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Faith in Schools?

Faith in Schools?: Autonomy, Citizenship, and Religious Education in the Liberal State

Ian MacMullen
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7rmqj
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  • Book Info
    Faith in Schools?
    Book Description:

    Should a liberal democratic state permit religious schools? Should it fund them? What principles should govern these decisions in a society marked by religious and cultural pluralism? InFaith in Schools?, Ian MacMullen tackles these important questions through both political and educational theory, and he reaches some surprising and provocative conclusions.

    MacMullen argues that parents' desires to educate their children "in the faith" must not be allowed to deny children the opportunity for ongoing rational reflection about their values. Government should safeguard children's interests in developing as autonomous persons as well as society's interest in the education of an emerging generation of citizens. But, he writes, liberal theory does not support a strict separation of church and state in education policy.

    MacMullen proposes criteria to distinguish religious schools that satisfy legitimate public interests from those that do not. And he argues forcefully that governments should fund every type of school that they permit, rather than favoring upper-income parents by allowing them to buy their way out of the requirements deemed suitable for children educated at public expense. Drawing on psychological research, he proposes public funding of a broad range of religious primary schools, because they can help lay the foundations for young children's future autonomy. In secondary education, by contrast, even private religious schools ought to be obliged to provide robust exposure to the ideas of other religions, to atheism, and to nonreligious approaches to ethics.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2811-1
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    How should a liberal democratic state respond to parents who want their children to attend a religious school, preferably at public expense? What principles should govern public regulation and funding of religious schools? One cannot adequately answer these questions without inquiring into the proper goals of liberal education policy and, more generally, into the principles that underlie liberal democracy: in other words, to settle these important practical policy questions we must first engage in normative political philosophy. When the state makes education policy, what are its responsibilities to parents, children, religious communities, and the citizenry at large? What values may...

  5. Part I: Civic Education and Religious Schools

    • Chapter 1 THE CIVIC CASE AGAINST RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS
      (pp. 15-40)

      On what grounds, if any, should a liberal democratic state discriminate against religious primary and secondary education in its policies on school funding and regulation? It has been suggested that a sufficient reason, perhaps even the only legitimate reason, for the state to discriminate against religious education derives from a consideration of the civic educational role our schools should play. This suggestion raises a host of questions, three of which I hope to address in this chapter. First, what are the legitimate civic goals of education policy in a liberal democratic state? Second, how and why does so much recent...

    • Chapter 2 CIVIC EDUCATION AND THE AUTONOMY PROBLEM IN POLITICAL LIBERALISM
      (pp. 41-64)

      In this chapter, I ask first whether the inferiority of religious schools for civic educational purposes would be sufficient to justify liberal democratic states in a general refusal to fund such schools, especially against the objections of religious parents that the alternatives—common, secular schools—tend to foster a kind of ethical autonomy that corrupts children and their religious faith. My answer is that civic goals alone cannot provide sufficient justification for such a policy. I reach that answer by rejecting the principle of political primacy, a move that has profound implications for liberal political theory and practice: once we...

  6. Part II: Autonomy as a Public Value

    • Chapter 3 AUTONOMY, IDENTITY, AND CHOICE
      (pp. 67-87)

      My goal in this chapter is to investigate and flesh out the idea of autonomy, which I also sometimes refer to as personal or ethical autonomy, in a way that lays the foundations for constructing an argument that the development of such autonomy in individuals is a legitimate, and indeed an appropriate, goal of education policy in a liberal democratic state. I do not pretend to offer a fully articulated conception of autonomy: such a task would be beyond the scope of my current project. But I do aim to make some important distinctions, to challenge the adequacy of certain...

    • Chapter 4 THE VALUE OF AUTONOMY IN A PLURALIST WORLD
      (pp. 88-112)

      In the last chapter, I sketched a conception of ethical autonomy that I believe is moderate, realistic, and attractive without being vacuous. But, needless to say, it is still a controversial ideal. Significant numbers of religious parents, among others, would be likely to object to the proposal to adopt the cultivation of autonomy as a goal of public education policy: I shall address directly a number of these likely objections in the next chapter. But first I want to consider the positive arguments that can be made for the noncivic value of ethical autonomy and to ask whether any of...

    • Chapter 5 AUTONOMY AS A GOAL OF EDUCATION POLICY: OBJECTIONS AND RESPONSES
      (pp. 113-136)

      In the preceding chapter, I hope to have shown that the instrumental value of ethical autonomy can be demonstrated by arguments that do not violate the appropriate conditions on public justification in liberal democratic politics. My purpose in doing so is to defend the claim that liberal states can and should adopt the cultivation of ethical autonomy as a goal of public education policy, overriding the objections of parents where necessary. But we are not yet in a position to make such a claim: even if the value of personal autonomy can be publicly justified, there might be other reasons...

  7. Part III: Religious Schools and Education for Autonomy

    • Chapter 6 SECULAR PUBLIC SCHOOLS: CRITIQUES AND RESPONSES
      (pp. 139-156)

      The argument of the previous part might seem to suggest that religious schools should not be supported, or perhaps even permitted, by the state unless they can be demonstrated to be effective instruments of education for autonomy. But we must be careful not to move too quickly. Before we can assess the implications of the autonomy goal for public policy toward religious schools, and certainly before we can mount any kind of autonomy-based argument against religious schooling, we need to ask whether the alternative, namely, secular schooling, can reasonably be expected to advance childrenʹs development of autonomy. Of course, as...

    • Chapter 7 RELIGIOUS SECONDARY SCHOOLS AS THREAT TO AUTONOMY?
      (pp. 157-181)

      In the previous chapter, I defended the view that secular schools, suitably managed or regulated by the state, can be effective instruments for cultivating childrenʹs autonomy. If this is so, we must next ask whether a liberal state that aims to ensure that all of its citizens develop as autonomous persons can consistently fund, or even permit the operation of, various religious schools as alternatives to these secular, autonomy-enhancing institutions. If, as I shall argue, nonschool institutions and experiences cannot be relied upon to develop childrenʹs autonomy, liberal education policy must take seriously the possibility that certain types of religious...

    • Chapter 8 THE ROLE OF RELIGIOUS PRIMARY SCHOOLS
      (pp. 182-204)

      In the previous chapter, I argued that the need for all schools to cultivate childrenʹs autonomy justifies subjecting religious secondary schools to extensive regulation, including curricular requirements, expectations for pedagogy and the justification of rules, and requirements of openness to those beyond the schoolʹs particular community of faith. In this chapter, I ask whether the same arguments and conclusions hold in the case of primary schools, and I argue that they do not. The liberal case for detaching childrenʹs educational environment from the ethics of their religious parents and communities is much less persuasive as a criticism of religious primary...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 205-220)

    Questions about public funding and regulation of religious schools are on the agenda in liberal democratic countries around the world—and for good reason. Even in societies where levels of religious belief are relatively low, there are significant numbers of parents who strongly desire that their children should attend a religious school. Many such parents cannot afford or otherwise access private schools, and even those who have the financial means often claim that the government ought to foot the bill, just as it routinely does for secular schooling. At the same time, citizens and policymakers in many liberal democratic states...

  9. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 221-226)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 227-230)