28 Nov Jules Evans interviews Dr Peter Vardy on #reconsult
‘Take ethics out of the classroom and you just make robots for the production line…’
Peter Vardy is a theologian and perhaps the leading Religious Studies teacher in the country. After teaching theology at Heythrop College and writing several best-selling books on ethics and religious philosophy, he and his wife Charlotte – also a theologian – set up Candle Conferences, which runs huge events for RS students around the country.
For the last month, I’ve been touring with the Vardys, speaking to halls full of 300-400 RS students, in Oxford, Cambridge, Canterbury, York, London and beyond. It’s been a blast. It strikes me that RS – studied by 300,000 at GCSE level and 23,000 at A-level – is one of the very few places in the curriculum where teenagers get taught to think about ethics and philosophy. Which is why proposed reforms to RS, to reduce the amount of ethics in the subject, worry me and surprise me, particularly when all the main parties say they want more of an emphasis on ‘character education’. Here’s an interview with Peter:
Jules Evans: Why is RS so popular, in a country that’s increasingly non-religious?
Peter Vardy: Mainly because of the ethics component. Schools can choose how much they focus on three components – philosophy of religion, religious texts and ethics. Many schools choose to focus almost entirely on ethics, because it’s the most popular component [and most of the students are not part of a religion]. Some of the ethics is theoretical – the study of leading ethical theories like utilitarianism, natural law, emotivism, relativism and so on. And there’s also an applied ethics component at A-level – medical ethics, environmental ethics and so on.
Jules Evans: Where else is ethics taught in schools?
Peter Vardy: Almost nowhere. There’s citizenship, which has a bit of ethics in it. There’s Personal and Social Health Education, which tends to revolve around how to put a condom on a banana – it has a basic utilitarian approach and is very badly done indeed… more
Jules Evans was guest speaker at most of our Varieties of Religious Experience events this month.