This is a short follow-up to a post from the end of July, where I argued for an epistemology for Christian teachers that differs in intent from that argued for by liberal-secular educators. There, using the arguments advanced by Tom Wright in his essay How the Bible reads the modern world, I contended that knowledge was

  • Always for something – it is both relational and responsible to that which is known.
  • Part of bringing the creation to order and flourishing.
  • Rooted in God’s wisdom and not ourselves, and that therefore the knower stands not outside that knowledge but within it, as part of a wider world of interlocking relationships.
  • Always communal, shared, built upon.

Here I want to develop the argument, again supported by Professor Wright’s work, that knowledge, because it is outward-focused and relational, is ultimately about love, and that love is the purpose and end of knowing. This becomes important when we are teaching, I think. I suspect that there are some rainy afternoons when the bottom set Year 9s need teaching where the love of either the knowledge or the learning process is pretty thin, but teachers thrive on the fact that children and young people gain, change, desire more, respond – in other words, relate. The greatest joy that is common to teachers is to teach children who so love the experience and the process of learning, or who resonate with the content, that it makes the job one of cooperation rather than one akin to deep-sea drilling.

This is a very far cry from the “body of knowledge” merchants, who seem to think that if only we can cram a certain amount of content into young brains, they will be necessarily more equipped for the future. On the other hand, we have to say, as I have consistently said in this forum, that British teachers as a profession are woefully under-taught and under-cultured in our education system. Because we are so dissociated from what might be viewed as traditional or classical European learning, and because we do not love or value the great inheritance that we ourselves have received, we are not in the position of being able to draw on the literature and cultural achievements of our inheritance. Quoting Homer now is a rarity; when I was a child, I expected that level of erudition from my teachers.

An example: Last week, to show the children something wonderful and cultural, I found a great Youtube video of David Oistrakh and Yehudi Menuhin in 1958 at the Salle Pleyel playing the Bach Double Violin concerto. Just in that sentence there are four amazing cultural icons – Menuhin and Oistrakh, two luminaries of the great pantheon of Jewish fiddle players of the 20th century (Stern, Zukerman, Heifetz, Kreisler, Szigeti, you name them), the Salle Pleyel, home to an astonishing quantity of astounding music making in a quiet corner of Paris, and the Bach Double, which, if learnt when young, becomes a part of you. I was lucky enough to be playing this, with my friend Mark Parish, at the age of 16, under a violin teacher who know the benefit of a serious classical education and its impartation to his pupils.

Wright is right. At the root of all of these is love. All the learning that has gone into the music and the playing and performing of it, has been learnt because of love. The fact that you use this knowledge and these skills, and gain this understanding is a function of love, because the real impact of the knowledge gained lies in the way that you use them. And the right way to use that is in the way of love.

I am much challenged by Daniel and his friends, who, on being exiled to Babylon in about 598 BC, had this stroke of good fortune:

Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility— young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service….To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds (Daniel 1:3-4, 17)

What challenges me here is the knowledge that God gave: Ashpenaz was to do the training in language and literature (and, shock horror, this probably contained a great deal of mystical and occult material as well as science and mythologies), but it was God that gave the knowledge of the literature and other learning to Daniel and his friends. This implies that the understanding we gain is given by God – and, in dreams and visions, is added to by God – so that we can begin to see a unity and purpose for the learning. God wants learning to take place, it seems, to bless others through our study of it. And this desire to bless others through the knowledge we have been given is motivated, of course, by love. Love, somehow, must be the motor of our learning and the motor both of the methodology and pedagogy of learning, but also the principal feature of the content of the taught curriculum.

However, without the culturally acquired riches and depth that has been denied us for so long in our schools, we will find that instead of being able to deliver such a “curriculum of love” we will be, in fact, both teachers and learners in a curriculum of “servitude to the current dominant feelings, emotions, images, ideas” (Oakeshott) that prevail so often over an epistemology of affection.


About Huw Humphreys

I am a headteacher by profession, now working as an educational researcher, in the city of Milton Keynes, where I have been since April 2011. My work looks to make education effective for the whole child and keeps 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, amateur printmaker, part time linguist and lover of history and literature...committed both to freedom to learn and depth of learning for children. The views on this blog are all my own.

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