“Devotees at the Shrine of Progress:” Christian-Civic Humanism as Educational Philosophy—a Reanalysis of R. A. Butler's Vision for the 1944 Education Act

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Richard Austen Butler, President of the Board of Education, 1941-1945, and his intellectual colleagues in England built an educational philosophy based on cultural traditions synthesized with progressive educational trends. Here, this philosophy is identified as Christian-civic humanism. Legislation resulting from this educational philosophy, the 1944 Education Act, mandated religious education (RE) for cultural cohesion and promoted a diversified secondary and further education system to bolster English commonwealth in an era of flux. Historians' analyses of the 1944 Act as a piece of post-war social legislation have overwhelmed its significance as an artifact of intellectual and educational idealism. Nonetheless, focus on the Act's relationship to egalitarian "secondary education for all," and secularized education has become increasingly passé. Revisionist analyses allow reconsideration of links between education and state welfare in terms of broader historical meanings. The educational philosophy of Christian-civic humanism was uncovered using revisionist-minded archival research that examined educational philosophy by Butler and his colleagues outside of traditional Board of Education sources and interpretations. This methodology broaden research and analysis of English history of education to include speeches, essays, and textbooks on more broadly-defined educational issues found in libraries and archives inside and outside of English history of education archives. Christian-civic humanism as thesis adds to the history of education, as well as English history writ large, to move beyond stalemates in English educational politics – impasses linked in part to over-reliance on Marxist and secular explanations of the history of education. Incomplete analyses of "secondary education for all" and the meaning of religious education have led to misunderstandings between educationalists and politicians, and consigned progressive-minded, yet conservative and Christian, educationalists to the "dustbin of history." Given the continued stalemates in English education over the meaning of "secondary education for all," as well as the [re-]emergence of debates about British identity linked to religion, these issues demand revision. The resulting analysis provides a dispassionate, rather than politicized, discussion of the making of the 1944 Education Act by Conservative and Christian educationalists. It adds to a body of literature on the importance of civil and religious ideals in twentieth-century English history of education.

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