Report says it’s wrong to exclude God from the classroom

A new report from the theology think tank Theos has criticised attempts to restrict the influence of religious beliefs on education.

Doing God in Education is authored by Professor Trevor Cooling, director of the National Institute for Christian Education Research at Canterbury Christ Church University.

He says attempts to ban religious faith from shaping education as misguided and harmful.

In particular, he challenges the prevailing assumption that education should be based on human knowledge and rationality because they are objective and independent of the “clutter” of religious beliefs.

Professor Cooling warns that such a position only privileges secular worldviews and so-called “commonsense” values in the classroom.

“The problem with this position is its dependence on the particular humanist belief that religion is ‘clutter’ when it comes to knowledge. It is not therefore fair or inclusive to base public education on this approach because it unjustifiably privileges a secular view of knowledge,” he states.

Instead, Professor Cooling argues that humanists and Christians need to recognise that each other’s beliefs are integral to the development of their own interpretations of issues such science and the family.

He rejected the notion that education can ever be completely independent from the influence of values. It was unhelpful, he asserted, for “free-thinkers” to assume that nurturing atheist beliefs in children was rational, ethical and untainted by indoctrination, whilst raising children within a religious context inevitably leads to their indoctrination and amounts to nothing less than “mental child abuse”.

“Children should be taught to understand both views [humanist and Christian], and to evaluate them for themselves in their own pursuit of understanding the truth about reality,” he writes.

“They should be taught the skill of making judgements about the truth of different interpretations as the means to discovering the meaning and significance of what they are learning about for themselves.

“But no one can escape the fact that such an education will inevitably take place from within a worldview perspective.”

He adds: “The objection to so-called neutral approaches, then, is that they privilege secular worldviews and are in danger of implicit anti-religious indoctrination. They are not, in other words, neutral.”

Professor Cooling said there was a need for atheists to change the way in which they regard their own beliefs and accept that religious beliefs are not simply “clutter”.

He asserted that Christians were not looking for religious worldviews to trump non-religious worldviews, but rather that they be treated as “equal partners”.

Rather than regarding religious worldviews as a “tribal threat” and “problems to be confronted and marginalised”, they should instead be seen as an opportunity to enhance and enrich education, he said.

“’Doing God’ is therefore a strategy for promoting inclusive education that draws on people’s beliefs in the cause of the common good, in contrast to the anti-inclusive strategy of excluding God, which implicitly indoctrinates pupils into the idea that religion is ‘the problem’,” he said.

“On this view public theology, understood as religious communities developing positive theologies that enable them to contribute as full partners in public life, should be actively encouraged in the cause of the common good.”