I’ve been there. I went to both private and state schools. As an educator, I’ve taught in a variety of institutions, both private and public, Christian and secular. As a researcher, I have been wrestling with what the relationship is between these differing settings. Do they have to be in opposition? Or can they learn from one another? I know the struggle to reconcile these seemingly dichotomous streams of education.
How do I navigate this struggle? Because of my personal faith, and because it is full of beauty and story, I take as my starting point Psalm 24 and its claim of the Lordship of Christ over all of creation. I believe that this is the only account of reality that truly gives humanity hope and a cultural mandate for engaging in work, in worship, and in education.
In our reality, competing stories are bound in cultural, economic, and historical contexts. There is not one blueprint in the biblical story for starting a school, or re-imagining education policy. To be a follower of Jesus is to work out what being faithful and “seeking the face of the God of Jacob” looks like in our time, culture, and generations.
Educational philosopher Michael Oakeshott said that education is a conversation between the generations about what it means to be human. So the practices of education communicate a message about what being a person means, and Christians engage with that conversation from a particular place—a theological place—which says every human being is made in God’s image and of significance to Him. This affirms practices that enrich how we tell the story of the kingdom of God through education. What’s more, because that kingdom is both present and coming, I expect to find Jesus already at work in the world of education. There will be many conversation partners in the story who may surprise the old guard.
The lens of Psalm 24 enables us to consider where present education policy and practice currently fit into the story of the kingdom of God and how they might be renewed. In my view, there are three interconnected areas in education which urgently require this type of reflection and critique: imagination, learning and teaching, and the contribution education makes to the public good. It is sobering to consider what impact current global trends in education will have on the next generation. A reductionist imagination which primarily sees the human person solely as an economic unit or a private individual. This may result in a generation ill-equipped to empathize, work collaboratively, love their neighbours, or handle the complexity of adult life. Similarly, we must recognize that a laudable Christian imagination can be completely contradicted by practices of learning and teaching which do not align with that imagination. That, in turn, could produce a generation that do not really know what the Christian story is or how to find their place in it.
I started with Psalm 24, which affirms that there isn’t one bit of the story that doesn’t belong to God. This directly challenges the false dualism between sacred and secular, faith and reason, private and public which are still pervasive in the western liberal conception of the state and our understanding of education and the public good.
Rightly ordered imagination, learning and teaching, and contribution to the public good will enable education to be yet another outpost of the kingdom, “that the King of Glory may come in.”[Editor’s Note: This blog was originally published on January 22, 2015, by the Convivium blog. The original post can be found here.]