Faith in the classroom?

Thursday 2 October, 18.30 until 20.00, Liverpool Athenaeum, 18 Church Alley, L1 3DD (opposite The Bluecoat Gallery entrance) UK Satellite Events 2014

Tickets: £4, available via Liverpool Salon.

Are faith schools anathema to an avowedly multicultural society, or are they an expression of it? Opponents, like the British Humanist Association and Muslims for Secular Democracy, object in principle to selection on religious grounds, which they see as discriminating against children from other backgrounds and fomenting divisions. Paradoxically, however, such multiculturalist critics of faith schools often find themselves accused of showing disrespect for minority cultures and intolerance of their religious values – in short, for failing to respect multicultural diversity.

The current row over allegations of an Islamic extremist ‘takeover’ of Birmingham’s state-run Park View academies has brought this debate into the mainstream. While one side calls for children to be protected from ‘Islamist extremism’, others defend ‘Islamic values’ alongside the right of parents and governors to promote their own cultural and religious values in the classroom. So do parents and governors have the right to determine a moral framework for their children’s education, particularly in a society they see as value-lite? Or does multiculturalism in fact depend on certain core values, such as tolerance and equality, that must be required in all schools? An absence of consensus about these questions lies at the heart of the current muddle about what to teach and what standards to maintain in our schools. Where is the boundary between inculcating beliefs and values on the one hand and indoctrinating or radicalising young people on the other? Should society be more tolerant, even of intolerance, drawing a line between that which threatens our lives and liberty and that which merely offends the liberal outlook of the majority?

Some secular humanists defend faith schools, on the basis that they provide young people with a foundation for belief, which they are free to reject as adults. Is there an intrinsic value in imagining how we might live and act as moral agents in the world? Do religious values provide young people with a firmer grasp on ethical and critical thought than non-religious thought can? Has secularism become not so much a call for free thought as an attack on the ideals associated with religious faith: trust, obligation, obedience, humility, commitment to serve something greater than our individual selves? Or should we have more faith in the ability of secular society to provide young people with the intellectual and moral resources they need without ‘outsourcing’ the task to religions most of us don’t believe in?

Dr Stephen Law
head, Centre for Inquiry UK; senior lecturer in philosophy, Heythrop College, University of London; author, The War for Children’s Minds

Kate O’Halloran
social worker and CBT therapist, Tusla Child and Family Agency

Kevin Rooney
politics teacher and head of social science, Queen's School, Bushey; co-author, Who's Afraid Of The Easter Rising?

Peter D Williams
executive officer, Right To Life

Pauline Hadaway
writer and researcher

Produced by
Christopher Beckett client and operations manager, Elite IB; former pastoral support worker, Wymondham College
Pauline Hadaway writer and researcher

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