Time for a fairer deal

17th February 1995 at 00:00
A christian vision for state education By Trevor Cooling SPCK Pounds 12. 99. 0281 04758 8

William Kay reviews an alternative view of state education This important book sets out a notion of state education which can accommodate divergent religious views without neutering them.

Cooling proposes a significantly different version of the concept of state education from that which has been popularly espoused. He wishes to move the concept of education itself away from idealised values linked with an undefined idea of rationality. Instead he wants education to dedicate itself to the practical task of providing responsible citizens ready to live in a pluralistic society.

The role of the state in education must then be guided by the notion of fairness, fairness to all sections of society which use publicly-funded schools. Fairness insists that religions be presented with due regard for the evidence for them and by aiming at "critical realism", a stance which takes note of religious commitments and obliges believers to engage in debate with others who do not hold their views.

If, as is presently the case, education is seen as a rationalistic process, then the only theological formulations which are compatible with it are those which are also rationalistic. If education is seen as a process of preparation for citizenship, however, then the theological formulations appropriate for exploration within the state school are those which match the real world of believers.

Cooling draws several implications from his re-casting of education and religion's place within it. First, teachers need not accept secular educational principles as a "first order commitments" and this has consequences for teacher training, where the role of personal faith needs to be explored as a resource. Second, the relationship between education and religious nurture can be harmonised. Nurture can be seen as an essential foundation for schooling, and not some sort of primitive process which children should best avoid. Third, it allows religious education to discuss "truth claims" rather than to duck these issues on the grounds that they are potentially divisive or too complicated.

A final section deals with the problems which might be encountered by evangelical Christians as a result of this analysis. Though he acknowledges that some will wish to use his view of education as a reason for opting out of the state system, others will find it enables them to live out their faith in a new context and with the assurance that an emphasis on justice within the educational process must rule out tribalism while, at the same time, being consonant with their theological fundamentals.

Dr William K Kay is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Theology and Education, Trinity College, Carmarthen

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