Beyond middle-class morality lies theology

3rd November 1995 at 00:00
Christopher Price's argument for ethicising the curriculum (TES, October 20) is very welcome. He rightly discerns the marginalisation of religious education and the squeezing out of any moral content that might impede measurable effectiveness. Secular success is the aim of education, state or private. The Office for Standards in Education would not have it otherwise.

Mr Price, however, presents a two-tone picture of pessimism about religious education and romantic optimism about non-religious moral education. He says that a century of religious education has yielded little evidence of improved moral sensibilities. How can he tell? After all, he seems to believe in a wondrous age when "statutory and compulsory religious education for all was the cornerstone of the curriculum", and yet that very period was the Camelot of those shared civic virtues whose passing from schools he deplores. Could it be that those virtues, and the coincidental respect for religion, sprang from a common belief in the reality of morals?

If Mr Price describes a modern international comparison, it lies in his lustrous picture of French schools as grounded in wholesome "secular certainties". These schools have produced few protesters against the nuclear tests at the Muroroa Atoll. Such protests have come, rather, in those traditionally Lutheran, Anglican and Presbyterian countries of northern Europe where RE has been the norm.

I agree that if belief in moral reality is to be restored it will take more than school RE as at present defined. "In a perfect world", he says, moral education "would emerge naturally from every lesson and activity in the school". Yes, but this is not a perfect world. From whence, then, does moral education flow in the world as it is? Is it from nothing more central to the universe than the middle-class viscera, uttering what George Orwell dismissed as "scoutmasterish bellows"? Or is there a real world of moral reality beyond our yearning hormones? That is a theological question to which there are only theological answers.

RICHARD WILKINS General secretary Association of Christian Teachers 94a London Road St Albans, Herts

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