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Curriculum for Cohesion - Developing minds to heal a fractured world

Ideas, good and bad, can change the world. For 4 ½ years Curriculum for Cohesion has been developing new ideas about the role of religion in a multi-faith world. It has already changed the History education experienced by millions of pupils in English schools.

Summary

7 March 2016

Ideas matter.

Good ideas, such as civil liberties and economic liberalism, along with others, helped to produce the liberal democracies found in Western Europe, North America and in other parts of the world. Looking at the combination of freedom, health and economic wealth, no societies in human history have been better to live in.

Bad ideas, such as Marxism, Bolshevism, Fascism and Nazism led directly to Stalin's Terror, the Holocaust, the liquidation of kulaks in the USSR and of wealthy peasants in China, killing tens of millions and condemning hundreds of millions to lives of grinding poverty and fear of arbitrary arrest.

Curriculum for Cohesion develops and spreads good ideas about the role of faith in a multi-faith world.

The history of the project

The project has now been operational for over four years.

Its start

Because I believe in the power of ideas, I listened carefully when Matthew Wilkinson approached me with his research about why Muslim boys under-perform in school. Together we mapped out a project, called “Educating Muslim young people to succeed in Britain.” Perhaps a long title, but one which stated clearly what the project was about.

The initial prospectus issued in August 2011 set out the key objectives on page 2:

“Over the three years of the project, the project team will deliver:

4 ½ years later is a good time for looking back at what was originally described as a “three-year project.”

It’s not just for the benefit of Muslims

We realised almost immediately that Muslim pupils would not be the sole beneficiaries. It was just as important for non-Muslim pupils to understand how Muslims and Islam fitted into British society, and how to succeed in a globalised multi-faith world.

Accordingly, in November 2011 we renamed the project as “Curriculum for Cohesion,” its name ever since.

The project today

Curriculum for Cohesion’s website shows that it has broadened beyond schools. It is still about ideas (“producing a systematic philosophy of contemporary Islam”) but these ideas are now applied:

 “to address the educational needs of:

Achievements

Good academic work has the potential to change how everyone thinks. In my speech at the project’s 2013 dinner I cited René Descartes as an example.

Matthew Wilkinson recently collated the project’s impacts for Curriculum for Cohesion's website. The 2011-2015 impacts are reproduced below:

When you think about having changed the educational experience of a whole generation of pupils in English schools, you realise that you have done something meaningful.

What we have not achieved

The third bullet in the original prospectus above, “three National Curriculum modules designed for young British Muslims in History and Religious Education” has been shifted into the future. Other priorities have not allowed time for creating these modules to the rigorous standards of the project, and they have been shifted into the future.

For me personally, the most serious non-achievement has been the Government’s decision not to adopt one of our key recommendations for the National History Curriculum. In our 2012 document “Submission to National Curriculum Review A Broader, Truer History for All” on page 35 we had the following recommendation:

“2.2.6 Key Stage 4

The accent at GCSE ought, we believe, to fall squarely on critical history without abandoning both the antiquarian and heroic modes of the previous Key Stages entirely. Again, the totalising and international dynamics and the idea of history of the present for their future will be crucially important for attracting Muslim pupils to History at Key Stage 4 (if it remains optional).

Although we fully recognise and accept the complexities and tensions that surround the Arab-Israeli Conflict for teachers, pupils and parents, we believe that the removal of the Arab-Israeli Conflict as a topic of study at KS4 in 2008 was a mistake. This belief is shared by the prominent Jewish scholar on our team, Dr. Edward Kessler, Founding Director of the Woolf Institute, Cambridge.

The Arab-Israeli Conflict is a thorn in the flesh of many young Muslims and one-sided narrations of it undoubtedly fuel Islamist radicalisation (Wilkinson, 2011a). Schools provide the only controlled environment for them to discuss and debate their views in a responsible, relatively impartial and informed way.

Our study showed that Muslim children tend to be both passionate and, according to one teacher, ‘remarkably well-informed’ about the Israel - Palestine question. But their passion and views need to be set in deep historical perspective and the History classroom gives them the opportunity to scrutinise the issue in depth and from different points of view.

We would recommend the optional re-instatement of a unit of study entitled:

The Arab-Israeli Conflict (1896-2012): do the roots of the conflict provide a clue to the solution?

We would also recommend that such a module be designed in consultation with a variety of different Jewish, Muslim and Christian groups to incorporate a variety of different perspectives and sources. Such a module might, if properly designed, perform a critical historical function and suggest the transformative socio-political possibilities of the study of the past which as we have seen as a feature of History that is vitally important to Muslim children.”

My involvement in Muslim Jewish dialogue has taught me how much polarised views about Israel and Palestine damage Muslim Jewish harmony in the UK.

The only answer is better knowledge, and school classrooms would be the ideal place to start. I believe that Muslim youngsters with a better understanding of the history of the Israel / Palestine conflict would be less vulnerable to radicalisation.

Future impact

Matthew Wilkinson has also summarised what the project intends to achieve in the period 2015-2017, reproduced below.

Of this list, in my view the most important is the book which Matthew is writing, with the provisional title “Distinguishing between Islam, Islamism and Violent Extremism: a philosophical-legal guide” because there is a desperate need for everyone to be able to distinguish between people who simply hold very conservative religious views, non-violent extremists and people who want to commit terrorism.

The project’s finances

From the very beginning, we have been transparent about the budget. Page 23 of the August 2011 Prospectus mentioned above set out our original three-year budget. The current budget is on the project’s website.

As I explained in my speech at the project’s 2014 annual dinner, when we launched our fundraising everyone I approached said something like “Great project, but fully committed elsewhere.” Hence the first £30,000 came from me. Once other major donors came on board, I changed to giving £1,000 per month, which is a more sustainable rate in the light of my own finances.

Because we are transparent, we set out how the money has been spent within our annual reports to donors.

Our current budget shows how short we are of committed donations, with a shortfall of £160,000 over the next two years. Meeting that shortfall by myself would be financially painful, and also it is not good for the project to be over-reliant upon the pledges of one donor.

Accordingly, if you would like to donate to the project, please email me (use the contact me page to email me if you don’t already have my email address) for details of how to make a donation.

 

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