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Faith, Identity and Belonging: Educating for Shared Citizenship – Inter Faith Network

June 21, 2017

FIABIFN has been looking at what faith traditions have to say about approaches to citizenship in a religiously plural society like our own. The bombings in London in July 2005 and the focus in their wake on tackling extremism and promoting community cohesion, have been part, but only part, of the context for work on this project which is designed to build on the work of the Network over a number of years in the area of faith and public life The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) could usefully develop further its schemes of work looking at inter faith issues and faith perspectives on citizenship and ‘belonging’ in Religious Education and Citizenship Education.  d) RE and Citizenship teachers would benefit from developing closer cooperation in drawing up schemes of work and lesson plans. There is already a degree of positive interaction but opportunities for discussion together of areas which are addressed by both disciplines remain relatively limited Single faith and mainly mono-faith schools can help their pupils engage with those of other faiths through joint projects, school ‘linking’ projects and exchange visits. Without such opportunities, many young people get little opportunity to meet pupils of other faiths and to learn the skills of interaction vital to life in a shared society.

‘Active citizenship’ is, though, not just about being nice to people, good as that is. When we work as active citizens in our communities, we must also be asking

political questions such as why some groups of people need more support of various kinds than others do and why some have particular opportunities while others do not

Multi-country careers are not uncommon today. I spent some time as a careers tutor at the beginning of my teaching career in the late 1980’s. The presumption of most young people then was that they would maybe move away to university, but most would probably come back to the area in which they had been at school.

Their parents had certainly done that; their grandparents had definitely done that. But by the time I was coming out of the classroom in the late 1990’s, doing the same kind of career work, you were beginning to have discussions with young people about not just going to Manchester to go to university, but perhaps working in France or in the United States, or in some other part of the world. That level of fluidity, that degree of integration on a global level, poses real opportunities and real challenges and we do not have the option of not meeting these. There is a dimension to global diversity and the diversity in life experiences that this gives rise to for which we need to prepare young people and which we need to embrace in thinking about Citizenship Education.

Schools are unique institutions in that they hold the largest gatherings of human beings in one place on a regular basis – larger daily than the occasional gatherings in places of worship, the work place or at leisure events.

I hate to see the issue of citizenship being compartmentalised and just given as another responsibility to the teacher of Religious Education. If a school’s ethos does not reflect the principles of citizenship and the concept is not practised by its teaching staff as well as its administration, then as was said earlier, the students will not believe in it.

What John did was to parcel the curriculum up into different areas of focus. So Literature corresponded to ‘wisdom’, Science and Technology to ‘fact’. When we do that to Religious Education, we tend to put it in the category of ‘opinion’. This implies that Science, Maths and Technology do not contain opinion and that Religious Education does not contain fact. Something has gone wrong intellectually in terms of the curriculum in British schools, where we have parcelled different areas of the curriculum into different aspects of human thought and experience in a way that is quite artificial. The concept that we have Religious Education on the one hand and a secular National Curriculum on the other is nonsense. If you look at the National Curriculum, it is anything but secular. In fact, different curriculum subject areas can look at religion and can explore religion. It is relevant both in terms of its own content, and also of its relevance to society. We need to have a very clear vision of the expansiveness of the curriculum as a whole and what it is that the curriculum is trying to produce. We need to have a much wider debate about the place of religion within the curriculum. If I am looking at the effects of the Reformation as part of history, that is not Religious Education, that is History, but nevertheless it is focusing on religion. I think that is what happens in Citizenship Education as well. I found it interesting that the Crick report, Education for Citizenship, did not quite know what to do with religion. Reading it again, I still have that feeling and think that this is somehow reflected within the Citizenship curriculum. Whilst there is certainly space within citizenship to look at different religious and social identities, this very often is not the focus of what we are doing. I think we need a broader integration of religion in the curriculum, and we need to move away from an artificial split between the religious and the secular curriculum because, in effect, we  have no secular curriculum in this country.

A survey by Professor Leslie Francis in Wales showed that nearly 50% of pupils covered by it did not believe in God. 95% of them, however, believed that Jesus was the Son of God! The survey does not tell us that many pupils do not believe in God, it tells us that they are confused

While some community or ‘state’ schools are virtually mono faith or mono cultural, many Church of England schools are in practice religiously and culturally quite diverse in terms of their pupils’ backgrounds.

Only a small percentage of Muslim children attend Muslim ‘faith’ schools. Most are in community schools. Public concern about expanding the number of faith schools often focuses on whether pupils are being taught to relate appropriately to those outside their own community. Faith schools do not automatically lead to ghetto-isation. It can be easier for pupils to develop a sense of belonging to a community within a faith school and then work outwards to involvement in the wider community. Individuals who feel at ease within their own community are more able then to reach out to others and cooperate with them.

bringing young people together to share in an activity is often more fruitful than simply shared discussion. An example is the Maimonides Foundation programme in London that brings Jewish and Muslim schoolchildren together to play football.

It’s online here

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