To what extent is the story of English RE one of ‘Indoctrination, Ideology and Instrumentalization’?
The material above contributes directly to the answering of the question about how RE’s current position became possible by looking at each archaeological slice in turn. If, however, we look across those slices, we are able to reflect on a broader narrative of the introduction and maintenance of compulsory RE in English state-funded schools, bringing into focus some more themes that require discussion. Some of these (the question of who controls RE, the right to withdraw, and changes in policy processes) will be discussed later in the chapter when we re-visit current debates. But here we return to another question set out in Chapter 1: ‘To what extent is this story one of Indoctrination, Ideology and Instrumentalization?’
Firstly, the account already rehearsed in Chapters 2-5, and summarized above, exposes some of the ideological commitments that lay behind policy decisions made over the period since 1944. These include attempts by ideologically driven groups and individuals to further their own agendas using the lack of specificity in the legislation (both after 1944 and in 1988) and an ongoing reluctance to move away from the 1944 Settlement, even in the 21s' Century. We have also seen the way in which Governments have been subjected to influence from various Right-wing groupings, those with particular interpretations of Christianity and the Churches. Specifically, we have seen the ways in which the voices of some Christian groups (most often the Church of England) were privileged over others (most clearly the Catholic Church, as well as some non-Conformist groups) showing that there was a complex hierarchy of religious groupings, with the Church of England at the apex, and non-Christian traditions at the base.11 Further, we have seen the rise and fall of a proselytizational (a form of indoctrinatory) aim for RE; rising as a result of lack of specificity within the 1944 Act, but falling because it wasn’t deemed effective by the church-based groups that had first encouraged it.
As we look across the excavation of Statements One to Five, it is clear that RE has been used instrumentally, as an instrument to achieve a wider goal. This becomes most clear when we consider the way that the justifications used for the introduction and maintenance of statutory provision used at each stage of RE’s development.
The arguments justifying the discursive shift from universal to compulsory provision of religious teaching (then RI) in the 1944 Education Act focus explicitly on what it is intended to achieve. This is perhaps most clearly exemplified—as set out in Chapter 2—in the 1941 Green Book and the 1943 White Paper ‘Educational Reconstruction’, as well as in many of the exchanges within the parliamentary debates relating to the White Paper and the subsequent Education Bill. This was frequently expressed in terms of creating idealized ‘good citizens’ through religious education.12
Within the context of the early 1940s, shaping such good citizens was articulated in terms of the production of ‘little Christians’.13 A similar ideology was evident in the wider discourse of the time, as shown through the examination of the series of articles in The Times, epitomized in the argument that ‘the highest educational aim is to produce good citizens. The basis of good citizenship is character, and a man’s character depends upon his beliefs’.14 The focus on the development of‘good’ citizens was—in part, at least—a response to the totalitarian regimes then seen across Europe and Russia, driven by concern over teenage delinquency and the risk of sympathy with far-right groups amongst disaffected youth.15 At that time, to be a good citizen was equated with being a Christian citizen; to create ‘good citizens’ was to make ‘little Christians’.16 This construction allowed the discursive shift from universal provision to compulsory provision of RE to be considered wholly appropriate.
The (deliberate) omission of any specific mention of Christianity, or any specific aim for RE in the 1944 Act, allowed certain groups to exposit particular interpretations of the Act to suit their own ideological positioning. Scrutiny of the influential 1954 ICE Report (Chapter 3), that focused on the production of ‘little Christians’, unearthed the fact that—at the time at least—it was still considered wholly appropriate to promote and encourage a prosclytizational aim in RE. This aim unambiguously articulated the hope that children would respond to the ‘Christian teaching’ they received by taking up ‘active membership in the life of the Christian Church, sharing in its worship, its means of grace and its life of service’. This aim was propagated both within various Church groups and within the wider discourse of the professional journal Religion in Education. A brief survey of the wider discourse suggests that this association of‘good citizen’ with ‘Christian citizen’ was not restricted to a narrow constituency.17 In short, in the years immediately after the 1944 Act, to be a good citizen continued to be equated with being a Christian citizen.
However, by the 1960s there was a growing move away from such pros-elytizational objectives. This change was catalysed—in part at least—not by a questioning of its appropriateness, but a questioning of its efficacy. As we have seen in relation to Statement Two, the British Council of Churches Education Department (BCCED) complained that the aim of producing ‘little Christians’ was not working. Numbers of young people attending
Indoctrination, Ideology, and Instrumentalization 133 churches were not increasing. The discussions initiated by this realization led towards a ‘radical rethinking of religious education’ (reported in Chapter 3). In parallel to this was the declaration prohibiting the Church from seeking in religious education ‘the imposition of any creed, whether denominational or otherwise’ expressed—and, importantly, agreed on by the British delegates—at the 1952 Conference on Christian Education (held at The Ecumenical Institute, Switzerland).18 These events, alongside others, combined to lift constraints on thinking and thus create new circumstances of possibility for RE. It became possible for example, for Colin Alves, in Religion in the Secondary School ( 1968), to state categorically that an objective approach to the teaching of religion demands ‘the rejection of anything which smacks of indoctrination or proselytization’.19 In isolation, these new circumstances could—in theory—have created a situation whereby the dominant form of religious education in the 1960s and 1970s was a non-proselytizational, academic, study of Christianity. But additional changes were taking place that lifted other constraints on thinking in relation to the nature and purpose of RE.
