The Faith in the Nexus research project has identified the fruitful ways in which twenty church primary schools (working in collaboration with churches and other interested stakeholders) facilitate opportunities for the exploration of children’s faith/spiritual life in the home. The research findings emerged from research focus group interviews with 450 participants (pupils, parents & staff), and an online survey with 1000 participants across 20 church primary schools in England.
Trevor Cooling remembers and writes about the impact and influence of his tutor, Paul Hirst on his own thinking.
9th June 2011 was a big day for me; I gave my inaugural lecture as Professor of Christian Education at Christ Church (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCedF10YJfk). The phrase Christian Education is not widely used in the UK (unlike other parts of the world); I know of only one other person who has taken this professorial title, the Catholic scholar John Sullivan at Liverpool Hope University. I chose it because of the influence of one man, Professor Paul Hirst.
When I first encountered Hirst in 1972, he was an up-and-coming sensation in the philosophy of education. As part of the London School (in association with RS Peters) he pioneered a rationalist approach that sought to base education on the principles of reason. The prestigious Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain, which he founded in 1964, is part of his legacy. Hirst’s ideas had a profound and lasting influence on British education. I often hear them in training sessions and read them in the academic literature from people who have never heard of Hirst. The greatest tribute to an influencer is to have your language adopted by people who have no idea where it came from. Hirst achieved that.
In 1972 I was a student at Cambridge, newly studying the Education Tripos. Hirst had just arrived as our new professor. Our set text was his The Logic of Education and we were inducted into forms of knowledge and his other philosophical ideas. I remember him as a flamboyant lecturer, immaculately turned out and a master of the art of rhetoric and persuasion.
As a young Christian, the thing that really provoked my interest was Hirst’s assertion that Christian education was a “contradiction in terms”. His argument was that Christianity was a controversial belief system, whereas education should be based on universal human reason and established knowledge. To put the words “Christian” and “education” together was, for Hirst, a contradiction in terms. To make the point clear, he classified educational approaches as either “primitive” (faith-based), where indoctrination prevailed, or “sophisticated” (reason-based), where rational autonomy prevailed. As Cambridge students we were taught this as established fact.
However, this was a problem for me since I was committed to the idea that being a Christian fundamentally shaped how one approached the educational task. It was a problem that other students shared. So, we got together to search for counter arguments. We unearthed an academic literature in the North American Christian Reformed tradition that took seriously the notion that all truth is God’s truth. Rather pretentiously, we published a paper challenging Hirst’s views about Christian Education. We were told that he was somewhat miffed by this, which is understandable given that we never consulted him, but also a little sad as, looking back, I see it as a huge tribute to his inspiration.
The interest that Hirst sparked in 1972 led me first to an MA and then a PhD in which I sought to grapple with the “contradiction in terms” challenge. These formal courses went side by side with a career as an RE teacher, then work for a Christian education charity, the Church of England and, finally, ten years as a professor at Christ Church. I am still convinced that Hirst was profoundly wrong about the contradiction in terms, but am now convinced that he was profoundly right to want to distinguish between primitive and sophisticated forms of education. He just did it on the wrong basis.
I am not, therefore, a Hirst disciple. But at the sad event of his passing away, I bear testimony to the massive influence he had on my life. His ideas inspired a life-long intellectual pursuit. At my inaugural, nearly forty years after I first encountered Hirst, I described myself as “Professor of Contradiction in Terms”. What greater tribute can there be to a teacher than that?
Trevor Cooling., Emeritus Professor of Christian Education, Canterbury Christ Church University.
Tonight I am speaking at the Theos gathering at the launch of the new report “Worldviews in Religious Education”. I am speaking in relation to Worldviews and Texts and Teachers, a project I have been working on which advocates teaching RE in a Sacred text scholarship way.
