A comparison of Evangelical Christian Schools and Islamic Independent Schools in England: The Reason for their Emergence. By Helen Everett, Institute of Education, London a comparison of Evangelical Christian Schools and Islamic Independent Schools in



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Borders, Mobilities, Identities: European Educational Action

Freiburg September 2006



A Comparison of Evangelical Christian Schools and Islamic Independent Schools in England: The Reason for their Emergence.
By
Helen Everett,

Institute of Education, London

A Comparison of Evangelical Christian Schools and Islamic Independent Schools in England: The Reason for their Emergence.
Introduction:

The English education system has always had a connection with religion. Many independent schools, such as Eton, Winchester and Westminster have a religious foundation as well many state schools. Currently about one third of England’s primary and secondary schools are faith schools (TES 2006b).

Anglican 4,468 primary 201 secondary

Roman Catholic 1713 primary 351 secondary

Other Christian 107 total

Islamic 5

Sikh 2
In the past forty years and in particular since the 1980s two new types of independent religious school have emerged; the Evangelical Christian or New Christian school1 and the Muslim or Islamic Independent school2. Presently there are estimated to be 120 Islamic Independent schools (AMS 2006) and about 100 Evangelical Christian schools (Guardian 2005a) although precise numbers are difficult to obtain due to the fact that many of these schools are small and consequently are financially precarious.

These schools are fundamentally different from state faith schools or independent schools with a religious foundation, with these parents finding even this education unacceptable. This can be illustrated with a case which I am personally aware of where a small group of Evangelical Christian parents removed their children from a Church of England Voluntary Aided Primary school and started their own private school based on ‘Christian principles’. Although there are only a few Muslim state schools in England even these would be considered unacceptable by some Muslim parents.

Very little research has been carried out into Islamic Independent schools although there has been a certain amount produced by groups such as the Muslim Education Trust (MET), the Islamic Academy and the Association of Muslim schools (AMS) and others discussing the needs of the Muslim child in respect of education (Hewitt, 1996; Sarwar 1996, 1994, Joly 1995; Ansari 2004; Parker-Jenkins 1991, 2002). Almost no work has been conducted into Evangelical Christian schools, although there is a certain amount of material produced from within the group itself (Thomas and Freeman 1996; Freeman 2001; Baker and Freeman 2005; Hollow 2006). The only comparative work has been undertaken by Geoffrey Walford (2003; 2003; 2001; 1995) who has been concerned with the issue of funding and has compared Evangelical Christian and Islamic Independent schools in England with those in the Netherlands.

This essay, based on the research conducted for my MA dissertation (Everett 2006), will argue that both groups have very similar, often identical, views on education and the purpose of education which stems from their beliefs regarding the revelatory and inerrant nature of their scriptures, the Bible and the Qur’an. This in turn leads to a world view which is at odds with the modern/post-modern world view which underpins the English education system, and is thus unacceptable to them. Finally it will consider some of the implications that this raises for the English education system.


Evangelical Christians and Muslims in England.

Evangelical Christianity is not associated with any one Christian denomination and is reputedly the fastest growing branch of Christianity in England3. The majority of Evangelical Christians would hold scriptural revelation as central to their belief and lay ‘special stress on personal conversion and salvation by faith in the atoning death of Christ.’ (Cross 1961)

Islam has become more prominent in England over the past forty years. The number of Muslims has grown mainly due to the arrival of immigrants, predominantly from Bangladesh and Pakistan with Muslims now representing about 2.7% of the population (ONS 2004). The majority of British Muslims are South Asian Sunnis, although there are many other interpretations represented in Britain reflecting the presence of Muslims from around the world. Unlike the major Christian denominations there is no representative authority equivalent to Archbishop, Synod or Pope in Islam and so it is difficult to find an authoritative voice on Muslim matters.

When talking about belief and religious traditions it is very easy to over generalise and make sweeping statements. However, without some generalisation a comparison of this kind would be pointless and impossible. Keith Ward (2006) commented recently that what any one person actually believes will in some subtle way differ from everyone else, but by generalising to different degrees we can talk meaningfully about what Sunnis or Muslims or Abrahamic Faiths have in common. Therefore in this essay, whilst trying to represent the groups and their beliefs accurately, I am aware that not all members of a group will subscribe to all the views portrayed and that the strength of any views lies on a continuum. In this essay, unless otherwise stated, when referring to Muslims I am referring to those who feel a need for independent Islamic schools.


