This beautiful phrase comes in the middle of a short book review by Wendell Berry of a book by Harry Caudill entitled The Mountain, the Miner and the Lord (University Press of Kentucky, Louisville, Ky., 1980), In speaking of Caudill, a native of the Hazard region of eastern Kentucky, Berry writes this:

He (Caudill) has been there because he belonged there; the land and the people for whom he has spoken are his own. Because he got his law degree and went home with it, his mind has never made the expedient separation of knowledge from value that has enabled so much industrial pillage, but has known with feeling and served with devotion – a possibility long disregarded by modern educators, who believe despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary that education alone, “objective knowledge,” can produce beneficent results. (What are people for, Counterpoint Press, Berkeley, CA. 1990, p.33)

Anybody – and I mean anybody – who has tried to educate has come to the realisation that beneath the impartation of knowledge is the necessity of love. This has been eloquently stated this week by the retiring head at Tickford Park Primary School in Newport Pagnell, Sally Ahmad, in a beautiful and heartfelt letter that she wrote to parents and which hit the MK Citizen on Tuesday. It is rare to find a person – I have yet to do so – who would say that education is solely about academic outcomes, yet we all go along with the fiction in our desperation to find something, anything, to measure in order to prove our worth in this obsessive deficit-model culture. In an educational culture where love and affection is sidelined or rendered suspicious, all we have left is the affirmation of pupil progress, and the vain hope that when questioned about this, we might be able to convince the questioner of extenuating circumstances or some other measure of progress that didn’t show in the data.

That love is the foundation and purpose of education is proved by anyone who has walked a little way in it. If we do not purpose love at the heart of what we do as educators, privileging it above everything else, we have nothing to offer at all. I spoke to a KS2 class at lunch today, telling them that their beloved teacher was one of that class of teachers who gave themselves fully to their children as a gift and as a guide, and that they had no idea – none at all – how amazingly blessed they were to have such a teacher even to walk in the same room as them. “Professional attitudes” do not even come into this: love alone will explain and extend it. The fact that the children in this class hang on their teacher’s words and her affirmation of their work is proof enough that she has won their hearts. What they could not see is that their poor attitudes, their falling out, their (and their parents!) unwillingness to abide in love with each other was frustrating their teacher to the point of damaging her confidence, if they were not very careful. They were responsible for the way they spoke to each other and they were culpable if they neglected that responsibility to demonstrate affection and kindness to each other.

What they do not want, and what I have often seen, is that such a bright, purposeful, loving teacher becomes the other type – cynical and worn down, unwilling to go the extra mile from love, because they have seen that “it just isn’t worth it.”

___________________________________

On another note, I have been enjoying looking at the beautiful German Expressionist woodcuts of the Lord’s Prayer, created by Max Pechstein. I saw these first in the New Walk Gallery in Leicester last summer, and have been much taken by the one about God’s kingdom coming:

This is a picture by a man who had been drafted into the German Army in 1915, and had seen action at the Somme before having a nervous breakdown and being hospitalised. He could have been excused for being part of that huge movement of people who deserted the Christian faith at the end of the war and just seen the chaos of the post-war world as Huxley did, or as many other modern artists did, as irredeemable, a condemnation of the lack of peacemaking at the heart of organised religion.

Yet he produced this magnificent series of woodcuts, and this particular one of a group of men looking to the hope of God’s kingdom after the wreckage of war. If there is one place, just one place, where we need your beautiful kingdom to be shown, it is here, now, on this wreck of post-war Berlin. Let your rule come! Let your will come to pass!

 

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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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