In Defence of Religious Schools and Colleges

In Defence of Religious Schools and Colleges

Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 396
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  • Book Info
    In Defence of Religious Schools and Colleges
    Book Description:

    In placing his argument within the context of liberal-democratic values Thiessen gives concrete examples of objections to religious schools and offers practical suggestions that follow from the philosophical treatment of the problem. In Defence of Religious Schools and Colleges bridges the gap between philosophical argument and educational practice. It will be of interest not only to philosophers and educational theorists but also to practitioners in education. Academics, policy makers, political theorists, lay-people, teachers, administrators, and parents - those who object to religious schools and colleges and those who find themselves trying to answer the objections - will benefit from reading this book.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6916-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Prologue
    (pp. 3-8)

    I will dare to defend what many people consider indefensible – religious schools and colleges. Implicit in such a defence is an attack against a sacred cow of Western democracies – state-maintained public education, the supposed bulwark of liberal democracy.¹

    This is not a task which I relish because I know strong opposition exists to my viewpoint. Indeed, there was a time when I was strongly opposed to the position I will be arguing in this book. Many of the objections to religious schools which I will attempt to answer in the following chapters are objections which I once raised and vigorously...

    • 1 Context of Charges against Religious Schools and Colleges
      (pp. 11-26)

      The purpose of this book is to provide a philosophical response to some common objections to religious schools and colleges. But there is some preliminary work that must be done before I proceed.

      In the Prologue I suggested that it is important to place philosophical argument into context. Each of the subsequent chapters (except for the final two) will begin with some concrete historical examples of an objection to religious schools and colleges. There is an even broader kind of contextualization that is required in order to appreciate more fully the thrust of the specific objections being considered. We need...

    • 2 The Charge of Promoting Divisiveness
      (pp. 29-43)

      I begin a consideration of objections to religious schools and colleges by looking at two frequently expressed concerns, both having to do with social harmony – the charge that such schools promote divisiveness, and in the following chapter, the charge that such schools foster intolerance. A 1985 report of the Commission on Private Schools in Ontario notes that, in the 514 briefs submitted to the commission, the social cohesion and intolerance arguments belonged to three of the most common criticisms advanced against the funding of religious schools (Shapiro 1985, 21, 47). Charges of divisiveness and intolerance are probably the two most...

    • 3 The Charge of Fostering Intolerance
      (pp. 44-60)

      In December of 1982, Jim Keegstra, an Alberta high school social studies teacher, was fired for anti-Semitic teaching. He was subsequently stripped of his teacher’s licence, then convicted and fined for wilfully promoting hatred against Jews. The “Keegstra affair” and the resulting “tarnishing of Alberta’s image,” as well as the “serious eroding of public confidence in our educational system,” led the government of Alberta to establish the Committee of Tolerance and Understanding in June of 1983. Its purpose was to undertake a review of the school system and its curriculum and to make recommendations regarding ways in which greater tolerance...

    • 4 The Denial of Parental Rights to Educate
      (pp. 63-79)

      There have been a number of controversies over religious schools in Alberta in the last two decades, centring around another objection often raised against religious schooling, namely, that parents do not have the right to determine the kind of school their children should attend.

      In response to court battles against unregistered church schools and home-schooling in the early 1980s, Alberta’s government commissioned a study of private schools in the province. The resulting Woods Gordon Report, released to the public in 1985, touches on the basic conflict between the rights of parents and the rights of the state. Reference is made...

    • 5 The Charge of Violating Academic Freedom
      (pp. 80-96)

      Religiously based schools and colleges are committed to a certain faith stance. This affects not only what is taught but who does the teaching. Instructors are often required to sign a statement of faith before they are hired. Certain standards of behaviour, reflecting the supporting constituencies’ values, may be expected of instructors. Teaching and research are expected to be in keeping with the faith commitment of the institution. Failure to stay within these boundaries sometimes leads to dismissal. Such expectations would seem to be a blatant violation of the principle of academic freedom which is thought to undergird healthy liberal...

    • 6 Funding of Religious Schools and the Separation of Church and State
      (pp. 99-114)

      Economic considerations often come to the fore in arguments concerning religiously based schools and colleges. In this chapter and the next, I will focus on four of the central economic-related objections to religious schools or their being funded by the state: separation of church and state, the public-private distinction, the charge of elitism, and the problem of limited funds. Some of the arguments in the other chapters of this book implicitly introduce economic considerations.