But just as I am getting ready I read that Pope Francis is reported in the Guardian as having said in an interview in a documentary film, Francesco, which premiered at the Rome film festival on Wednesday:
“Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God. What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered.” (see https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/oct/21/pope-francis-backs-same-sex-civil-unions and also https://www.itv.com/news/2020-10-21/pope-francis-endorses-same-sex-civil-unions-for-first-time-as-pontiff-in-new-documentary-film for an ITV news clip with interviews on reaction)
Pope watchers might not be surprised but to those described as Catholic conservatives it will cause quite a debate. RE classes will now need to factor this in when they explore the topic which is of course a central one to young people.
Traditionally there is an approach to this sort of thing that goes a bit like this:
- On the one hand conservative Catholics/Christians believe …. blah blah blah
- On the other hand liberal Catholics/Christians (including Francis!) believe …. blah blah blah
Teachers will recognise this sort of framing. It is framed by an idea that you describe to the students different views within a religion and I should say that many would dispute the use of the words conservative and liberal in this framing, especially when it comes to describing a Pope! There might even be a debate style question on it:
- arguments for and against, probably using love thy neighbour on the one hand and something from St Paul and the Hebrew Scriptures on the other!
Sacred Text Scholarship would allow us to go deeper than listing of views. An alternative approach would be to explore the scholarship sacred text debate about this.
Gentile admission as an analogy
One possible place to start is the debate about whether the New Testament Church admission of gentiles was such a cultural revolution, that it could be drawn on as a scriptural reference point for adopting a new culture of inclusion of relationships previously thought unacceptable within traditional Christianity.
This is a debate about among some sacred text scholars and it is well summarised in Engaging Scripture, a great little book by Stephen Fowl of Loyola College, Maryland. It appears in Chapter 4, How the Spirit Reads and how to Read the Spirit, which touches on the perennial challenge for Christians on how to faithfully live and interpret the Bible. Fowl explores this through an understanding of what it means to read the Spirit and how the Spirit reads.
So interpretation is at the heart of the matter, and also at the heart is the extent to which there can be legitimate grounds for cultural revolutions in Christian communities today. The sacred text scholars have had a lively debate of this kind for some 20 years.
I think students of secondary age doing Religious Education would find it an interesting thing to explore and it fits into big questions such as:
- “Has revelation finished or is it ongoing?”
- “How should traditions change?”
- “When is an interpretation an interpretation too far?”
- “Is there a too far’ when it comes to interpretation in a worldview that has a God who intervenes in history?”
- “Are interpretations fixed, are some things open to change, or are all things open to change?”
- “Can we reach a finally settled interpretation of anything? How?“
These are real questions for Christian communities today and real questions for students of hermeneutics and they reach far beyond any single ethical issue. It draws them into a much more hermeneutical way of thinking about these issues and shows more clearly how different Christian worldviews make sense of such important issues today, in relation to their ancient sacred text, the Bible.
The Flourishing Schools Program: https://nicer.org.uk/flourishing-schools
FREE RESOURCES: This website has been designed to support school Spiritual Development, Improve Religious and Worldview Education and help provide tools for Shaping Character in the Curriculum with access to research and professional development materials and videos.
Leaders of Christian ethos schools, Church schools, Catholic schools, are challenged to develop an educational community that is shaped by a Christian understanding of the human, the world and God. For human beings, this includes their multiple dimensions, intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual, as well as their potential. They also must be led by an idea of the good that human society is capable of becoming, and the Christian contribution to that common good. These pages provide deeper insights from many teachers and school leaders involved in projects undertaken by NICER with our partners, to understand more deeply the reality of Christian schooling today.
