Archbishop of Canterbury ‘disappointed’ by the direction the UK has taken
Well, he can’t be as disappointed as many are by the direction the Church of England has taken over the past decade. In an interview to be screened on Newsnight tonight, in which ++Rowan talks about the lessons modern Britain can learn from the works of Charles Dickens, he says he is concerned about the gap between rich and poor and the lack of cultural cohesion in the UK.
O, do change the record. There’s been ‘a gap’ between the rich and the poor ever since Cain smote Abel. It’s a basic socio-economic fact of human existence, long known to priests, kings, prophets and to God Himself. Tragic as their plight may be, disturbing as it undoubtedly is, the poor will always be with us, the Lord explained. Only a statist drive for absolute equality and total wealth redistribution can ever close ‘the gap’. That is perhaps ++Rowan’s Christian vision. Some might call it Communism.
And we all know the fundamental cause of the lack of cultural cohesion, don’t we? Clue: it has nothing to do with the influx of Jutes, Picts, Celts, Romans, Saxons, Vikings or Normans.
There is, as ever, much in the interview which provokes thought, for that is the nature of the man. “There have been moments in the last decade and more when, perhaps, we might have been able to take a different line,” he says. And that is undoubtedly true. But hindsight is a wonderful thing.
However, His Grace would like to challenge his successor to the Chair of St Augustine on two issues. ++Rowan says we could learn from Dickens that the education system should teach people to use their imagination and emotions, rather than turning education into a ‘sausage machine’ or ‘letting the box-ticking mentality take over’. “Without imagination,” he explains, “you won't get people to understand that they're part of something bigger than themselves. The more you go down a narrowly utilitarian model of education, where you're just thinking about outcomes and ultimate profits and educating people for skills in the economy, the more you think like that, the less you actually equip people to belong, to work together, to have solidarity and vision for themselves as a group.”
Isn’t that precisely what Michael Gove is doing? The more schools are liberated from centralised bureaucracy, state-imposed curricula, and the narrowness which comes of ministerial meddling in the inculcation of values, the more likely you are to see academies and free schools which eschew the ‘utilitarian model’. The RSA, for example, has developed a school curriculum called ‘Opening Minds’, which ‘promotes innovative and integrated ways of thinking about education and the curriculum’. They explain: ‘A competence based approach enables students not just to acquire subject knowledge but to understand, use and apply it in the within the context of their wider learning and life. It also offers students a more holistic and coherent way of learning which allows them to make connections and apply knowledge across different subject areas.’
How is this ‘just thinking about outcomes and ultimate profits and educating people for skills in the economy’? It is fundamentally concerned with solidarity and vision; with equipping children to belong, to work together. This is possible only because of the Government’s education policy, so it isn’t at all clear what ++Rowan is talking about.
And then we get: ‘Dr Williams went on to say that it was too early to be cynical about Prime Minister David Cameron's idea of the Big Society.’ He says: “It contains within itself the hugely important sense of investing your value, your worth in the value, worth, happiness of your immediate community - so it's about building community, about getting beyond the bounds of selfishness and about taking local responsibilities.”
Which is jolly interesting, because exactly a year ago he said the Big Society was a ‘painfully stale’ phrase; a project viewed with ‘widespread suspicion’ and as an ‘opportunistic cover for spending cuts’.
If it is too early to be cynical about it now, an opportunistic piece to please the readership of the New Statesman back in June 2011 must have been obscenely premature.