Is there a place for God in education?

I'm at the RSA this evening, for a debate over a rather contentious subject: the role of religion in education. I'll be liveblogging it as best I can here.

(Oh, and I'm on my iPad, wishing I had brought my MacBook)

Sheena McDonald is in the chair. Good luck to her.

First up is Trevor Cooling, who wrote the report Doing God in Education. How people handle matters of belief is going to shape our world, he suggests. Learning to live together withe very different strongly-held beliefs is going to be ever more important. The consensus of a fair, broad education masks a fault line. most campaigning for diversity in education is based on the irrelevance of religion. Cooper argues that people's beliefs fundamentally inform their view of knowledge. Why cannot education be predicated on religion as a resource for communities, rather than as clutter in the system?

Andrew Copson argues that humanists are calling for fairness, rather than an unbiased view, and that Cooling's report misrepresents that. The BHA is in favour of teaching about a wide range of religions in school, so they can test their own emerging beliefs. That's the right place for them.

Dr Joyce Miller (a practicing Buddhist) likes the fact that the report addresses the idea the education is not free of inherent values. She feels it's essential that is engaged with in schools. However, she's not comfortable with the essentially Christian view outlined. All voices should contribute to the wellbeing and development of children.

Mohamed Mukadam suggests that our community is built of people of many beliefs and none – and varying levels of those beliefs. Faith schools cater to that diversity. Fairness does not require the closure of those schools, but is a spur for sitting down for a discussion. They are important for the very devout – they are a stepping stone to bring the isolated into mainstream society. Cooling advocates "courageous restraint" For teachers – he doesn't have to be afraid of his beliefs, as it stands as an example to children. But he must engage with criticism and debate. Stand back and give others the space to say what they want to say.

Canon Dr Ann Holt wants to argue that the only way to allow people to be who they are in public is to allow for a diversity of provision. Education has much to do with shaping identity. Faith schools are not funded by the state, they're funded by the people, whose money is administered by the state. Believers pay their taxes like unbelievers. It's not just teaching about religion – that's a reductionist form of knowledge. Every school should teach about religion. But education should not happen in a spiritual and moral vacuum. We need methodologies and curricula that honour that. What are we looking for in management of the public square? Are we looking for acquiescence to a dominance secularity? Or a genuinely tolerant view, because tolerance presumes disagreement.

Faithful Times

The Times has launched a new blog about faith. Faith Central, written by Libby Purves, is already proving a good guide to the complicated issues facing people of various faiths around the world. It makes a nice counterpoint to Ruth Gledhill's Articles of Faith.

(I still have no idea at all why The Times uses Typepad without even mapping a domain onto the blogs though. Still, Six Apart must be happy with all the Google juice Typepad is getting as a result.)