Education as Formation
Saturday, 26th May
This conference grew out of the work of the Anglican Education Fellowship, and the conclusions giving shape to its book ‘New Perspectives on Anglican Education’. Its authors claimed that what we do in Anglican schools is meant to help the children we teach to take their place as grown humans and mature citizens in the family of God. School is more than just a place to train minds and prepare for employment and the successful life. The shape of teaching and schooling will always reflect what we see as its major goal and the anthropology that we believe in. Our collective view is that the highest goal we seek in our schools is the formation of a desire for God’s kingdom, which encompasses a vision for human fulfilment and flourishing and a right understanding of God’s plan for the lives of the children entrusted to us.
The conference featured James K.A. Smith, professor of philosophy at Calvin College USA who opened the conference with his address ‘Educating the Imagination: Christian Education as a Pedagogy of Desire’. Other speakers will included Archbishop Peter Jensen, Prof Trevor Cairney (UNSW), Dr James Pietsch (St Luke’s Grammar School), Anne Johnstone (St Catherine’s at Waverly), David Hastie (Presbyterian Ladies College) and Richard Ford (St Andrews Cathedral School).
‘Educating the Imagination: Christian Education as a Pedagogy of Desire’
Prof James K.A. Smith, Calvin College
Every pedagogy assumes anthropology; that is, the way we teach and our goals for education implicitly assume some working model of what human persons are. So if we implicitly assume that human persons are really just “thinking things”—sort of “brains-on-a-stick”—then we will teach accordingly. We will see education as primarily the dissemination of information to be deposited into mind receptacles. What if education was not primarily about knowledge and information, but about love? Instead of viewing persons as thinking things, what if we saw human persons—and hence our students—as lovers?
The plenary address unpacked a model of human persons as lovers—as creatures defined by what we desire—and suggested that a holistic Christian education is about the formation of desire. To “educate” Christianly is to form students who love God and desire his kingdom—and who act out of that love and desire. This requires that Christian educational institutions be attentive to pedagogical practices that not only inform the intellect but convert the imagination. Central to such a project, is situating Christian education in the rich, imagination-forming practices of Christian worship.
‘Pedagogy and the nurturing of the child’
Prof Trevor Cairney, School of Education, UNSW
An authentic Anglican education requires consideration of why we have our schools, what they are meant to do and, how we go about doing it. During his presentation, Trevor proposed that our major task as Christian teachers, parents and educators is to nurture the children in our care to take their place as grown humans and mature citizens in the family of God. He suggested that a biblical understanding of God’s purpose for us should frame how we consider and embrace the knowledge of educational theory, curriculum, child development and learning.
What might a classroom look like that is based on a pedagogy that encompasses teacher beliefs, knowledge and actions applied to the structuring of the classroom and school for learning and formation. This formation includes character, self-discovery, learning, creativity, imagination, contemplation, and a search for truth and meaning shaped by a right view of God and his kingdom. In the address Trevor unpacked a framework for Christian pedagogy that he believes is faithful to a biblical understanding of God and his purposes for us and, which draws on educational research and practice and the relationship of this to a right view of God and his teaching.
Education as Formation in School Contexts
The afternoon session of the conference brought together four well-known Christian teachers and leaders who tussle each day with how a right understanding of God and his purposes for us might be reflected in classrooms and schools. They addressed questions such as: What might teaching look like in a typical primary or secondary classroom? How does the school work with the community and families to offer authentic Christian education that does more than simply prepare for success? Can we have schools that offer the best that there is in education, teaching and learning, while remaining true to the faith foundations of the school? Our speakers spoke briefly about one example of what they and their schools have been doing.
CASE associates and conference attendees may listen to highlights from the day here