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

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We have weighty reason to seek a policy that all reasonable citizens could see as justified, and opt for such solution if we can find one. I believe that we can. I cannot give a complete defense of this claim here, but will respond to two important objections to it: First, that if parents are allowed to educate children into their own worldview they may inculcate intolerance and so undermine the development of essential virtues of citizenship on which the stability of a just political order depends.

This amounts to a concern that educating children on model 2 cannot be justified to citizens generally. This amounts to a concern that such education cannot be justified to the children who receive it. The basic response to the first worry is that political liberals have no grounds for supposing that reasonable parents who seek to pass on their worldviews to their children using model 2 will teach them not to respect others in politics.

As reasonable, they are committed to the value of civic friendship. I think that this response is successful, but it will seem far too quick to some. Readers may worry that it begs the question set aside in the previous section: Is education on model 2 compatible with respectful presentation, or does seeking this sort of education itself reveal that a parent is not fully committed to the value of civic friendship?

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Model 2 includes exposure to alternative views, but above I argued that exposure is not enough: Passing on the value of civic friendship requires, in addition, what I called respectful presentation. Opting for model 2 will thus render the parents unreasonable if—but only if—model 2 is not compatible with respectful presentation. By the same token, model 2 would fail to be justifiable to other reasonable citizens.

Why might one suppose that model 2 is not compatible with respectful presentation? The ground of this suspicion must be that, in self-consciously advocating a single worldview as correct or best, model 2 is committed to teaching that other views are wrong or sub-optimal where they conflict. Some may worry that teaching that a view is wrong is not compatible with presenting it respectfully.

But political liberals should—by their own lights—reject this incompatibility claim. They should do so because it is a central commitment of political liberalism that the respect due to others in politics is compatible with disagreement over the truth or acceptability of their worldview. The whole point of political liberalism is to show that and how we can respect one another politically even in the face of deep and abiding disagreement over our worldviews.

If this project has any hope of success then it must be the case that one can regard a view as wrong while yet respecting, in the relevant sense, those who affirm it. Rejecting this possibility amounts to abandoning political liberalism. But affirming it undermines the most plausible source of the doubt that 2 is compatible with full affirmation of civic friendship.

In fact there is some reason, to which I alluded above, to think that the second model can communicate the value of civic friendship more effectively than the third, purportedly neutral, approach. There are certain intellectual and political virtues that a teacher can most effectively model for students only if he is not required to purport to neutrality among worldviews. On model 2 , a teacher can explicitly affirm that a given outlook is correct, while also presenting others charitably, and explicitly encouraging political respect for those who hold them.

The teacher can also directly affirm these virtues, and explain to students why someone who holds the worldview that he advocates should support them. By contrast, the teacher who must purport to neutrality cannot take any clear stand on matters of which view is correct, and so cannot model charity towards a view that he is known to reject, or political respect for people who hold this view.

Above I suggested that children who cannot distinguish between respect for those who hold a view and acceptance of that view may, as a result, come to embrace substantive neutrality among a variety of worldviews, as some parents fear. But another result is possible. Children who are not taught to distinguish between political and substantive neutrality may unnecessarily resist accepting the former on account of rejection of the latter.

They may come to wrongly regard political neutrality as incompatible with their worldview, and so fail to develop virtues of empathy, charity and political respect. I take this to be the threat that political liberalism is designed to address, and a possibility that all reasonable people should seek to avoid. What I am claiming here is that one plausible strategy for doing so is to have teachers who make this distinction in their own outlooks teach and model it.

If this is right, then it turns the first objection to model 2 on its head. Many political liberals appear convinced that model 3 is the best—or even the only—way to teach students how to be reasonable citizens. Turn now to the second objection. There are at least three constituencies to whom educational policy would need to be justifiable if it is to be a cooperative endeavor among all citizens: parents, citizens generally, and children.

The second objection claims that education on model 2 cannot be justified to the last of these, the children who receive it. The very idea of justifying policy to children raises difficult questions. Political liberals understand respect for an adult citizen as requiring that we enforce against her only those policies that she can see as justified given her own worldview. But it seems wrong to understand children as having any particular worldview.

Thus it is inherently difficult for political liberals to determine what should count as respecting a child, or as justifying a policy to her. Nevertheless, any plausible view must recognize that a child is a distinct individual with her own claims on the state. Since standard notions of justification do not apply easily to children, we might instead try to articulate their claims in terms of their interests, treating a view as justifiable to children just in case it gives their interests proper consideration.

