For Williams, the cure for further outbreaks could only be found in the long-term and in the reorientation of schools towards teaching virtues rather than skills: “Over the last two decades, our educational philosophy at every level has been more and more dominated by an instrumentalist model; less and less concerned with a building of virtue, character and citizenship – ‘civic excellence’ as we might say. And a good educational system in a healthy society is one that builds character, that builds virtue.
“Character involves … a deepened sense of empathy with others, a deepened sense of our involvement together in a social project in which we all have to participate.
“Are we prepared to think not only about discipline in classrooms, but also about the content and ethos of our educational institutions – asking can we once again build a society which takes seriously the task of educating citizens, not consumers, not cogs in an economic system, but citizens.”
Chartres picked up the same note but more practically: “Those who went on the rampage … seem to lack the restraint and the moral compass which comes from clear teaching about right and wrong communicated through nourishing relationships. The background to the riots is family breakdown and the absence of strong and positive role models.”
Here’s a nice straightforward soundbite. But it’s worth noting that the “clear teaching about right and wrong” is to be communicated by “nourishing relationships”. This is an appeal to human authority, working through our human affections, rather than something supernatural. Then, of course, comes the pitch for the important role that the church already plays in anything like a ‘big society’: “This once again underlines the vital importance of the work that the church has been doing through its schools where we share the responsibility for educating 50,000 young Londoners a day.”