The archaeological remains unearthed in the exploration of Statement Three revealed that further constraints that had been operating on the purpose of RE were lifted, through the culmination of a process of discursive reconstruction of the non-Christian religious ‘other’. This process of change can be traced back to the opening of the Twentieth Century when non-Christian religions were positioned as dangerous and ‘enemies’.20 As such, learning about non-Christian religions, except for reasons of Christian missionary activity, was discouraged by some church groups and in some cases, prohibited entirely.21 Over subsequent years, the positioning changed. Non-Christian groups were increasingly positioned as ‘allies’ to Christianity, within the global ecumenical movement at least. The promulgation of the Catholic Decree Nostra Aetate (‘Relations with non-Christian religions’), by the Second Vatican Council of the Catholic Church in October 1965, exemplifies the lifting of such constraints.22 This document, together with concurrent developments in Protestant traditions, represented in the work and activities of the World Council of Churches, legitimized the study of non-Christian religions in a new way.23
The notion was normalized in the discourse of RE through articles in Learning for Living and elsewhere. Colin Alves for example, again in Religion in the Secondary School (1968), was able to assert that ‘We can, and should, learn from men of other faiths theistic and non-theistic and they from us’.24 This legitimization grew over the following few years, with Alves’ statement (Statement Three) being repeated in the fourth R (1970) and the Schools Council Working Paper 36 ( 1971 ), where it appears with a citation from Nostra Aetate as ‘an endorsement’ for the approach.25 The culmination of the legitimacy of this shift is located in the circulation of HMI Memo 3/75.lb
Practitioners capitalized on the changes, developing a form of RE that focused more on the academic study of world religions. The justifications called upon for this change centred on globalization, religious pluralism,
and immigration.27 The approach was seen to have potential to ‘increase tolerance and understanding, the widening of the pupil’s horizons, as well as deepening his understanding of man and the world’.28 Those that led this shift towards the study of world religions in the 1960s were, arguably, undertaking a willing replication of the pervading purpose of RE as the creation of good citizens. By the later 1960s and 1970s, being a ‘good citizen’ meant showing tolerance of immigration and religious plurality within one’s immediate community and society more widely.
This approach to RE was somewhat disrupted by the religious clauses of the 1988 Education Reform Act, which firstly set up a National Curriculum of compulsory school subjects from which RE was excluded (Statement Four) and secondly prescribed—for the first time—the content of RE by statute, with Christianity given a dominant position (Statement Five). The rhetoric of the parliamentary debates that led to this settlement was characterized by a frequent stress on the notion of England being a Christian country with Christianity being implicitly linked to positive moral behaviour and ‘good citizenship’. Within the legislative process, examples have been identified of the marginalization of non-Christian voices in the consultation processes over the legislation and influence from various groupings on the political Right to be involved in the development of education policy and more specifically to fink right-wing Tory ideology and Christian values’ (Chapter 5).29
The statutory prescription of Christianity in RE under the 1988 Education Reform Act has to be read alongside other policy developments of the time that attempted to ‘control’ the moral behaviour of citizens. One prominent example of this was the inclusion of the controversial Section 28 in the Local Government Act (1988); this prohibited local authorities from promoting ‘the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’.30 That the clause was included in the Local Government Act and not the Education Reform Act is notable.
So, during this period, the concern with the development of good citizens remained, but once more it was the construction of‘good citizen’ that changed. In 1980s England, under the influence of Thatcherite economic, social, and educational policy, good citizens supported the focus on moral behaviour, with a strong emphasis on ‘Family Values’ (frequently understood in conservative Christian terms). They also were expected to understand the benefits of the privatization of nationalized industries, the ‘right to buy’, and the marketization of state-run systems, such as education and healthcare.31
This is evident in the most recent period too. In the present religious education policy landscape, the construction of‘good citizen’ includes those who actively embrace and promote ‘Fundamental British Values’ and the prevention of violent extremism. RE has been under particular scrutiny in this respect, with anecdotal examples of Ofsted focusing on this during inspections. Whilst the instrumentalization of RE in this way is contested and debated, materials have been produced which support the development of RE in this direction.32
This expectation has been perhaps most clearly articulated in guidance issued by the Department of Education in 2014 regarding the spiritual development of school students. In the wake of the so called ‘Trojan Horse’ episode of 2013-14, Lord Nash (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools) wrote to schools in England, highlighting the role that RE has ‘in promoting social cohesion and the virtues of respect and empathy, which are vitally important in our diverse society’.33 Nash suggested that ‘inappropriate religious education teaching and a distorted school ethos served to undermine fundamental British values’.34 Amongst other things, this guidance asserts that.
