Engaging with Education – Another good reason to support Solas magazine

solas winter cover

So the winter edition of Solas arrived. The theme? Education.

It was only a few weeks ago that I found myself blogging about Education – and in particular Christian education. The recent edition of Solas has helped confirm that this is a priority issue. I won’t say too much about what Solas covers, as I want readers of this blog to order copies for themselves. (Buy a copy and subscribe here). But I will say this. The various articles on education are reflective of the current state of Scottish identity – confused and confusing. In fact, I found the various perspectives about the condition of Scottish Education, religious Education and the attitude to religion in general perfectly parallel recent findings in the Barna report which was carried out in Scotland and published as Transforming Scotland.

When it comes to defining Scotland, and the identity of the Scottish nation, there were four conflicting perspectives.

scotland stats edit

  1. 31% say Scotland is a Christian nation
  2. 17% say Scotland is a post-Christian nation
  3. 19% say Scotland is a Secular Nation
  4. 15% say Scotland is a Nation in Transition

Other than the political arena, nowhere are these conflicting perspectives seen more clearly than in the realm of education. The Solas magazine demonstrates the problems created by these conflicting perspectives in a number of the articles.

Scott Simpson expresses his concern that,

“What has become increasingly apparent to me is the growing secularisation of our government school system, and the way this secular worldview is being drip-fed to young people.”

John Dickson warns us,

“If a devout group of naysayers get their way there will come a time, soon, when there won’t be any sympathetic religious instruction in our schools.”

David Robertson argues,

“A relatively small group of elitist secularists are … using the education system as a Trojan Horse to inculcate their ideology upon an unsuspecting populace. The results are catastrophic …”

All of these perspectives highlight the complexities of Scottish national identity. Are we now a secular nation? Are we in transition? Does Christianity have any place at the table?

Each of the concerns expressed by the men above are valid concerns, and some places are perhaps more extreme than others, however I was encouraged to see another perspective represented in this edition of Solas.

Richard Coton hones in on the Scottish educational context very well. Whilst he acknowledges “aspects of Scottish society are undoubtedly much more overtly secular than they were even just 10 years ago.” He also rightly highlights that:

“The picture is always much more complex than we’re inclined to think . . . the Scottish Government has been repeatedly about the importance of giving all children and young people a detailed understanding of Christianity (and of other faiths), and equipping them with the tools to make their own decisions.”

As a teacher of RMPS, I have to say this is spot on. There is a danger that we base our perspective on the Scottish situation on the assumption that those who shout the loudest make the rules. To be sure, aggressive secularists have an agenda and they are loud. But they don’t call all the shots. At this stage in the life of Scottish education Religious Education is not only tolerated in government policy, it is protected.

The official documentation for the delivery of RME says,

“Young people must become aware that beliefs and values are fundamental to families and to the fabric of society in communities, local and global.”

Whatever this is, it is not an aggressively secularist approach to Religious Education.

What about the place of Christianity within the curriculum?

“Why is there an emphasis on Christianity within the religious and moral education curriculum?

Young people will develop an understanding of Christianity, which has shaped the history and traditions of Scotland and continues to exert an influence on national life.”

Again, this is encouraging because it shows that the government understands the importance that Christianity has played not only in shaping Scotland’s past, but alos how it has shaped and continues to shape Scotland’s future.

Does this mean that the concerns expressed by Simpson, Dickson and Robertson are wrong? No, but it is complex and subtle.  Humanistic secularism is the value base which underpins Scottish education.

It’s great that faith and religion and Christianity are given such a place of acknowledgement in RME, but when it is restricted to RME, and when it has no connection to the wider school ethos, values and policies, RME in school becomes reflective of religion and Christianity in society – it is relegated to the margins. It is put in a box. The compartmentalisation of Religious Education is part of the problem. It sends out the message – Religion is just for RE. But then maybe the church is to blame here – perhaps we started it by not living our faith. If faith is just for Sundays, no wonder religion is just for RME.

Consequently the challenge is this – how can the aims of RME (an understanding that Religion/Faith is important) be actualised when it is put in a box and expected to thrive in an environment which eats, sleeps and breathes humanism? It is great, as Coton points out, that the Scottish curriculum is based on the values of, “Wisdom, justice, compassion and integrity” but when these values are divorced from divinity they become the values of humanism. This is the challenge we face, the challenge of freeing religion, and particularly the Christian worldview, from the smothering blanket of humanism which covers every area of public life – even the pulpits of Scottish churches.