Fundamentalism

Both groups under study could be termed fundamentalist. An increase in fundamentalism was noticed initially in the 1960s and became more obvious in the 1980s and 90s. The various terror attacks since 2001 have highlighted the rise in Islamic fundamentalism, but this phenomenon is not only occurring in Islam.

There are several explanations regarding the increase in fundamentalism (Voll 1994; Gellner 1992). The most plausible to me suggests that fundamentalism is not about a resurgence of religion per se but about the resurgence of religion in a secular society (Ruthven 2005). Fundamentalists accept the benefits of modernity, such as technology, whilst rejecting modern ideology. They perceive injustices having emanated from a failure of modernism and the modern world (Voll 1994).

Globalization has played an important part in the spread of fundamentalist beliefs having effectively ‘erased most geopolitical and social structured firewalls separating different ways of life’ (Tétreault 2004). Social problems perceived to be associated with modernity such as immoral behaviour, drug addiction and Aids, have become more visible and small groups with similar beliefs all over the globe can contact, fund and support each other. The use of the media has enabled attacks on specific religious groups to be seen around the world, hence mobilising other group members (Ruthven 2005).



Faith and Education in England.

The 1988 Education Reform Act rather than diminishing the role of religion actually made faith more prominent in schools, although the parental right of withdrawal was retained. RE remained a compulsory subject with state schools now required to teach about the other faith traditions present in UK. The daily act of worship was retained, but it was stipulated that this should be ‘mainly, or wholly Christian in character, (based over a year)’.

In England some state schools whilst receiving most of their funding from Government receive 10% of their capital funding from a religious group, predominantly the Anglican or Roman Catholic Church. These Voluntary Aided schools teach the National Curriculum and are in most respects the same as other state schools. The difference is that majority of governors are nominated by the religious group and they do not have to teach the locally agreed RE syllabus. They can teach their own RE syllabus which need not cover other faiths and can be denominational. Thus at first sight it seems slightly bizarre that in a country where there are faith schools some parents feel that this is inappropriate for their children.
Comparing the Schools

This section compares some aspects of Evangelical Christian schools and Islamic Independent schools and education in order to highlight their similarities before discussing how these beliefs put them at odds with the English state system.4


A description of the schools

The first Evangelical Christian School, The Cedars School, Rochester, was started in 1969 (Baker and Freeman 2005). Numbers gradually increased, particularly in the 1980s and 90s with over half being affiliated to the Christian Schools’ Trust. Some of the schools are affiliated to specific churches who assist in their financing, but often they have been set up by a few like-minded parents and rely on low fees and voluntary contributions.

Islamic schools appear to have begun in the late 1960s (Ansari 2004). Since 2001 five schools have been awarded state funding, the first being Feversham College in Bradford. As with Evangelical Christian schools many are small and are run on very tight budgets making them vulnerable to closure. Often a proportion of the running costs come from the community with donations to schools considered as zakat5. UKIEW (2006) and other charities encourage people to contribute to these schools as waqf6.

In both cases a lack of funding means that many of the schools operate in less than ideal buildings and suffer from a lack of facilities, especially for sports, ICT and science, although some are substantial schools in purpose built accommodation. Some of the schools are extremely small, housed in Church or community halls or even in private houses. The three schools visited during my research illustrate the varied nature of the establishments. The first school was an Islamic Independent Girls school in central England with 26 students from the ages of 11-15. They had been running for about one year and were attached to the local mosque. The school was accommodated in portacabins and the students had to go to the local comprehensive school in order to use their ICT and science facilities.

The second and third schools were both Evangelical Christian schools. The second school had 10 students ranging in age from 5-17 and had been started about 4 years ago. It was housed in rooms which were part of a Baptist Church and which the Church used outside school hours. There were no science, ICT or games facilities. It used a programme of study, developed in America, Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) (Accelerated Christian Education 2006). Students work through booklets at their own pace and this reduces the need for specialist teaching input and makes it ideal for small schools where there is mixed ability teaching. About half the Evangelical Christian schools in England use the scheme which has been criticised for the reliance it places on rote learning, the lack of critical thinking and the intolerant views which are sometimes expressed in its booklets (Guardian 2005a).