It is expected that pupils should understand that while different people may hold different views about what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, all people living in England arc subject to its law. The school’s ethos and teaching, which schools should make parents aware of, should support the rule of English civil and criminal law and schools should not teach anything that undermines it. If schools teach about religious law, particular care should be taken to explore the relationship between state and religious law. Pupils should be made aware of the difference between the law of the land and religious law.35
The guidance also promotes the development of tolerance and harmony between different cultural traditions by enabling students to acquire an appreciation of, and respect for, their own and other cultures.
By focusing on the question of how various shifts and certain new practices have become possible, we are able to see a more granular story. Taking a longer view across our archaeological slices and bringing into focus the ideological commitments behind the changes reveals a series of discontinuities, particularly in terms of what is meant by the construction ‘good citizen’. These discontinuities also expose an important continuity in the story of English RE; the archaeological slices, when brought together here, show that RE has been consistently used, as Sila Poulter expresses it, as a ‘powerful tool in shaping civic identities’.36 In short, successive governments and non-governmental bodies have used RE in an Instrumental way.
England is not an outlier in this, however. Poultcr’s work, which centres on the development of RE in Finland, shows that through successive periods in the subject’s development, the inclusion of confessional approaches to RE has been linked to the development of national identity and personal morality, with ‘the spiritual, moral and civic aims of education [being seen as] inseparable’ in the periods prior to the 1960s.37 At this point, there was a shift towards educational aims as a justification for the subject, with an emphasis on ‘preparing different people to live together in harmony’, but overall the survey shows that, in Finland too, ‘notions of citizenship have been under constant change’.38
The links, mentioned by Poulter, between RE and national identity are very strong in some countries, especially the Nordic states.39 For example, in Norway the schools system has ‘played an important role in the building of the modern Norwegian nation-state and the establishment of a national identity’40; whilst in Finland, ‘the purpose of teacher training was to educate model citizens who would teach and civilize the Finnish people and strengthen the country’s national identity’.41 Kathrinc Kjxrgaard records the close relationship between RE and national identity in Greenland. After 1953, when Greenland became part of the Kingdom of Denmark, Danish ‘was accepted or even encouraged as teaching language in the schools’, yet it was mandated that religious education should continue to be taught in Greenlandic.42 ‘In this way, religion preserved its role as a cornerstone of the national identity, creating part of the new school’.43 Further, Kjaergaard argues that inclusion of the Inuit Religion in RE rather than History, from 2004, demonstrates the way in which ‘it is obvious that the Greenlandic authorities ... want to use religious education as a mean to provide the population with a feeling of self-confidence and identity’.44
Heeding a warning from Melissa Lovell that national identity is a ‘site of considerable and frequent contestation’, there is much to suggest that education has been, and remains, used as a vehicle to develop national identity.45 Gerd Baumann, for example, asserts, ‘State-supervised schooling has long been recognised as the quintessential mechanism by which nation-states turn children into citizens or individuals into political persons’.46 In the context of English education, there are examples that might support Baumann’s claim. In the late 1990s, for example, Dr. Nicholas Tate (Chief executive of the SCAA) explicitly argued that the school curriculum should be used to promote national identity and consciousness, with History as a particular focus.47 More recently, and perhaps more implicitly, Michael Gove (then Secretary of State for Education), argued that the History curriculum in English schools should ‘celebrate the distinguished role of these islands in the history of the world, later proclaiming that ‘[a]ll pupils will learn our island story’.48
These discussions have focused on education generally, or on specific curriculum areas beyond RE. Discussion of the relationship between RE and national identity in England has been minimal so far. One commentator, Andrew Bolton, in reference to the role that RE might play in developing national consciousness and identity in England, suggests that ‘since the 1988 Education Reform Act, with the centralisation of control of the curriculum in England and Wales, there has existed a temptation for government to extend further its ideological control of the population through education’.49
It is usefill at this point to remember that, during the 1930s and 1940s, the educative systems of European totalitarian regimes were heavily criticized on ideological grounds, particularly where indoctrinatory methods were used to develop specific understandings of national identity. In analysis written at the time by Maxwell Garnett—and in the later work of the Conference of Allied Ministers of Education (CAME, later to become UNESCO)—the totalitarian indoctrination of children through the school system is critiqued as an act of violence and oppression.50 Garnett differentiates the
content from the methods used in Europe and Russia, which he suggested arc ‘often well-chosen and worthy of a nobler end’.51 Arguably, as Freathy suggests, some of these indoctrinatory methods were—to some extent—replicated within the English system, particularly through the imposition of the compulsory provision of RE.52 This opens up a significant question for further work: ‘Might the response to a violent and corrupting educational approach be equally as violent and corrupting?’ Currently, the issue of whether the introduction and maintenance of compulsory RE is an act of systemic violence has been overlooked.
In summary, then, based on the example excavations used here, we can conclude that the history of statutory religious education provision in English state-maintained schools without a religious character can indeed be understood as a story of Indoctrination, Ideology and Instrumentalization. However, the English story is not unique; other nationally based systems of education have also used religious education in instrumental ways, both historically and in the present.