Education for Mutual Understanding

Politicians need to allow parental choice in how children are brought up, but they should mandate education for mutual understanding

As already described (, education can make an important moral contribution to peaceful pluralism – but education is also a political issue.

As noted previously (, Richard Dawkins argued, in chapter 9 of The God Delusion, that children should not be brought up to believe in any religion.  This is clearly unrealistic.  Parents cannot be prevented from teaching religion, and it is widely regarded as a parent’s right: for example in Article 26 of the UDHR (Appendix 1).

A more practical approach is to ensure that children are also taught to have a wider perspective and a respect for other ‘people of the book’, and to ensure that they are free to change their beliefs in adulthood.

Public education policy can avoid religious bias, whilst offering education for mutual understanding between ethnic groups.  In most countries, though, there are also schools which are supported by a single faith.  It would be an impractical and undesirable curtailment of personal freedom to insist upon the State being the only authority allowed to educate children.  It would allow a government more control than many people would accept.

Faith schools tend to encourage the adoption of particular beliefs, so they can be seen as potentially divisive.  It is therefore of fundamental importance, in support of peaceful pluralism, that every school should be required to teach a basic level of understanding of other faiths.  Public examinations could test such knowledge, regardless of which type of school the pupil attended.  Such arrangements already exist in some places.  They need, though, to be continually reviewed in each society as pluralism continues to evolve.


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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/6749b.htm