The final school was celebrating its silver jubilee and currently has 160 pupils ranging from 9-16. Unlike the previous school, whose pupils came from a number of local Evangelical Churches, it only accepted pupils from its own church community. This school was also on the same site as the Church and shared some space, but it also included purpose built ICT and science facilities. In both the Evangelical schools parental involvement was expected with most of the teaching staff having no PGCE qualification.

Both types of schools attract children from modest backgrounds and fees are typically about £3000 per annum (compared with approximately £10000pa for a traditional independent school).
Secularisation and a Dichotomy of Values

Evangelical Christians and Muslims both subscribe to the view that sacred and secular cannot be separated. ‘Christianity affects the whole of life and that there is a Christian perspective on every academic subject’ (Baker and Freeman 2005). Muslims similarly believe in a revealed scripture which provides the blue print for life and thus there can be no secular subjects (Walford 2002) with Islam embracing ‘all spheres of life’ Hurst(2000).

The major concern that both groups have with the state education system is probably that the values being taught are becoming increasingly secular leading to an increasing dichotomy between the values taught at home and those expounded at school. This seems to be compounded by the fact that as England is constitutionally a Christian country it is expected that the values portrayed in school will be Christian. The 1988 Education Reform Act on one hand increases the importance of religion whist many feel simultaneously making the curriculum more secular.

Ashan (1988) describes how Muslim parents are concerned about the gap between the values which are taught, often implicitly, in school and the values, beliefs and culture of Islam which are taught at home: ‘whereas the education was one rooted in God it is now agnostic or secular’. Ansari (2004:323) quotes one Muslim educationalist as viewing the National Curriculum as ‘based on a secularist philosophy ‘ which ‘indoctrinated’ children into a ‘particular world view.’

The secularisation inherent in the education system is perceived to result in a loss of Islamic culture with articles expressing the need for mother tongue teaching. One respondent in Osler and Hussain’s study (1995) expresses the view that without Islamic education their Pakistani culture would be compromised and illustrates the not uncommon confusion between culture and religion.

Hughes(1992) maintains that the difference in values between the humanist ones in school and the Christian ones at home was one of the two major reasons for the formation of Evangelical Christian schools. ‘We were working hard to instil Christian values into them at home. Did we really want all those values to be challenged as soon as they stepped into school?’ (Baker and Freeman 2005). It was felt that ‘to teach children without specific reference to God’s true place in everything would be to train them in godlessness’ (Baker and Freeman 2005).



The Purpose of Education

Both groups see the purpose of education very differently from the British Government with both perceiving state education as capitalist and utilitarian.


‘The underlying message coming through the education that we saw the young people receiving was that the main purpose of life was to get a good job and to make money’ (Baker and Freeman 2005).
Muslim parents are concerned that the emphasis is on acquiring skills and on capitalism (Ashan 1988). Sarwar(1996) talks about the training of the human instinct to
‘compete with ferocity in a materialistic world’ whilst the education system fails to pursue other ‘sublime virtues of honesty, decency …. accountability and responsibility’
It is clear that neither group wants children growing up incapable of getting a good job. Frequently these schools show very impressive academic results and education is often given as an important reason for their commitment to the UK. (Joly 1995)

The Islamic view of education is that it should be ‘the process through which human beings are trained and prepared in a concerted way to do their Creator’s bidding in this life (dunya) and to be rewarded in the life after death (Ākhirah). Humans act as the agent of Allah on earth with the entire creation as subservient to man’ (Ashraf 1985) and man must be taught how to achieve this. It is not possible to separate spiritual and utilitarian forms of knowledge. Knowledge and knowledge acquisition is good and important as long as the above aims are being fulfilled. Knowledge for knowledge’s sake is another matter.