But this appealing suggestion brings complications of its own, since the reasonable disagreement that is the starting point of political liberalism entails reasonable disagreement about how to conceive these interests. Neither the range nor the significance of these disagreements should be overstated. It is widely agreed that children need basic material provision and nutrition, safety and the sense of safety, and stable and loving relationships especially with the adults who are their primary caretakers.

And it is extremely plausible to hold that any residual disagreement on these fronts should be overridden, even if this requires coercing some who seek cooperative political relationships. So we need to consider whether children do indeed have such a significant interest in autonomy, and if so whether model 2 would be distinctively prone to violate it. But, even in advance of trying to fill out such a conception, the argument of the last section gives us reason to be skeptical about the claim that 2 is distinctively problematic.

Someone might think that 2 threatens autonomy in virtue of the fact that it directs children to a particular conception of the good. But if the argument above is right then any education will have this effect. Many readers will nevertheless find tempting the view that an education that at least aims at model 3 is more conducive to autonomy, so it is worth considering the objection in greater detail. The best response would be an argument that no plausible conception of autonomy can support the objection.

That is, there is no sense of autonomy for which it is plausible both that children have an enforceable claim to its development and that it is in principle in tension with an education on model 2. Here I can do no more than sketch the case for this claim. But the claim that this could be done for any, much less all, normative commitments is an extremely controversial position in moral philosophy, associated with one of the most ambitious programs in contemporary ethics.

Careful political theorists rightly ward off the idea that their view depends on the prospects for success of this sort of grand project. Steering clear of this unattractively demanding interpretation leaves us with a more plausible, but weaker—and vaguer—standard. No one should deny that the well-educated person will be able to think well. It would simply beg the question to suppose without further argument that the second model of education cannot produce thoughtful people. Many readers will think that this is surely too quick.

First, since this approach does not seek to insulate them from the existence and content of disagreement, they are aware of multiple points of view in the culture around them. Second, they understand that citizens with a wide variety of views have equal political status, so they both have—and know that they have—options politically. They know that no coercive sanctions will be brought to bear on them if they alter their worldviews. Callan makes this requirement explicit:.

The essential demand is that schooling properly involves at some stage sympathetic and critical engagement with beliefs and ways of life at odds with the culture of the family or religious or ethnic group into which the child is born. Moreover the relevant engagement must be such that the beliefs and values by which others live are entertained not merely as sources of meaning in their lives; they are instead addressed as potential elements within the conceptions of the good and the right one will create for oneself as an adult.

Callan , p. But it is more difficult to specify this idea in a compelling way than one might suppose. Like the first aspect of autonomy, this one is subject to a strong reading that most autonomy advocates repudiate. On the strong view, autonomy requires alienating ourselves from all of our commitments and occupying a neutral standpoint from which we can reconstitute them. But it is widely recognized that any choice must be made on the basis of some normative commitments: views about what is valuable or worthwhile, and the considerations that count as a reasons.

Such convictions are aspects of a conception of the good, not independent of them. This sort of argument convinces many that the idea of a neutral standpoint from which we could choose among worldviews is conceptually confused. Moreover, supposing we could specify the relevant standpoint of neutrality, it seems unlikely that anyone has an interest in occupying it, much less an interest so important that we should override the value of civic friendship to protect it.

At the very least the standpoint in question would need to be carefully distinguished from normative uncertainty, skepticism or confusion, since it is not plausible to suppose that children have an enforceable right to any of these. The strong reading under consideration makes it unclear how to draw these distinctions. None of these points are novel, and they explain why friends of autonomy tend to distance themselves from identifying it with criterionless choice. Many do so by suggesting that, though all of our commitments should be viewed as up for revision, they should not all be thrown into question at once.

But if it were really meant to apply to all of our commitments this would still be too strong. Consider again the egalitarian rejection of racism. An adult whose education has rendered him incapable of regarding revision of this commitment as a real possibility is, to my mind, to that extent a well-educated adult. I see no appeal in an education that would encourage children to achieve a degree of critical distance from, seriously question, or entertain as realistic the possibility of abandoning this particular commitment.

