Making little Christians


As the religious provisions of the 1944 Education Act came into force on April 1 1945, there was some concern over how the requirements were to be put into practice. There was no shortage of those willing to give guidance and advice. Miss Bennett, a lecturer at the Training College in Ripon, for example, asserted in a 1945 article that, ‘The real response required of the child to the Christian teaching he receives is active membership in the life of the Christian Church, sharing in its worship, its means of grace and its life of service.’1 Her article focused on a National Basic Outline of Religious Instruction, published in July 1945, which had been compiled by a Committee of Clergy from a variety of denominations, the Association of Education Committees, and the National Union of Teachers. It was just one exemplification of the effort being made to offer support to those charged with compliance with the new legislation. Similar calls were being made by others, offering a similar—and distinct—interpretation of the 1944 Act, with a focus on ‘making little Christians’, a term used during a Parliamentary debate on ‘Religious Education in Schools’ in the House of Commons in 1941.2

Many recent narratives of the immediate post-war period have tended towards a certain imprecision here. A number characterize RE of this period as being focused on a nurturing of some level of pre-existing or presumed adherence to Christianity. It has often been subsumed under the descriptor ‘Confessional RE’, whereby children were nurtured in a mosaic form of Protestant Christianity, with denominational specificity prevented by the Cowper Temple Clause (discussed in the previous chapter).3 The presumptions on which this is based are relatively easy to uncover; it is certainly possible to comprehend that in the period following the 1870 Education Act, the religious constituency of English society was such that there was no need for RE to be of anything other than a nurturing of an assumed adherence to Christianity.

However, what is evident from the Outline, and similarly orientated publications of the time, is a move beyond this ‘Confessional’ approach. It was no longer reasonable to presume any kind of religious adherence. Rather, what is articulated is an aim that is distinctly focused on engendering a form of religious instruction that actively attempts to convert children to become committed to membership of a specific local worshipping community. This is a form of Indoctrination, but is more accurately defined as ‘proselytization’. The term has its root in the two Greek words itpoo (pros, meaning ‘toward’) and èpxopai (érchomai, meaning ‘to come). Thus TtpoCTfiÀuToç (prosclytos, means literally to ‘come towards’, to be the ‘newcomer’). It has meanings synonymous with ‘Evangelization’ and is used to describe attempts to ‘induce someone to convert to one’s faith’ or ‘convert or attempt to convert (someone) from one religion, belief, or opinion to another.’4

Miss Bennett’s was not a lone voice crying in the wilderness, yet it is important to remember that the documents produced in the immediate aftermath of the Act’s passing were only proposals-, they were offered as guidance, primarily to Agreed Syllabus Committees (ASC). Basil Yeaxlee (then editor of Religion and Education) took the opportunity' in his November 1945 Editorial to praise the Outline, stating that it makes ‘plain to everybody' on what lines a good agreed syllabus should be constructed if is to contain the essentials of Christian teaching’.5

Within a short period, concern over the role and adequacy of these newly introduced agreed syllabuses was being expressed. For example, the British Council of Churches Education Department (established in 1946 as Education Committee and hereafter BCCED) frequently' expressed significant concern over the inadequacy of agreed syllabuses in the years immediately after its formation.6 The Institute for Christian Education (ICE, established in 1935), through its Research Committee, set out to respond to the same anxieties. This body, which had become—to some degree at least—influential in the field, undertook the first large scale and rigorous assessment of agreed syllabus documents, beginning their systematic gathering and analysis of information in 1948.7 They published their findings in 1954 under the title: Religious Education in Schools: The Report of an Inquiry made by the Research Committee of the Institute of Christian Education into the working of the 1944 Education Act, this being the most detailed, and the earliest, full report of the situation since the 1944 Act.

In relation to the aims of religious education, Religious Education in Schools suggests a number of times—in alignment with Miss Bennett’s 1945 claim— that church membership had become an appropriate aim and outcome for religious teaching in schools. An examination of the aims of religious education set out in the agreed syllabus documents they reviewed showed, according to the report’s authors, a change in emphasis. Prior to about 1940, they' report, ‘the aim of the teaching is declared to be that children should understand and accept the Christian faith and follow the Christian way of life’ (aims which are entirely coherent with the ‘nurturing’ or Confessional approach set out above). However, they claim that in the syllabuses produced after this point, ‘the hope is expressed that school worship and religious instruction will ... “increasingly lead pupils to become and remain full members of a worshipping community outside the school’”.8 In some

Making little Christians 51 ways this is a small shift, but it is an important one; it marks a move from nurturing a general Christian adherence to encouraging membership of a specific church community.

More explicitly still, right at the start of the first chapter of Religions Education in Schools, it is asserted that ‘several of the agreed syllabuses say explicitly that worship and religious instruction at school should help boys and girls to find their way into membership of the Christian Church’.9 The remainder of this chapter will subject this statement (hereafter referred to as Statement Two) to a Statement Archaeology, following the guidance set out in Chapter 1. In doing so, it will act as a further exemplification of the method through a worked example and will also allow a detailed engagement with the question ‘how did it become possible for “making little Christians” to be a legitimate aim for RE in the period after the 1944 Education Act?’

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