Education was seen as educating the whole child including the spiritual side of the child’s nature and both groups feel that the state system fails in this way and considers spiritual development as creating a good citizen (Ahmed 1999).Thomas and Freeman (1996) say that
‘Our goal is to teach children how to know the living God in order to understand His world and all that is in it, so that they may fulfil God’s purpose in putting them into this world’
And that
‘God’s will is that we should have eternal life; eternal life is to know God, and Jesus Christ. This is our goal in education’ (ibid).
A similarity in the purpose of education between the two groups can be seen. Both see themselves as stewards over God’s creation, but more importantly education is not only about this life, but also the ‘eternal life’ or ‘the life after death (Ākhirah)’. Education has taken on a different realm of importance if one compares it to the emphasis in England on skills, jobs and money.
Origin of Knowledge, Revelation and Scripture

Evangelical Christians and Muslims believe that the source of knowledge is God. Both Christians and Muslims would subscribe to the idea of revealed truth. For Muslims the revelation is found in the Qur’an and for Christians it is Jesus Christ.

Mainstream English Christians would consider that the Bible was written by man, not by God, and so is fallible. It is not considered the direct word of God and is open to interpretation, although the extent to which it can be interpreted varies. Evangelical Christians treat the Bible as a revealed way of life and that all truth comes from God through Jesus and the Bible with some viewing the Gospel writers as themselves divinely inspired. Freeman and Baker (2005) feel that ‘their curricula should be fundamentally different from other schools, covering much of the same material, perhaps, but from a very different viewpoint. The starting point should be the Lord himself and his truth.’ This contrasts with the state school curriculum which compartmentalises subjects and knowledge resulting in people growing up ‘believing that God has no place in Maths, Science, History, Languages or even Art. His place was in the “God-slot” of RE’ (Thomas and Freeman 1996:85).

The Qur’an for the vast majority of Muslims is the revealed word of God or the ‘speech of God, dictated without human editing’ (Ruthven 1997). Its position, as ‘co-extensive with God’ (ibid) is equated with that of Jesus for Christians. The extent to which the Qur’an and to a lesser extent the Hadith and the Sunnah, can be interpreted has been and still is very controversial (Arkoun 1994:35).

In Islam all knowledge comes from God and this is revealed in the Qur’an and through the prophets with Mohammed being the final prophet who received the final revelation. Man can gain some knowledge through study, but this is must be checked against the absolute, revealed truth before it can be properly accepted. Although pursuit of knowledge is a religious duty only knowledge which leads to a better understanding of God and helps man fulfil his purpose in creation (Halstead 2004) is considered acceptable.

The Muslim and Evangelical Christian views of their scriptures are very similar in many ways. Knowledge comes from the scriptures. There is a specific body of truth and anything that is to be taught is to be taught in the light of that truth, meaning that all subjects must be referred back to the scriptures for authentication. Hewer (2001) highlights the problem that the Muslim view of knowledge and revelation has on the curriculum. As the truth is ‘given and immutable’ and knowledge is ‘existent and defined’ this leads to a problem with the child centred approach found in the state school classroom. Instead the teachers ‘expound and the pupils absorb’. The revealed scripture is given and therefore is not open to discussion or critical interpretation, again this is at odds with the state school approach to learning. One of the problems highlighted with the ACE curriculum is the way that it portrays Evangelical Christianity as the ‘only route to the truth’ (Guardian 2005a) and that it does not encourage critical thought or questioning.


Other Matters:

Evangelical Christian and Islamic views coincide on many other issues such as the role of the teacher, parental responsibilities, sex education, science (particularly evident in the teaching of evolution) and the concerns that the two groups have over the teaching of RE in schools. The summary below highlights some of the other areas of agreement.







Islamic


Evangelical Christian

State School

Faith

Islam

Christianity

Secular Humanism7

Nature of Child

Essentially good

Essentially sinful

Essentially good

Goal of Education

To become good Muslim, preparation for life to come

God’s Glory

Acquisition of skills, self realisation8

Knowledge

Comes from God

Comes from God

Based on scientific reasoning

Scripture

Qur’an revealed by God, inerrant

Bible revealed by God, inerrant

Open to interpretation

Teacher

Exemplar-Prophet Mohamed role model

Discipler – Jesus role model

Facilitator

Evolution/Creationism

Creationism

Creationism

Evolution

RE

Islamic-indoctrinating

Christian- indoctrinating

Non denominational, comparative

Educational Responsibility

Community and Parent

Parent

State

Underlying values

No separation between secular and sacred

No separation between secular and sacred

Secular and sacred separate


Analysis

The comparison between Evangelical Christian and Muslim views regarding education has highlighted that the underlying beliefs are very similar, often identical. This is not to say that they believe identical doctrines, but that their views on revelation, scripture and knowledge are fundamentally the same.

