Blog: Bible blog
To mark the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, an initiative funded by charities and philanthropists to the tune of £370,000 is currently sending out a copy of the bible to every school in the country, with the intention of completing this task by the end of the month.
The enterprise has the full support of Education Secretary Michael Gove, who acknowledges the ‘profound impact’ which the work has had ‘on our history, language, literature and democracy’.
So far, so laudable. And what school would not welcome a literary donation of any kind, even of a work they are likely already to possess on their shelves?
But not everyone welcomes the role played by religion within our school curriculums, and the matter highlights the way in which this issue is fudged from the top down, in order to accommodate a variety of opinions and persuasions whilst attempting to please all and offend none – an aspiration doomed to fail.
Currently a third of our publicly funded schools are faith schools, which will from the outset play an important part in determining which local children are able to win a place there, bearing in mind that faith schools tend to be amongst the highest scoring academic achievers.
Once there, the faith of that school is likely to play an active part both in the syllabus of its Religious Education classes, and in many other subjects as well, the most obvious example being the potential for a school to teach creationism over evolution if strictly adhering to its religious outlook.
Currently, whilst RE must be taught in both primary and secondary schools, it is not part of the compulsory curriculum - meaning that parents are free to withdraw their children from all or part of the classes, at their and the school’s discretion. If the Government’s own directive is that religious education should be compulsory but optional, how are we to interpret their stance on this most vital of issues, whose outreach and ramifications could be said to underpin the fabric of our society?
In addition, the content of the school’s RE classes is determined locally by the Education Authority, rather than nationally, and in the case of faith schools, many are legally allowed to determine this content for themselves – in other words, from the exclusive vantage point of their own particular faith.
It is time that the Department of Education should firstly develop some convictions on this matter, and then display the courage of those convictions to lead from the top once and for all on what part it feels religion and religious partisanship should be allowed to play in the educating of our nation’s children. Until then, it is anyone’s guess whether those copies of the King James Bible will be used for academic or spiritual study.