Tuesday, 19 August 2014

A "Special Adviser" and "British Values".

There has been some concern expressed at the moves by the Department for Education with regard to the teaching of "British values" in schools (including nurseries) in the United Kingdom. News reports and comment can be found here: DfE consultation,  BBC news, and more recently, here and here; Christian Institute and, perhaps more considered, Catholic Voices.

Alan Craig brings to light another dimension to this question: Rising Gay Christian: Bright, Able and Wrong. Read Alan's post before continuing.

Two thoughts immediately come to mind. What are the implications of Luke Tryl's appointment for the "British values" agenda, particularly for its implementation in schools with a religious designation? And, if instead of Luke Tryl, Nicky Morgan had chosen an orthodox Christian believer as a special adviser, would there have been an uproar? The particular concern about Luke Tryl's appointment is that Nicky Morgan might well receive and act on advice that claims to be consistent with Christian belief when, as Alan points out, it is not.

As the Catholic Voices comment points out:
It is questionable to what extent the state can and should be the arbiter of British values. Values are the wellspring of a society rich in traditions, including mature religious belief, which is at the forefront of the fight against extremism. Faith schools which reflect that mature religion are not the problem, and should be a major part of the solution.
Catholic Voices end their comment with the observation:
The answer to extremism and sectarianism is not secularism, which is a state-imposed attempt to flatten society and shape it in the image of a minority belief. The national educational vision needs to challenge and sift faith traditions; intolerance and violence are distortions and perversions of true religion. This endeavour eschews “top down” solutions to defining the correct values. The challenge requires hard work, listening, and crucially the expertise held within religious traditions. Our values are important, but values do not proceed from the state – they are supported by the state as manifestations of a pluralistic society. Where extremism is an issue, the criticism of a religion lived in a pluralist society is the best, and only coherent, response. 
What strikes me as providing a basis for a common set of values, or principles, for successful living in a religiously diverse society is the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is this Declaration that can provide the basis for the criticism of religion suggested by the Catholic Voices comment - and its terms provide an effective response to extremism (which, in the media coverage, largely remains an undefined term) without representing an imposition by the state of its own values. I cannot see any reason why the UN Declaration should not be part of the expected school curriculum.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

No comments: