A critique by Rupert Kaye,
ACT Chief Executive
An opportunity squandered
I tuned in to watch this edition of Dispatches (screened on Channel 4 at 8pm on Monday 6 March 2006) in eager expectation that Rod Liddle would visit a number of new Christian schools to find out if, how and why they are distinctive. After all, there was plenty for him to have got his teeth into: he could have visited a school with a redemptive behaviour policy; or a school where every staff meeting, lesson, test and exam begins with a prayer asking God to help people to think clearly, discern His will and give of their best; or a school where children and staff pray for miraculous healing whenever someone is sick or injured.
Rod Liddle's thesis went something like this: the growing impact of evangelicalism (my word) / fundamentalism (his word) on the educational experiences of pupils in UK schools is a threat to the country's liberal democratic traditions.
This being the case, why did this edition of Dispatches focus on a handful of peripheral/sensational stories, most of which were tangential to Mr Liddle's central objection to a certain kind of Christian schooling?
Mr Liddle could have conducted a survey of a thousand non-Christian parents to find out why they choose to send their children to new Christian schools. Is it because the school is Christian? If so, why is this important to them? Is it because they hope their child will develop a faith they do not possess for themselves? Is it because they like the school's distinctive (redemptive) behaviour policy? Is it because they like the way prayer is present in every facet of school life? Is it because exam results are good?
He could have sat in a selection of lessons – from art and music to maths and geography – taught from the perspective of a Christian worldview. He could have asked: What does it mean to teach PE or ICT ‘Christianly'? In so doing, he could have begun to answer the question: How does a Christian worldview differ from, say, a secular worldview or an Islamic worldview?
Mr Liddle could have sat in on seminars at the annual Christian education theory conference; he could have interviewed speakers and delegates at the annual national Christian teachers' and headteachers' conferences. And he could have asked Christian teachers: Did God tell you to become a teacher? How does your faith impact on your day-to-day work in school? What does a competent Christian teacher bring into the classroom that a competent humanist teacher does not?
Somewhat inexplicably, he chose not to interview any of the key Christian educationalists in the UK. He did not, for example, interview any of the leading lights in the National Society, the Catholic Church or Churches Together in England. Nor did he interview the editors of the Journal of Education and Christian Belief, or representatives from the Association of Christian Teachers, The Independent Schools Christian Alliance, the Christian Schools Trust, or The Stapleford Centre.
In short, Mr Liddle did not speak to the right people he needed to speak to; he did not ask questions worth asking; and, in consequence, he did not have much of a story to tell.
Sadly, much of the programme seemed to be a kind of Room 101 for Rod Liddle. Clearly, he doesn't have time for Christians who:
take umbrage with ‘blasphemous' shows like Jerry Springer, The Opera
promote sexual abstinence to teenagers
believe same-sex relationships and homosexual sex acts are sinful
raise their hands and smile during church services
Mr Liddle is a man who, it seems, fails to fathom faith (after all, the programme seemed to muddle up Elim with Church of England). He likes mystery, uncertainty and greyness; he abhors the very notion of black-and-white moral judgements and spiritual assurance. Hence, he is unable to get his head around the fact that anyone (especially a headteacher!) living in twenty-first century England is able to: (a) accept the Bible as a source of literal truth and moral guidance; and (b) question the liberal and/or scientific assumptions which underpin so much of contemporary society.
Poor Mr Liddle! He could hardly believe his ears when he heard someone telling teenagers that the only way to be 100% sure of preventing pregnancy and protecting themselves from catching a sexually transmitted infection is to abstain from sexual intercourse. So, imagine his surprise – and obvious discomfort – when an evangelical Christian said that God's pattern for human sexuality is faithfulness within monogamous marriage and celibacy for everyone not married. For Mr Liddle, this stance was clearly a bridge too far. (Perhaps he knows lots of parents who advocate 'sleeping around' to their teenagers. Perhaps, he sees promiscuity as one of our country's proud liberal democratic traditions. Who knows?)
Did he really expect any of the evangelical Christians he interviewed to openly doubt or contradict the Bible? In his wildest dreams, did he ever think they would condone same-sex relationships or homosexual sex acts?
In fairness, Mr Liddle did visit the three state schools run by the Emmanuel Schools Foundation (endowed by Sir Peter Vardy). But, even here, the programme relied on flimsy anecdotes about children disciplined for smoking outside school or not being allowed to go to the toilet in lesson time to argue (unconvincingly) that local communities would be better off with a non-Christian school.
Perhaps a future edition of Dispatches will send an investigative journalist to a number of new Christian schools to find out if, how and why they are distinctive. I hope so. In my opinion, this really is a story worth telling.
Posted on 7 March 2006
This article is a press release from the Association of Christian Teachers and is used by permission. http://www.christian-teachers.org.uk/