      I begin with the appeal to the principle of the separation of church and state (hereinafter referred to as the SCS principle) as a way of...

    • 7 The Charge of Elitism and Other Economic Objections
      (pp. 115-130)

      “Slay this dragon for public schools!” This startling call to arms appeared in the lead editorial of theToronto Star(4 February 1989). Exactly what dragon was threatening to devour public education? The possibility of “private” school funding (i.e. extending financial aid to independent religious schools). The editorial went on to cite two arguments often raised against “private” school funding. First, because of underfunding, this was the wrong time to “take more money from the public schools.” Second, “if parents want a special religious or luxury-packaged education, they should expect to pay for it.”¹

      In chapter 1, reference was made...

    • 8 The Charge of Indoctrination
      (pp. 133-142)

      Barrow and Woods, in their popular introductory text in the philosophy of education, introduce the topic of indoctrination with an imaginative description of a Catholic school as a paradigm case of indoctrination (1988, 70). Susan Rose concludes her study of evangelical schooling in America with the comment that many of the practices in these schools are “limiting rather than liberating” (1988, 220). More recently still, James Dwyer, in a blistering attack against religious parents and religious schools and the traditionalist religious communities that they represent, charges that they strive “to repress the minds of children so that they are incapable...

    • 9 The Charge of Censorship
      (pp. 143-160)

      Another charge often made against religious schools and colleges is that they practise censorship. This is a central concern of Alan Peshkin’s, in his careful sociological study of Bethany Baptist Academy, an American fundamentalist K-12 school. “Bethany fosters no Jeffersonian marketplace of contending ideas; none is intended,” Peshkin complains (1986, 190). BBA’s librarian “shamelessly censors” (296).

      It would seem rather foolhardy to defend Christian schools such as Bethany Baptist Academy against this charge, because it is obvious that such schools do make “a conscious, planned effort to control … the instructional and library materials available” in accordance with “the dictates...

    • 10 The Possibility of Christian Curriculum and Scholarship
      (pp. 163-180)

      The above quotation contains another frequently raised objection against religious education as it occurs in Christian or church-related schools, colleges, and universities. The very idea of a distinctively Christian education or a distinctively Christian approach to mathematics or chemistry is viewed as impossible. Hence the title of George Marsden’s response to this objection:The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship(1997). A closely related concern has to do with the undesirability of introducing personal religious perspectives into a classroom. Science, not faith, should carry the day in the modern school, college, or university, some scholars feel.¹ James Dwyer goes so far...

    • 11 The Danger of Fundamentalist Fanaticism
      (pp. 181-198)

      We are afraid of religious fanaticism, and quite rightly so. Fanaticism is often associated with the cults. The tragic mass suicide of he Heaven’s Gate cult was very much in the news when I first began working on this chapter. Thirty-nine men and women in a California mansion methodically killed themselves in the belief that it was time to take leave of their “vehicles” or “containers” (i.e. bodies) in order to rendezvous with a spaceship they believed was trailing the Hale-Bopp comet. Their beliefs were an odd mixture – part Christian, part Asian mystic, part Gnostic, part New Age, mixed with...

    • 12 Liberal Values: The Underlying Problem and a Proposed Revision
      (pp. 201-218)

      In the previous chapters of this book we have looked at a variety of specific objections frequently raised against religious schools and colleges. It is now time to take a broader perspective. Is there anything that unites all these objections? Are there perhaps some common underlying themes? Are they rooted in some particular theoretical framework? And, are there perhaps some uniting principles that underlie my specificresponsesto each of the objections that have been considered? The purpose of this chapter is to take a broader perspective on both the charges and my responses to these charges.

      This chapter will...

    • 13 Towards Educational Pluralism
      (pp. 219-252)

      The major thrust of this book has been a defensive one – answering various objections raised against religious schools and colleges. In the previous chapter I began laying the groundwork for an offensive strategy. Postmodernism and communitarianism, with their emphasis on particularity and the respecting of plurality, would seem to lead naturally to a positive argument for religious schools and colleges. Such schools can surely better accommodate the multicultural and multifaith nature of our society. But, as I argued in the previous chapter, postmodernism and communitarianism are themselves not immune to criticism. I am therefore distancing myself from this approach to...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 253-320)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 321-348)
  14. Index
    (pp. 349-368)