Such wholehearted normative commitment is compatible with autonomy as thoughtfulness. It is compatible with encouraging students to consider such questions as What does equality really mean? What does honoring it demand of us? What might be our reasons for affirming it? Asking these questions does not require any sort of doubt or ambivalence about the authority of the commitment in question; it is perfectly compatible with finding abandoning that commitment unthinkable.

Notably then, model 2 can welcome and encourage such questions. Moreover, it is hard to articulate a further value the term could name in this context. It is normal, and commendable, to hold that there are at least some value commitments that we do not want to treat, or encourage others to treat, this way.

So we have not found a conception of autonomy that is both in tension with model 2 and plausibly among the most important interests of children. But one might still ask whether there is some range of particular commitments the content of which it is inappropriate to instill—or aim to instill—in a way that makes them unrevisable. The answer is that of course there is some such range, but reasonable people disagree over its boundaries. We might put this point in the following, familiar sounding, way: w hich normative matters should be unrevisable is itself an important and difficult normative question, any answer to which will be controversial among reasonable citizens.

Someone might then still hold that the state should enforce a particular view on which commitments children should be educated to regard as revisable. But, if the argument here is correct, this cannot be defended by appeal to an interest in autonomy independent of further controversial normative commitments. That is, it will depend on precisely the kind of normative claims that political liberals hope to avoid in politics. Even supposing that excellent normative direction is indeed an essential interest of children, one ought to worry about assigning this task to the state.

To do so is, at any rate, to abandon the political liberal hope for cooperation among reasonable citizens. Ad hoc arrangements, like the one that the Mozert parents propose, state sponsored and regulated home schooling, vouchers or a voucher like system, increased charter schools with particular stated worldviews, and some combination of these are all among the possibilities.

There are simply too many empirical and logistical issues surrounding each of these for me to make any credible assessment. I claim only that any consideration of such policies must take the case made here in to account.

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It is impossible to raise a child without taking substantive stands on controversial matters of value. Someone must make these choices, and political liberals have important reasons not to assign them to the state. Parents have a very deep interest making these choices, and I have argued that we have no compelling reasons not to trust fellow reasonable citizens to do so. Because they endorse the value of civic friendship such citizens will aim to pass this shared value on to their children, in the context of a particular wider and richer ethical view about which there is disagreement.

In so doing citizens both enact and aim to reproduce the overlapping consensus of which Rawls speaks. I am also grateful to the Princeton University Center for Human Values and the Spencer Foundation for providing financial support during my work on this article. Ackerman, B. Social Justice in the Liberal State. Audi, R. Brighouse, H. School Choice and Social Justice. On Education. New York, NY: Routledge. Burtt, S. In: I. Shapiro and R.

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Political Order. Macedo and I. Young eds. Child, Family and State. Callan, E. Clayton, M. Justice and Legitimacy in Upbringing. Cohen, J. Philosophy, Politics, Democracy: Selected Essays. Dombrowski, D. Ebels-Duggan, K. Public Affairs Quarterl y, 24, The Philosophical Quarterly , 60, Autonomy as Intellectual Virtue. In: H. Brighouse and I. McPherson, eds. Justice and Aims in Higer Education. Educating for Autonomy: An Old-fashioned View. Social Philosophy and Policy, Freeman, S. Deliberative Democracy: A Sympathetic Comment.

Philosophy and Public Affairs , 29, Justice and the Social Contract. Galston, W. Gutmann, A. Civic Education and Social Diversity. Ethics, , Democratic Education. Korsgaard, C. The Sources of Normativity. Self-constitution: Agency, Identity, and Integrity. Kymlicka, W. Liberal Individualism and Liberal Neutrality. Ethics , 99, Larmore, C. Public Reason. In: S. Freeman ed.

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Moral Conflict and Political Legitimacy. Neufeld, B. Social Theory and Practice , 33, Civic Respect, Civic Education, and the Family. Educational Policy and Theory , 42, Nussbaum, M. Culitvating Humanity. Patten, A. Liberal Neutrality: A Reinterpretation and Defense.

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Journal of Political Philosophy , 20, Rawls, J. 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? In Faith in Schools? 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. 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. We aim to help promote harmony through helping readers to understand the core beliefs, values and practices of various religions here and worldwide.

No man is an island. Within our multicultural, multiracial society, we would have friends and neighbours — and maybe even relatives! Therefore, a basic understanding and appreciation of the many religions around is necessary to enhance neighbourliness and promote peace and harmony in all societies.


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