The extent of the similarities allows the suggestion to be made that the inappropriateness of the state education system:


  • Is not unique to one group or the other. It is not just a Muslim ‘problem’.

  • Stems from a fundamental difference in world views; the Modern/Post Modern world view which underpins the English state education system and the world view which is held by Evangelical Christians and Muslims.

The basis of the English education system is a modern and at times a post-modern world view. The goals of English education as stated in the 1988 Education Reform Act and the 1996 Education act (Alexander 2000:124) were




  • To promote the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical developments of students at the school and of society

  • To prepare students for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life.

Although the first goal could be interpreted to give importance to spiritual matters it is framed, and in practice is approached, in a relativistic way with no importance attached to God. The second goal emphasises the utilitarian, skills based nature of education, which is contrary to what Evangelical Christians and Muslims feel is the prime purpose of education.


Before beginning to analyse the evidence it is important to discuss how mainstream English Christianity and Islam have approached modernity.
Christianity and Modernism

In England and Western Europe prior to the Enlightenment the general belief was a Christian one. In most Christian traditions the Bible was not held as literal truth, but was interpreted. The allegorical and mythical nature of the Bible was accepted. There was a distinct separation between the heavenly realm and the human realm. The picture of God ‘up there’ in heaven was one which may have been taken literally by many, but certainly even early Christians, such as St Paul, would have considered this as a metaphor (Robinson 1963). Even before the Enlightenment scientific developments, such as the Copernican idea of the universe in the 16th century were causing concern within the Church, but the Enlightenment and the increasingly modern world view caused the Church to rethink many issues. Many educated Christians were not unsettled by the changing world view, but the ‘man in the pew’ had not been exposed to the issues (Chadwick 1972). It was not until 1864, five years after Charles Darwin published Origin of Species, that the debate seriously began. Although the theory of evolution and new studies regarding geology were important Owen Chadwick (1972) maintains that the destabilising change was the way that historians began to study ancient historical texts such as the Old and New Testaments. All these ideas were considered by the general public as ‘science’ and it was the way that this ‘science’ challenged biblical interpretation that caused the real conflict. If the biblical accounts were not true ‘therefore all other teachings of the Church fell into question.’(ibid:2)

Gradually the mainstream Churches began to reconcile belief with scientific rationalism. God still had a place, just not the one previously occupied. In the 1960s Bishop John Robinson published ‘Honest to God’ (Robinson 1963) which tried to find an expression of God and a place for the Church in a modern world something which he did not feel had been sufficiently dealt with by anyone other than theologians.

Although, as Robinson suggests, there is still much work to be done, the mainstream Christian denominations have, in many ways, tried to respond to the challenge that modernity poses to a Christian world view (ibid). Equally true is the fact that there are a variety of positions within a single tradition with some Christian groups, such as conservative Evangelicals, not having engaged with the debate in any meaningful way. Their belief in the absolute truth being revealed through the scripture means that they find it impossible to accept a view which rationalises everything and tries to explain everything. The emphasis on utilitarianism and education and knowledge for purposes other than the ultimate knowledge of God is considered abhorrent and completely misguided. The Evangelical belief in moral absolutes means that a relativist world view is even less acceptable.


Islam and Modernism

The period between the 8th -14th centuries has generally been described as a ‘golden age’ of Islamic civilisation. The writers and thinkers of that time were open to new ideas and there was debate and interpretation of the Qur’an. The concept of ijtihad, solving a problem from first principles rather than relying on a previous interpretation (taqlid), was important (Tritton 1966).

