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 project has now been operational for over four years.
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:
- an educational approach to help young British Muslims think about what it means to be a Muslim in contemporary Britain published and tested in academic papers and seminars;
- a book to enable teachers to help young British Muslims think about what it means to be a Muslim in contemporary Britain;
- three National Curriculum modules designed for young British Muslims in History and Religious Education, and
- annual input into the National Curriculum Review (2011-2014) to ensure that the curricular interests of the Muslim Community are represented.”
4 ½ years later is a good time for looking back at what was originally described as a “three-year project.”
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.
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:
- the judiciary,
- the media,
- the prison service and
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:
- Our three reports and policy work with the National Review Curriculum for History (2011-2012) have ensured that every child in English secondary schools, circa five million pupils, will learn something about the historical contribution of Islam and Muslims over the next 20 years with the knock-on benefits in terms of historical knowledge and community cohesion.
- The outcome of 12 teacher-training events has been that 240 teachers studying at the leading academic institutions are now able to incorporate teaching about Islam and Islamic civilisation more effectively, fairly and accurately into their classroom practice. If each teacher has an average career of 15 teaching years and teaches an average of 50 new pupils a year, this equates to circa 180,000 children directly benefiting from our better-trained teachers in nuanced understandings of the relationship of Islam and Muslim to the ideas and adherents of other faiths.
- The outcome of one workshop for 100 sixth form students is that 100 school leavers now understand better their rights and responsibilities as British citizens.
- The outcome of two judicial training events is that circa 200 of the UK's senior judges and barristers now know how Islam-related matters and young Muslims can be more knowledgeably and fairly dealt with in court.
- The outcome of two media training events at the BBC's College of Journalism has been that circa 80 of the UK's leading up-and-coming journalists can reflect on how to make their coverage of Islam more accurate, balanced and fair.
- The outcome of four peer-reviewed papers has been that hundreds of leading international academics understand better how to investigate the ways in which people of religious faith relate to modern life in multi-faith societies.
- The outcome of six international conference papers is that circa 1,200 leading academics from the UK and abroad have been exposed to the ideas and results of Curriculum for Cohesion's work, thereby disseminating new and useful concepts about cohesive education around the world.
- The outcome of Dr Wilkinson’s book, A Fresh Look at Islam in a Multi-faith World: a philosophy for success through education [Read my review] is that increasing numbers of researchers at some of the UK’s leading academic institutions – University of Cardiff, UCL Institute of Education, University of Cambridge and soon at SOAS, University of London – know how to research Islam and Muslims in a way that deploys the full range of contemporary philosophical and social scientific tools in a way that does justice to the intellectual traditions of Islam.
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.
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.
Matthew Wilkinson has also summarised what the project intends to achieve in the period 2015-2017, reproduced below.
- The outcome of 12 teacher-training events will be that circa 240 further teachers studying at the leading academic institutions will be able to incorporate teaching about Islam and Islamic civilisation more effectively, fairly and accurately into their classroom practice.
- The outcome of two conferences/workshops for sixth form students will be that 200 school children understand better their rights and responsibilities as British Muslim citizens.
- The outcome of four judicial training events will be that circa 400 of the UK's senior judges and barristers know how Islam-related matters and young Muslims can be knowledgeably and fairly dealt with in court.
- The outcome of four media training events at the BBC's College of Journalism will be that circa 160 of the UK's leading up-and-coming journalists know how to make their coverage of Islam more accurate, balanced and fair.
- The outcome of Dr Wilkinson’s next book, Distinguishing between Islam, Islamism and Violent Extremism: a philosophical-legal guide will be that senior British opinion-informers, including judges, government ministers, other politicians and journalists, are able to distinguish law-abiding, religious Muslims from those whose views and consequent actions may potentially damage themselves and society. This book will draw upon the traditional doctrines of Islam, including Islamic traditions of free speech, as well as relating them creatively to contemporary democratic European values.
- The outcome of four peer-reviewed papers will be that hundreds of leading international academics will understand better how to investigate the ways in which people of religious faith relate to modern life in multi-faith societies.
- The outcome of six international conference papers will be that circa 1,200 leading academics from the UK and abroad will be exposed to the ideas and results of Curriculum for Cohesion's work, thereby disseminating new and useful concepts about cohesive education around the world.
- The outcome of the development of the educational elements of the British Museum Exhibition to open in 2017 called, Representing the House of Islam from the Atlantic to the Pacific will be that thousands of visitors to London are exposed to a more interesting, integrated and accurate picture of the historical achievements of Islamic civilisation, as a means for considering what Muslims can contribute to society in the present and future.
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.
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.