Wed 07/10/2020 15:00 – 16:00
Online seminar to present and discuss the preliminary findings of the SRE sub-project 1.Curating superficiality: a comparison of two lessons on the Creation Story
Professor Lynn Revell
Teaching the creation story has long been a possible site for controversy because of potential areas of conflict around the faith/science nexus. This paper analyses teacher questions in a year three and a year six Religious Education lesson on the Creation story. Both lessons were videoed and transcribed with a particular focus on teacher’s questions and instructions and their responses to pupil questions. Analysis of the structure of the lesson and the nature of teacher questioning indicates that in both lessons teachers exercised significant control over the discussion so that the ability of pupils to ask questions that could potentially challenge a preconceived narrative was limited. In the year six class nearly 50% of all questions asked by the teacher were closed or rhetorical and in the case of the year three class this rose to 85%. Teachers employed a range of pedagogical tools that effectively curated both the tone and content of the lesson. The tools included: ignoring questions, reframing questions, reframing pupil answers, presenting rhetorical questions as open questions and the use of physical gestures/body language to facilitate or close down discussion. A consequence of this strategy was that pupils were unable to explore questions and issues that fell outside of the teacher narrative. Where pupils did attempt to stray beyond the limits set by the teacher they were immediately stopped. The results were lessons characterised by a superficial approach to the Creation Story and where complexity or a diversity of interpretations was marginalised.
Video-based grounded theory study of primary classroom strategy: pedagogical problem-solving when science and RE topics interact
Dr John-Paul Riordan
When science and religion topics interact during school lessons participants can face challenging pedagogical problems. What types of pedagogical problem exist and what participants can do about these problems is unclear in the literature. This paper integrates the Pedagogy Analysis Framework (Riordan, 2020) with an analysis of pedagogical problem-solving by participants in the classroom, illustrating both using data using data from a video-based study of one science and one RE lesson.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to attend
Professor Trevor Cooling has written about the notion of worldview figures prominently in the recent discourse surrounding Religious Education (RE) in English schools following the publication of the final report of the Commission on Religious Education (CoRE) in 2018. His article reflects on the veracity of this initiative. It begins with an autobiographical reflection on the impact of worldview on the author’s development as a scholar. Then, the work of several critics of CoRE is discussed and a more nuanced understanding of worldview is developed as a result. Finally, the pedagogical implications of the shift to worldview are explored by drawing on the personal development approach of Michael Grimmitt and the responsible hermeneutics approach of Anthony Thiselton.
Follow the link.
This page contains a link to an interview with Dr Margaret Carswell (PhD) is a Senior Lecturer at Australian Catholic University. She was an advisor to the Texts and Teachers project (http://www.canterbury.ac.uk/nicer/hermeneutics).
Carswell takes an academic and disciplinary approach to the study of sacred texts. In her work, she has critiqued a number of RE programs which fall short of the hermeneutical expectations of scholarly study which the Catholic Church has committed to in its statement on the Interpretation of the Bible in the Church.
These studies can be found in her thesis which is available online:
- Carswell, M. F. (2006). Biblical metaphors for God in the primary level of the education series To Know Worship and Love (Thesis, Australian Catholic University).
There are two articles which contain her further research on this theme. The abstracts are free online to read and give some idea of her conclusions:
- Margaret Carswell (2018) Promoting fundamentalist belief? How scripture is presented in three religious education programmes in Catholic primary schools in Australia and England and Wales, British Journal of Religious Education, 40:3, 288-297
- Carswell, M. (2018). Teaching scripture: Moving towards a hermeneutical model for religious education in Australian Catholic Schools. Journal of Religious Education, 66(3), 213–223
Two other links
- Teach Scripture is a website designed specifically for teachers in Catholic Primary Schools to enable teachers to teach Scripture – not just use it – using the composite Model. (http://www.teachscripture.com/ )
- Her section of the 2020 Texts and Teachers Practice Guide (Free to download from here: http://www.canterbury.ac.uk/nicer/hermeneutics) contains an outline of the LAaSMO method, which is one way of taking the scripture scholarship into classroom practice.
Interview with Trevor Cooling by Dr David Smith on the What if Learning approach to teaching
MARCH 12TH, 2020 | 22:23 | E2
Interview with Trevor Cooling, Canterbury Christ Church University, National Institute for Christian Education Research
An example of a What If Learning Approach in a Church of England Primary School