In the 9th -11th centuries two opposing schools of thought arose, the Mu’tazalite and the Asharite. The Mu’tazalites believed that guidance from God could be gained by reason as well as revelation (Esposito 2005:71). They moved away from the idea that ‘human action was predetermined’ to one where God allowed free will and hence humans were responsible for their actions (Esposito 2005:72).In contrast the Asharites considered that the Qur’an was uncreated and has existed in eternity. Revelation was again considered superior to reason and the concept of predestination returned, but included the idea that ‘people acquire responsibility and thus accountability for their actions’ (ibid:73).

The Mu’tazalite emphasis on reason which was independent of the Qur’an was considered too dangerous a philosophy and the Asharite school of thought became the accepted norm. In many ways Islam turned in on itself feeling that it could learn little from the non-Islamic world. Few Muslims saw much to gain from travelling to the West (Lewis 2002). Gradually though, in order for Islam to retain its place in the world, it began to seek and employ Western methods, particularly in warfare (ibid) resulting in Western ideas, increasingly those of the Enlightenment, beginning to infiltrate the Muslim world.

The emergence of Wahhabism in the 18th century was not a response to increased contact with the West, but its growth can be attributed to opposition to western, modernizing ideas. Predominantly it condemned those whom it saw as ‘betraying and degrading Islam from within’ (Lewis 2003:94). This included anyone trying to introduce modern ideas and those it saw as ‘debasing the true Islamic heritage of the Prophet and his Companions’ (ibid), particularly anyone following any other Islamic school of thought. Non-Muslims were not excluded, although they were not the main target.

During the ‘The Colonial Era’ many Islamic countries were colonised by Western powers who imposed a secular state along with modern thinking. The imposition of these ideas meant that they were never debated and assimilated in the way that these ideas were in much of Christianity and the West. After independence the Islamic world had to begin to consider how this ‘western’ form of knowledge fitted in with their own, if it could. It was not as simple as the two evolving together. This has led to what many would see as ‘The crisis of modern Islam’ (Ruthven 1997).

Over the last 50 years many people have considered the way in which Islam should deal with the ‘crisis’ in epistemology (Bennett 2005). Some such as Saroush, Sayeed Ahmed Khan, Arkoun and Abu Zaid and Mernissi believe that a re-invention of the the Mu’tazalite tradition which values rationality is the way forward. Others, such as Al Faruqui and Al Attas talk of the concept of the ‘Islamization of Knowledge’. Knowledge exists in the mind and its nature depends on the qualities of that which created it. The same ‘bit’ of knowledge would be different in the minds of different people. In the mind of a Western person it would be infused with Western, secular values, but in the mind of a ‘good Muslim’ it would become Islamized. (Halstead 2004).

It can be seen that the issues surrounding Islam and Modernity are far from being resolved9. There are people who are exploring and trying to find a solution to the issue, but it is felt by many working in this area that they are being ‘”harassed, condemned and denounced as blasphemers’” and as “servants of the West”’ (Mernissi quoted in Bennett 2005:124). The lack of resolution between Islam and modernity is going to have profound implications for the way that Muslim parents and Muslim authorities interact with and approach the English education system.


The Dislocation of World Views

The beginning of the dislocation between the world views began a long before the National Curriculum was even considered. Edwin Cox (1966) in his book ‘Changing Aims in Religious Education’ was writing at the time when the RE curriculum in particular was undergoing a profound change. It is important to note here two things. The first is that this change is happening in the early 1960s which is the point at which ‘Honest to God’ was written and the time of the Second Vatican Council10 both of which involved the major Western Christian churches responding to modernity. The second is that it is just prior to the first Evangelical Christian school being started and the rise in Evangelical Christianity in England.

The book itself discusses the changing nature of RE in schools. He clearly perceives a tension between teachers who hold a traditional view, as portrayed in the agreed syllabus, and those who are critical of the older tradition, subscribing to newer theological ideas. The traditional approach, which taught unprovable facts about the ‘origin and content of the Bible’, was far easier to reconcile with the agreed syllabus, but problems began to emerge as parents considered it non utilitarian and consequently pointless. The new theology had deconstructed many ideas and had not yet rebuilt them into a form that could be taught or discussed easily, especially not to younger children.

