I mentioned in the previous post that in each of the four basic elements of the vision for education that the CofE published last month (wisdom, hope, community and dignity), there were areas that extended the way we have thought about the impact of the Kingdom of God and biblical teaching on the purpose and pedagogy involved in educating children and young people.

What got my attention on my first reading of the vision was this statement, appended as a footnote to p.14 of the document:

A major concern should be for the literacy required for reading well. The wisdom literature is just one of many examples of texts that cry out to be read and reread carefully, thoughtfully, in conversation with others (fellow learners, teachers, and previous generations of readers), open to being delighted, enlightened, moved, challenged and shaped by their message. An immense amount of what is most valuable in our own and other cultures is passed on in texts that require that sort of reading and conversation if they are to be adequately appreciated. Yet many are not inspired and taught how to do this. Other forms of reading – for pleasure, information, knowledge, know-how, assessment, and so on – are valuable, but reading for depth of meaning and wisdom is also something well worth learning. Learning this at school can give a habit (or at least an idea that this is possible and worth eventually developing) whose value increases over the years. We will seek to encourage schools to be places where such wisdom-seeking reading can happen.

I have never heard church leaders talk about this. In fact, the last time I read a book that encouraged me as a Christian in the art of reading was a chapter in Richard Foster’s excellent Celebration of Discipline, where he taught that you read every book three times (once to find out what it said; once to find out what the author meant; and once to respond personally to what the author meant). I think that this little footnote could be one of the most transformative parts of the whole document. Elsewhere in the “wisdom” section of Chapter 6, it says:

Jesus Christ was himself a reader and interpreter of his Jewish scriptures and was steeped in their wisdom, as well as in their traditions of law and ethics, prophecy, and worship. Early in his public ministry he gathered disciples (literally ‘learners’), and during his ministry a great deal of his time was spent in teaching and conversation as he formed a community of learners. His own vivid, imaginative, challenging teaching has been among the most influential in human history…(he) also breathed his Spirit into his followers so that they could be led further into the truth (John 16:13) and carry on doing as he did (John 20:21-22), initiating communities of teaching and learning that are now present in every country.

So the emphasis on reading was the first bit of “wisdom” teaching that I found fresh and new, but there are others that challenge and present things in a new way that the church has not really said to schools before:

  • Can we find a wise way of living with disagreement, that lead to negotiation and mutual understanding?
  • Can we see education as having a “horizon that looks to him, seeking truth and wisdom in all reality”?
  • The wisdom-teaching of the natural world must be recognised and appreciated: “the pedagogical potential of study in and of the natural world should not be squeezed out through timetabling pressures. In an age of multiple ecological challenges and increasing disconnection between many people and first hand experiences of nature, it is more important than ever”
  • How do we combine continuity and innovation wisely? Do we have the courage to reject innovations that we judge unwise?
  • Do we have the wisdom to challenge pre-existing cognitive structures and concepts, even in our own faith and that of others? In a world where 80% of people identify with a religious tradition, “but where religious faith is often neatly packaged, unquestioning, unimaginative and even dangerous, it is vital to have examples of wise faith” (p.12-13)
  • Do we think of the need for communication and collaboration as leading to a deeper wisdom in our thinking, especially in church schools who engage with the other branches of Christianity, other faiths and insights from those with no faith?

The big surprise in the section on “hope” is the emphasis placed on Collective Worship. What was more surprising was that there was not a very clearly-made connection between the two. It almost felt that they needed to put it somewhere, but then left it slightly unexplained why Collective Worship contributes to hope. However, it does (Tom Wright’s book Finding God in the Psalms, which I am reading as a devotional aid at the moment, really explores this well), and this paragraph is interesting in that context:

Jesus and the love he embodies are at the heart of our faith, offering hope that wrongdoing and sin, suffering, evil and death are not the last word about reality. The drama of his life, teaching, death and resurrection, set within the larger story of God’s involvement with the whole of creation and history, is fundamental not only to affirming the goodness of life but also to facing and finding ways through whatever goes wrong with ourselves and our communities. He inspires both a realism about how flawed and fallible we are and a confidence in transformation for the better. Even while involved in much difficulty, disappointment, failure, suffering and even tragedy, our trust and hope in Jesus inspires perseverance, patience, gratitude, openness to surprises, and celebration. (p.15)

Telling the whole biblical narrative, and appropriating that narrative through such summaries as the psalms, or Stephen’s speech in Acts, can show that our hope lies in the character and prior acts of God as well as in his promises, which we can trust because of the proven narrative. Collective worship, through its description of the church year, the retelling of the expectations of God’s goodness, and the different “colour” that those expectations have, when compared with what hope or wisdom looks like in the world is described in this paragraph from p.16:

The Church of England is (along with many others) a liturgical tradition, and encountering its worship is essential to understanding it and the God in whom we believe. The seasons of the church year rehearse the drama of Jesus Christ in the context of the larger biblical narrative, and they offer a means through which that narrative can be grasped and inhabited. Collective worship in schools, including prayer, reading and reflecting on the Bible, liturgy, sacrament and experience of the musical and other imaginative riches of Christianity, provide a vital opportunity for this.… there is a strong educational case for experience of worship being part of school life, since its omission lessens the possibility of understanding traditions to which worship is essential…we should host discussion, share good practice, and sponsor research in this area so that worship in schools promotes theological and religious literacy and liberates participants to an imagining of a different order of justice, mercy and hope.

Finally, the closing statement in the section reminds us that hope is an active and prophetic virtue, that remains truthful but clear and encouraging toward a deeper and more fully human future:

Hope in God’s future can often stimulate prophetic responses, both critical and constructive, to the present situation. The combining of hope with particular aspirations for our society, for each school, and for each pupil is crucial to the continuing health of society and its educational ecology (p.16).

I shall leave it there, and comment on the other two areas in the next post.

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About Huw Humphreys

I am a headteacher in the city of Milton Keynes, where I have been since April 2011, looking to make education effective for the whole child and keeping a distant relationship with the powers that be and their narrowing approach to education... but most of all I am looking to find out what it means to be both a follower of Jesus Christ and a passionate educator in the midst of an unsettled community. I am also a part time musician, part time linguist and lover of history and literature...committed both to freedom to learn and depth of learning for all our children. The views on this blog are all my own, and not in any way those of the school I lead!

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