The Way Ahead – Recommendations for Faith Schools

On Friday, I examined the Alberta Department of Education’s views on Accelerated Christian Education. As part of its report, the Committee on Tolerance and Understanding made recommendations on educational policy to correct the problems it found. I think these make a reasonable skeleton for a public policy that could be implemented to ensure better education, and limiting poisonous systems like ACE. Lets look at their suggestions.

Actually, before we do, I’d like to post this quotation from the Committee’s report, since I agree with it so much I think I could put it on a poster:

“The mission of education must include development of critical thinking skills based on openness, inquiry, imagination, original ideas, dissent, rational thinking, and independence. Scoeity’s best efforts must alwas be open to skepticism and constructive criticism from students themselves. To do otherwise, to ignore their developing autonomy and judgment, would undermine the whole purpose of the enterprise. Respect for authority is essential, but a balance must be kept. History has shown time and again that when respect for authority completely overrides responsible independence, critical thinking is destroyed and society is left open to the evils of apathy, dogmatism and prejudice.”

Alright, so what are their suggestions? 

1. There should not be a ban on all faith schools.

“For those who have submitted to the Committee that schooling experience provided along religious lines will promote intolerance because of the isolation and the possibility of narrow indoctrination, the Committtee is of the view that although this has clearly happened in some circumstance, there is no evidence to conclude that the existence of religiously oriented schools does in and of itself, cause intolerance in Alberta. ”

“It is demonstrated by the Catholic schools in this province that a religious context for education does not, in and of itself, create intolerance or narrow-minded learning.”

It may surprise readers of this blog to learn that I am in agreement with this. I do not believe that faith schools should be allowed to discriminate based on faith, and I do not believe they should be allowed to teach their faith as fact (or even to push it as the most desirable faith). But I don’t have a problem with faith groups running a school, provided it promotes tolerance and critical understanding.

The Alberta report also says that schools will still have a right to choose their own positions on controversial issues:

“Since the provision of Alberta’s Controversial Issues Policy apply equally to private and public schools, it is recommended that private schools continue to have the right to advocate particular values and to take special positions with respect to controversial issues. It is understood that in such matters alternative explanations will be presented in the first place.”

I strongly agree with the last sentence. The rest of it… Well, in situations where a position must be taken by the school in its teaching, then I suppose I agree. But the assumption here is that schools must advocate values. I think that, where it is possible and responsible to do so, schools should refrain from advocating values-based positions, but rather facilitate a full and robust discussion of the issues by the students.

2. Pupils should be encouraged to engage with people of different faiths and backgrounds, and with conflicting ideas

“Tolerance, understanding and respect cannot be learned in the abstract. Each is an essential element of the way we conduct ourselves in our day to day relationships with others.

Truly ‘breeding’ tolerance and understading in society does not come at conference tables… rather it comes at lunch tables.

“All private school courses, provincial or ministerially approved, must satisfy the provincial critera of fostering tolerance, understanding and respect for minorities and others.”

3. There should be minimum standards that all private schools’ curricula are required to meet

You would think that OFSTED upholds this in the UK, but having seen OFSTED reports on ACE schools, they’re not doing it to what I consider any meaningful standard.

Alberta’s educators recommended that schools should not be required to stick to one rigid, centralised curriculum. They did say that private school programs must be required to meet minimum standards. When we have curricula like ACE in the world, this seems like common sense to me.

A list of core subjects required to be covered is also recommended.

“Criteria for approval: Private school courses bearing the same titles as provincial courses must contain, at a minimum the course content contained in the Program of Studies for Senior High Schools and in the Content Specifications for Diploma Students.”

“Procedures for closer monitoring of alternative private school programs should be developed to ensure compliance with policy and with conditions attached to program approval.

“At the same time more frequent contacts with teachers and operators  in these schools would lead to greater opportunity for the provision of consultative services.

Basic Principles as recommended for Alberta; you can easily see how these could be adapted for other territories.

1. The Goals of Basic Education for Alberta apply to all Alberta school children, whether public, separate or private.

2. The curriculum studied by all Alberta school children must be associated with, and contribute to, the achievement of the Goals of Basic Education for Alberta.

3. The province, through Alberta Education, is responsible for defining the content of the curriculum (the Program of Studies) and for setting the expected standards of student achievement.

4. The right of accesss of every Alberta student to a high school diploma must be protected by Alberta Eudcaction.

5. Alberta Education is responsible for providing consultative services to and for onitoring the operation of all schools receiving provincial funding or approval.

6. Consistent with the intent of the principles outlined above, parents have the responsibility to participate in the education of their children and the right to choose the schools they will attend.

4. Where possible, minimise government intervention

“If we our to err in our judgement, we must err on the side of trust and the good judgment of individual Albertans, rather than to veer towards easier solutions of more controls and more government involvement.”

That said, they recommend ongoing review procedures. Which is sensible, I think.

Well, it’s not perfect, but I think this a good start towards a manifesto for educational reform that would rule out fundamentalist schools like Accelerated Christian Education, School of Tomorrow, A Beka, Bob Jones University Press, and the rest of those extremists, while still maintaining a liberal and not overly state-dominated education system.

But I know there are problems. So, in the comments, please state your criticisms and, better yet, offer solutions.

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