an opportunity to provide true freedom of religion in the classroom! As a Christian of course I would like a truly ‘Christian’ country where it would be somehow possible – but the day that faith is enshrined in law, the day it becomes the bias of a public school system, the day people swallow some vague superstition of belief whose source is cultural rather than spiritual; THAT was the day (for it is past) that I would rather see my country secular than ‘Christian’. So the Christianity that the Telegraph would like to continue ENFORCING in our public school system is not the identity of my belief system.

However, I agree with the Telegraph’s assertion that the report is authoritarian, and that it “…reflects the belief that parents who pass on the Christian faith are guilty of indoctrinating their children, and that it is the role of the state to stop them.” As a matter of fact, I think it would be great if my child was taught atheism. I accept almost all of the points made by the report summarised above. But what if I didn’t? What if I wanted my child to be indoctrinated in fundamentalist Christianity? That, as a parent, should be my right. You see, the nature of free will and personal liberty within a society of individuals is not such that can be defined by the teachings of one religion, OR one common education policy on ANY subject.

And here is what BOTH the left-wing IPPR report, AND the right-wing Telegraph commentary fail to appreciate. ‘Society’ (whom I have yet to meet – sounds like a wonderful guy) is NOT a singular moral organism whose requirements of education can be met within one single framework or device or institution. We are INDIVIDUALS (an unfashionable term), who all believe different things for different reasons. This is not best served by a central education policy. As such, the result is just what we are seeing here – many different individuals and groups of individuals vying for the attention of the system as to their own particular persuasions of belief.

No – the only effective means by which we can educate our children in the way that we all (individually) want them educated is via the free market – where every niche will be filled, every demand supplied; cause and effect. The answer to the IPPR, AND the answer to the Telegraph, is “Laissez-faire!”: leave us alone! By giving the people free reign to educate themselves, the diversity of religion will be represented, AND ALSO the natural desire of parents to have their children taught a moral code which reflects their own.

Yet again, by limiting the power and control of government (which should never have been involved with the job of educating our children in the first place) – we see the light.

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John Wright

johnwright@softhome.net