SCHOOL WORSHIP - AN OBITUARY

London, SCM Press 1975

The 1944 Education Act (England and Wales) required schools to begin each day with an act of collective worship. This book discusses the philosophy and practice of school worship, and argues that it should be replaced by an assembly devoted to the spiritual and moral development of the school. Below is an excerpt from chapter 6. It was customary in those days to 'man' when referring to people in general.

The School Assembly - pp. 118-120

The school assembly has considerable educational potential. When it is taken up with worship, something is being done which in the county school ought not to be attempted at all in that form, and in the meantime, the opportunity to do something more directly related to the tasks of the school is missed. Corporate, compulsory worship should be abandoned, and assembly then left free to relate in new ways to the curriculum. The positive gains of such assemblies will be discussed as we continue.

The objectives of school assembly will be to provide ceremonies, celebrations and other events which, while not assuming the truth of any one controversial statement, will present the issues to the pupils in a way so as:

1. To widen the pupilís repertoire of appropriate emotional response. An appropriate emotional response is one which in terms of the surrounding society is proportioned to the circumstances which evoke it. A person who flies into a fury if he loses his fountain pen but is unmoved by the human need in the great city around him has inappropriate emotions. A person who is not moved by the beautiful and who never feels compassion is lacking in emotional breadth. It is, of course, impossible to avoid some degree of cultural definition of what an appropriate emotional response is, but the assembly would attempt to introduce the emotions and responses of other cultures. The controlling criterion in the education of the emotions will be the ethical status of the emotion in relation to its stimulus. At no point can education evade the responsibility of making this sort of ethical judgement.

2. To encourage a reflective approach to living, a way which transcends the immediacy of experience. Man's capacity for reflection upon himself and his worth is part of his distinctive existence. Heidegger has pointed out that to ek-sist is to stand out, to project above. Man is self-aware being. To live immersed in one's world instead of being in critical action and reaction with one's world is to lose part of being human.

3. To demonstrate the values which are not controversial and upon which democratic society depends. These values include freedom of speech, respect for the rights of minorities, the equality before the law and in education of all religious and ethnic groups, and responsibility for personal decision-making and for participation in community decision-making.

4. To provide some experience and understanding of what worship is so that the way of worship, along with other life styles, will remain an option for anyone who wishes to follow it and so that all will have some insight into what it is like to live a religious life. But this provision will not require anyone to worship and will certainly not commit the school to corporate acts of worship.

These objectives are chosen because they are consistent with many of the functions which the assembly already has. Assembly is of course often valued by schools for reasons other than religious ones. The objectives, particularly the second and the fourth ones, offer some continuity with present school worship. The first three objectives relate to central concerns of education and the last one is a contribution from religious education. The objectives are not exhaustive. Other subjects of the curriculum will be able to add other objectives.

In relation to the tradition of worship, the tasks of these assemblies will be to select from the various aspects of worship those which

(a) are low in cognitive content and which therefore do not commit the pupil and the staff member to beliefs which they may not have, or

(b) are high in cognitive content but which can be treated in a controversial and not an affirmative manner, and finally

(c) are compatible with educational goals, e.g. can be treated in an open way, and contribute to the moral, aesthetic and religious development of the pupil in a rational, freedom-enhancing way.

 

For other writings on collective worship and school assembly see: Can We Speak of God

Collective worship and the search for spirituality (Templeton Lectures): The Act Unpacked

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