‘Families are the most important institution in our society. We have to do everything in our power to strengthen them’, proclaimed David Cameron in 2009: very few would disagree. A recent amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill, to include Relationships Education in all schools, says that children are to be taught to respect relationships of every kind as being equal. Except that, by the government’s own declaration, they are not. One relationship – that of family, is the foundation on which a strong and stable society is built. So why is it not privileged above all other relationships?
From the beginning of human existence, people have lived together in families – the book of Genesis describes Adam and Eve living and working together, and raising their children together. Family is the place where we raise our young, giving them love and care, and creating a place of safety until they reach maturity and are ready to take their own place in the world. Family provides a framework within which we pass on values to the next generation – something we do whether or not we act intentionally. Every action we take and every conversation we have transmits something of our values to our children. Family is a place to share the fun and the sadness of life and a place where parents protect their children from the harm of outside influences until they are ready to meet the challenges of life. You just need to look at the depth of parental concern about protecting their children online to see that instinct in evidence.
But family is not just a private matter. Family is a public institution, because it is where we learn how to care for others as we are cared for, how to trust others as we are trusted, and where we learn to live at peace with others. Our belief in the value of family is so central to our thinking that children are adopted into a new family when their birth family breaks down.
And yet, Relationships Education won’t privilege family. Why not? Because relationships would no longer then be equal; because we would have to acknowledge that exclusivity and faithfulness within marriage are necessary for families to be strong and stable. Because to do so would be to create a hierarchy of relationship.
That would, of course, conflict with the liberal equality agenda, which says that everyone can live as they wish as long as nobody gets hurt. The outworking of that, though, is that the most vulnerable people, ie children, do get hurt, because they have no voice. And so, slowly but surely, we are teaching successive generations of children that relationships are transitory, only lasting until it’s time to move on, as if the need to please ourselves somehow makes us victims of circumstance, rather than being the person in control.
In 2014, David Cameron returned to his theme of family, saying, ‘I think it’s absolutely right that government should do everything possible to help support and strengthen family life in Britain today…doctors, teachers and police officers listen to their patients, pupils and the local community instead of ministers and bureaucrats in Westminster, Whitehall and the town hall.’ So, let that be the basis on which RSE is founded. Teachers and governors listen to parents and pupils, not central government. Consult parents on curriculum content and allow them to retain the right to remove their child when that content directly conflicts with their moral or religious views. And above all, privilege family and marriage as the key foundations on which to build society.