Why does a section of our society – including some politicians and some teachers – get so angry about Church Schools? Last Saturday’s Question Time had one of the panel asserting that we are a secular society and there is no place for any ‘faith school’. This was received with hearty applause from at least a section of the audience. Jonathan Dimbleby pointed out that the Church Schools are both successful and popular with parents, and it is useful to note these facts. But the justification for our Schools goes much deeper than this.
Forty years ago, when I was doing a post-graduate teaching qualification at St Martin’s College, Lancaster, the College had a twinning arrangement with a similar establishment in Sweden. I recall the constant British amazement at the control which the Swedish State exercised over education: indeed, one lecturer told us that on any day the same topic would be taught in all Swedish schools. At that point the National Curriculum was way in the future of British education.
Most Americans guard jealously the right of parents to educate their children as they think fit. There is a strong home-schooling movement in the States. To a large extent in this country we have accepted that the state is responsible for education, and the Church has been apologetic to those who seek to make all schools secular, and to reduce ‘religious’ teaching to the privacy of the home. Fr D.G. Peck, a young Anglo-Catholic theologian writing in 1940, saw the danger: “Members of the family are sucked out of family life into the vortex of the larger but more amorphous community life. Inroads have been made upon the family’s nurture and education of its children by pre-school services, the school (which tends more and more to be regarded as a self-sufficient social unit) and finally by the new opportunities for education, cultural growth and employment outside the family scope. ” (Catholic Design for Society – Dacre Press 1940)
As Peck rightly foresaw, the collapse in western society of the family as the fundamental unit, has been a social calamity. In the UK the transformation of the building we once thought of as a ‘home’ into an ‘investment’ has put intolerable strains upon the economics of the family. In this social vacuum the school in its various forms (we must include nursery and child minders here) is now seen as taking on responsibility from the first few months, as both parents where there is still a couple, or the single parent through choice or desertion, are desperate the return to work to keep up the grossly inflated mortgage payments. Schools are open from first thing in the morning – providing ‘breakfast clubs’; long after lessons are over, children are there doing what we once called ‘home’ work.
As the social experiments which we have inherited from the 20th century crumble and fail, one might have expected a bit of humility from the secularists. Not a bit of it! Recognising that the Church Schools might be the last place to teach values contrary to the prevailing mix, they have set their sights on destroying them. Christians in this country have gone a long way to accepting without question their analysis of religion as a private add-on. It is nothing of the sort. It is both an all-embracing perspective on life, and a totally embracing way of living that life. And the reason we can deride (with the greatest of respect, of course) so many aspects of modern culture, education and ethics is precisely because we view them under the divine light. We subject them to the scrutiny of Scripture and the wisdom of the ages: and we see them to be wanting, and to be failing us all.
Fr Peck, writing in the midst of the Second World War, had had ample opportunity to see how totalitarian regimes of right and left had subverted a generation of young people through seizing control of education. The Church must remain strong and confident in the provision of schools for its children. We suffer from the desperate need for committed Christian teachers – who themselves hold to the ideal of Christian education. And we need parents committed to the nurture of their children and the vital role of the home in education – even where this means accepting the financial constraints where only one parent is working. Nor is the Church School helped when parents opt for it simply on the grounds of good exam results or a ‘caring ethos’. The Church School provides Christian education, and it seeks to subvert the values of a decadent, failing, materialist society. The Church School, like the Catholic home, is a powerhouse of love: it transforms lives for good and for God.