What emerges from this tension is that RE no longer teaches a set of doctrines, but instead moves towards ‘an open search for truth and a matter of personal choice’ (ibid:28) and the purpose becoming less about conversion. The new aim is to give ‘practical guidance on behaviour’ and to induce ‘moral conduct’ (ibid:56), particularly at a time when society was becoming more permissive and moral absolutes were less clearly defined, and to help pupils to work out these absolutes.

In discussing Cox’s book I have aimed to show the point at which a significant fault line appeared between mainstream Christianity and the Evangelical Christians in respect of education11. It is at this point that it becomes apparent that education is rejecting the importance of the Bible and of God being the source of knowledge and so the state education view begins to move away from the Evangelical view. The establishment of the first Evangelical Christian school in 1969 would have been strongly influenced by these changes. The separation in positions was further extended when the National Curriculum was introduced.

Although parents of children in state schools often comment on the decline in standards and values in schools most parents do not believe that the underlying principles are at odds with their world view. Mainstream English Christianity has engaged with modernism and to some extent with post-modernism hence even in Christian faith schools there is little tension, if any, between the curriculum and the school values.

Islam has not engaged with modernity and the modern world view to the same extent. As the issue has not yet been resolved in the wider Islamic community it is harder, though not impossible, for some schools to satisfy and feel comfortable with the demands made by the National Curriculum. This could be an alternative, or an additional, explanation as to why there are so few Muslim state schools.

Evangelical Christian and Islamic Independent school parents and supporters do not feel that their world views and that underpinning the state system can be reconciled. This is not a situation where accommodation can be made. It is not equivalent to the issue over the wearing of head scarves or halal12 meat being available, it is far more fundamental. This was underlined by the fact that none of the schools that I visited wanted to be part of the state sector as it presently stood, being unwilling to accept the resulting state intervention.

As has been shown the inappropriateness of state education for Evangelical Christians and Muslims is not inherent to one particular religious tradition. Instead it is due to an incompatibility of these religious world views with the modern/post-modern world view. The emergence of these schools in the late 1960s and their increase, particularly in the 1980s and 90s, is in direct response to the change in world view prevailing in education.

Implications for the English Education System

Although there is a certain amount of recognition of both types of schools in Government and education circles I am convinced that there is little understanding that Evangelical Christian Schools and Islamic Independent schools operate from a different world view to that expressed in state schools.

This is illustrated by a recent report in the TES (2006a,b,c) which says that the Government plans to bring Muslim schools into the state sector as a way to ‘integrate Muslim communities after the July 7th suicide bombings in London’ (TES 2006a). Seven private Muslim schools will be ‘fast tracked into the state sector’. The report also says that David Blunkett whilst Secretary of State for Education
‘”did not feel comfortable” with his original 1998 decision to award state funding to new Muslim faith schools and admitted that the policy was driven entirely by “pragmatism”’.
He was concerned that the schools were ‘anything but open and liberal’ but felt that Muslim schools could not be rejected when there were Christian, Jewish and Sikh schools. The leader article comments that
‘His [Blunkett’s] decision was rightly based on grounds of pragmatism and fairness, despite misgivings about the consequences. Now he seems to have joined the sceptics, expressing further doubts about the further expansion of Muslim state schools’ (TES 2006c).
Neither commentator seems aware of the significant differences between mainstream Christian schools and Islamic Independent schools. The assumption is that this will appease and integrate the Muslim community. But will it really or will it increase alienation and conflict as both sides struggle to reconcile their world views without acknowledging or understanding the root of the problem?

If we consider the comments of David Bell and David Blunkett clearly we can see that there is concern about the fact that the curriculum and pedagogy used in these schools are illiberal and intolerant. What is never discussed is why these curricula are as they are. The world view that both Evangelical Christians and Muslims hold is based on absolute, exclusive truth whereby any other points of view are wrong. Most, except a very few hard line extremists, would accept that others may hold an alternative view, but there is little point in dwelling on this when you have the truth. Therefore these schools see no need and have no desire to become more liberal.

