Nazir-Ali to Gove: “Restore the teaching of Christianity to schools”
Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali has called on Education Secretary Michael Gove to restore the teaching of Christianity in Britain’s schools. The Pakistan-born bishop, who (sadly) resigned as head of the Diocese of Rochester to focus on the plight of persecuted Christians (as though being an Anglican bishop were something of an impediment to such ministry), has written in Standpoint Magazine (£) that teaching ‘the vital role played by reformers in the struggle for human freedom’ would lead to ‘the rediscovery of our spiritual and moral identity’.
By ‘reformers’, he specifies those who abolished the slave trade, introduced universal education, improved working conditions and who cared for the sick.
As if there were no reformers before the eighteenth century to whom we owe our liberties.
But that quibble aside, the Bishop welcomed the statement made by Mr Gove to end what the Secretary of State calls Britain's ‘collective amnesia’ about its Christian heritage. Bishop Michael said Christianity was the most significant link in our long island story and that education should look at the vital role played by Christians and Christianity in the forging of our traditions and liberties which are now, he says, are under threat.
And so he wants to see schools teach children about the link between Britain today and its foundations in the Judaeo-Christian traditions of the Bible, particularly the role of Christians in.
"It is ironic indeed,” he says, “that nurses cannot now pray at work, under threat of dismissal, when their ward duties often began with prayer right up to the middle years of the twentieth century."
"So many of the precious freedoms that we value today, the fair treatment of workers and the care of those in need, arise from values given to us by the Judaeo-Christian tradition.
"I am glad that the Minister is setting out to remove our collective amnesia — and to enable us to see our history as a connected whole. This will also have to mean the rediscovery of our spiritual and moral identity.
"The question now, of course, with parliamentary reform hovering in the wings, is how the Judaeo-Christian tradition can continue to be called on, especially when proposed legislation raises important moral issues for the individual and for society."
Jolly good stuff.
Three cheers for Bishop Michael!
The only problem is that schools are already required by Statute of Parliament to do all this, and have been since 1944.
But they don’t.
And moves to dilute, devolve and deregulate the National Curriculum are unlikely to lead to a strengthening of the provision: school governors, heads and teachers will simply invoke the liberties granted by the Academies Bill to base their educational ethos on the magic breathing philosophy of Goldie Hawn, on the Islamic principles of sharia, or on Dawkins’ extremist atheism.
It is strange indeed, not to say something of a contradiction, that the academy or ‘free school’ movement, which proposes to permit local groups of parents and teachers the autonomy to develop their own curricula and forge a distinct educational ethos, should simultaneously have imposed upon it a standardised national history syllabus which is to be written by Niall Ferguson.
Mr Ferguson has his views and his version of history. But an awful lot of academic historians, history teachers, and teaching organisations disagree with him. How does that equate with less prescription, yet an imposed centralised curriculum?
And what is applicable for History must a fortiori be applicable to Religious Studies.
It seems that the Academies Bill suggests the implied repeal of the 1944 Education Act and every education act since which either strengthens or reiterates the provision of the state’s Christian foundation: we therefore see the eradication of the statutory requirement to hold a daily act of collective worship which is ‘broadly Christian’ and the teaching of Religious Studies which gives pre-eminence to the predominant Christian faith of the nation.
Mr Gove cannot have it both ways.
Either one trusts parents and teachers or one does not.
Either one is prescriptively imposing a centralised national curriculum or one is not.
And if this Secretary of State is permitted by Act of Parliament to demand that academies teach a ‘Right-wing’ or ‘Empire’ view of history, or prioritise the Christian traditions and foundations of the nation, or propagate a sceptical view of man-made global warming, then his successors will be endowed with that very same authority to ensure the teaching of whatever leftist, globalist, multi-faith, multi-cultural or ‘environmentalist’ creed he or she requires.
With the advantage that the teaching unions are far more disposed to such a worldview.
So when Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali lauds Michael Gove for placing an emphasis ‘on the rigorous study of traditional subjects rather than wasting time on what he calls “pseudo-subjects”’, he forgets that Goldie Hawn’s school will be free to prioritise the technique of breathing over sentence structure.
And when Mr Gove encourages a focus on the teaching of language and literature, his ‘greats’ are not everyone’s: even the Bishop wants the list expanded to include Herbert, Donne, Newman, Hopkins, Eliot, Chesterton, Greene and Belloc.
And so with history: the Bishop advocates ‘a connected narrative’ and a ‘golden chain of harmony’. And this ‘has to do with a world-view that underlies the emergence of characteristically British institutions and values, such as the Constitution itself (“the Queen in Parliament under God”); a concern for the poor; a social security net, based on the parish church, which goes back to the sixteenth century, and personal liberties as enshrined in Magna Carta’.
He is of the view that ‘the world-view that made possible the emergence of these fundamental building-blocks in our national life is, of course, the Judaeo-Christian tradition of the Bible’.
But what if an Islamic free school apportions such fundamentals to Mohammed and the Qur’an?
Will they be free to teach an Islamocentric narrative of history?
Or of marriage, family, justice or equality?
The bishop observes:
It was not only in the area of law, but virtually every other kind of knowledge was mediated either by the Church or by Christians in their respective fields. It is often claimed that there was much knowledge in this country until fairly recent times of the classical literature, art and philosophy of the Greeks and the Romans. This is certainly the case but, as Pope Benedict has pointed out, this was often a knowledge ‘purified’ of the cruelty, promiscuity, inequality and idolatry of paganism. The encounter of Christian faith with Greek Philosophy, for example, was providential, as the Pope has put it, for the intellectual history of Europe but we must be clear that it was Jerusalem and not Athens that provided the fundamental orientation for the flowering of a Christian humanism at the time of the Renaissance and the Reformation. As Western Europe regained Hellenistic learning from the Islamic world (which had itself gained it largely from oriental Christian clergy), it also critiqued it from the point of view of Christian belief. Basic teachings, derived from Hellenism, on the eternity of the world, the denial of personal immortality and the resurrection of the dead and the primacy of philosophy over revelation were rejected because they were contrary to the Word of God.While the Church’s Holy Days have become our national holidays, free schools will be at liberty to grant whatever holidays they wish and to organise their school year as they wish.
And where those liberties are not granted, the state will turn a blind eye, as it does already, for fear of being accused of racism and of breaching equality legislation.
For if the Christians may have Christmas and Easter, why may the Muslims not have Eid ul-Fitr or the Hindus and Sikhs Diwali?
Did not David Cameron promise them such?
It is good and noble that Bishop Michael has drawn our attention to the fons et origo of the precious freedoms that we value today which have arisen from values bequeathed to us by the Judaeo-Christian tradition. And he is right to point out that these values are grounded in the moral and spiritual vision of this tradition. And he is even more right to warn that it cannot, by any means, be taken for granted that they would survive for long if the tradition itself is jettisoned.
But it will not be the Academy movement which will eradicate our collective amnesia, or ensure the rediscovery of our spiritual and moral identity.
It will not be Michael Gove who restores the primacy of the Judaeo-Christian tradition to provide the connecting link to ‘our island story’.
It will be for autonomous groups of parents and teachers to grasp that without the appreciation of that tradition, ‘it is impossible to understand the language, the literature, the art or even the science of our civilisation. It provides the grand themes in art and literature, of virtue and vice, atonement and repentance, immortality and resurrection. It has inspired the best and most accessible architecture and it undergirds and safe-guards our constitutional and legal tradition’.
But who will educate the parents and teachers?