Monday, January 24, 2005

Intolerant of intolerance

David Bell, HM Chief Inspector of Schools, said in a recent widely-reported speech that he wanted to ensure children were "intolerant of intolerance". This comment was particularly addressed to children being taught in faith schools. The Muslim community has reacted with indignation - there are around 100 such Muslim faith schools. There are also around 50 (I think - see the link for more details) Jewish schools, and over 100 evangelical Christian faith schools - so of all groups, it is arguable that evangelical Christians are addressed as directly as Muslims.

Now, what exactly did he mean? Did he mean that we need to make sure that people taught in faith schools have an appreciation for the fact that people have different worldviews, and even when we disagree with them, we recognise that they have value and dignity because of their humanity?

If so, then evangelical Christians can all say, "Amen!" Tolerance in this sense is a Christian virtue - evangelical Christians were martyred - in Britain, and Western Europe! - trying to secure tolerance from society for their beliefs.

But I'm worried that it's possible he was using the world "tolerance" in its modern, "liberal" sense - in other words, that children brought up in faith schools need to learn not to disagree with anybody else, and either regulate their beliefs so that they exist in an entirely private, subjective realm, or limit the scope of their beliefs to those things that won't clash with anybody else's beliefs. Why do I suspect this is the case? Because these remarks are related to citizenship as taught in faith schools, not citizenship as taught in general. Of course citizenship as taught in non-faith settings is bound to have this kind of post-modern, pluralistic perspective - because this is the prevailing worldview of most of academia, including teacher training institutions. People choose faith schools for their children precisely so that the children aren't being taught by people who have a prior commitment to the denial of absolute truth.

But if even in faith schools, people have to teach that one's faith is to be relegated to an entirely personal domain, then this undermines the whole reason for their existence. And despite Ofsted's earlier affirmation of the appropriateness of choice for parents in this regard, this sort of imposition represents another threat to the religious freedom of faith communities. If this is what Bell was getting at, it represents the appearance and espousal of tolerance masking the implementation of religious intolerance.

1 comment:

Iza Firewall said...
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