The lack of understanding of and research on Evangelical Christian schools is concerning. They do not want to apply for state funding and are very self-contained, autonomous, and independent with a wide and organised support network, both in the UK and globally. Some Evangelical Christian groups see their educational aims and purpose reaching wider than their own community. ’It is not just our own children we are fighting for-it is the soul of the nation’ (Thomas and Freeman 1996:18). The motto for Christian Education Europe, (European ACE) is “Reaching the world for Christ, one child at a time” (Guardian 2005a). Unlike Islamic schools there is a definite, evangelistic agenda here. Failure to appreciate this is naïve and potentially dangerous.

The lack of understanding, recognition or acknowledgement could lead to problems. The new education bill (DfES 2005) allows for the formation of semi-independent Trust schools, sponsored by outside money. The Government is actively encouraging faith groups to start the schools. The Emmanuel Schools Foundation, whose Chairman is the businessman Sir Peter Vardy, himself an Evangelical Christian, has already sponsored three Academies, with four more planned, in the North of England. According to their publicity the Foundation

‘exists to promote the highest possible standards within comprehensive secondary education through provision based upon Christian principles’. (ESF 2005).

The individual schools also reflect this Christian ethos. The Emmanuel College Prospectus (ibid) states

‘Meaning 'God with us', Emmanuel now enjoys a national reputation as one of England's best comprehensive schools as well as one which proudly bases its ethos upon the Christian Faith and Biblical Principles.’

The sex education policy talks about believing that ‘we are created to a divine design’. Concern has also been expressed with regard to the teaching of Creationism in these schools (ibid).

Therefore already state schools exist where, in some subjects at least, an alternative world view to that underpinning the normal state education system is being promoted. This change has not been openly discussed and I am certain that the majority of parents do not understand the implications of sending their child to such a school probably believing that they are just going to a ‘normal’ faith school.

This legislation will allow, in fact is encouraging, other faith groups to be involved with these schools. Will these also want to promote their world view? Given that the Pew survey (Pew 2006) has recently highlighted the fact that 47% of British Muslims feel that there is conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society the questions seems acute. Taken alongside the GfK survey (2006) which suggests that Muslims are becoming less integrated into British society this indicates that the Government and society in general need to understand more about what is going on in Muslim communities.

Differing world views are impinging on our lives and there seems to be a great lack of acknowledgement. The important question we now need to ask therefore is whether the state education system can accommodate an alternative world view? My personal feeling is that it cannot. Using the argument put forward by Evangelical Christian and Muslim parents I would argue that this irreconcilable difference in world views is confusing to the children. There is a difference in acknowledging that different views exist and treating them as equally acceptable alternatives.
Final Comments

Using England as a case study this essay has highlighted the challenge alternative world views pose to an education system. It is clearly not just Evangelical Christians and Muslims where this irreconcilable dislocation occurs. Hurst (2002) noted it in the Roman Catholic Church in pre-Vatican II times when they also believed that they had the absolute truth and, although not researched I would suggest that one would find similar concerns expressed among orthodox Jews. Although the problem may take the form it does in England because of the particular relationship between Church, state and education some of the problem areas such as evolution and sex education would occur in secular education systems. As the ethnic and religious mix of Europe changes it will be interesting to see how these issues are dealt with by other countries.



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1 These two terms are interchangeable and so Evangelical Christian school will be used in this essay.

2 As above. This essay will use Islamic Independent school.

3 A growth rate in excess of 1.6% is estimated over the next 15 years. Actual numbers are hard to obtain due to the fragmented and localised member churches, many of whom are independent House Churches. (Christian Research 2006)

4 For a more extensive and detailed comparison see ‘Rejecting the State System: A Comparison of Evangelical Christian Schools and Islamic Independent Schools in England’ (Everett 2006)

5 Zakat: alms giving as one of the pillars of Islam.

6 Waqf: endowments

7 As perceived by Evangelical Christian and Islamic communities

8 As above

9 For a contemporary, fictional, account of the problems faced by Pakistanis in UK resulting from this lack of resolution see ‘Maps For Lost Lovers’ (Aslam 2005)

10 The Declaration on Christian Education, ‘Gravissimum Educationis’, (Flannery 1975) defines education in terms which would be acceptable to most secular modernists highlighting that education should be ‘suitable to the destiny of the individuals’.

11 At this time there were few Muslim children in England and so it is anachronistic to include them at this point.

12 Halal: prepared in a ritually acceptable manner.





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