Thursday, 29 October 2015

Character Education the Focus of Flourishing

"There is no such thing as a neutral education" declares the opening words of a just released discussion paper by the Church of England on character education. 

The direction and thinking in this report come at an important time where in many places education authorities seem to have lost their vision for educating whole people. I would say this is also true of wider Australian society that narrows schooling down to getting the best marks to get the best job. In some faith based schools this has led to a reduction in the religious aspects of student education in order to focus more time and energy on 'academics' to improve 'standards'. This sends a clear message to those being educated:this is what really matters.

No doubt Anglican education should seek excellence in intellectual pursuits but it must be balanced with engagement in other activities of the sporting, cultural, serving and spiritual kinds.

Some of the questions peppered through this report are wonderfully probing and revealing:

If you look at the decisions that are made on a daily basis in your school, what implicit assumptions are being made about what is important, about the human condition, about what is worth knowing?
 What kind of person do you aspire to be? What kind of world do you aspire to create? How does this affect the way that you teach or lead your school?

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Is religion more than a veneer in faith based schools?

This Eureka Street article is well worth a read. The author Andrew Hamilton contends that the prevailing culture of society, along with and emphasis on individual autonomy means religious schools are finding it hard to embody their traditions. 

He says:

"Where this erosion of the place of tradition is not resisted, the operative goals of schools then become the academic and economic advancement of individuals. Religious classes and rituals become a decoration, a rhetorical branding."

"As a result of these pressures on both state and faith-based schools, we might expect that the difference between those faith-based schools in which their inherited tradition shapes the life of the school and those in which adherence to the tradition is largely rhetorical and not operative will be more marked."'

He thinks that those schools with strong faith traditions will appeal to small minority who want this.

My hope would be that Anglican Schools do not become focussed on just serving a Christian minority nor just focus on academic and economic advancement but find a way to proclaim the Gospel to those who have not heard in a way that engages them in the midst of their desire for other things. This will not be an easy task and will require great imagination and a solid grounding in Christian missiology.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Anglican Schools Praying for Refugees

"Students from Anglican schools throughout the province of Aotearoa, New Zealand & Polynesia have prayed through the night as part of a 24-hour vigil for the refugees streaming out from Syria across Europe, and into camps in Jordan and Lebanon"

It is well worth reading this report in the Anglican Communion News Service of an initiative amongst Anglican Schools to pray for refugees.

I have had the opportunity to look at what occurred on the ASPiRe Facebook Page and it is very inspirational. The creativity and commitment of the students, chaplains and staff is great stuff. This is a wonderful example of the social concern and compassion of the students meeting Christian action through prayer.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

A cautionary tale: helping without hurting

This great little video explores some of the issues with doing short term service work. School are certainly not immune from doing some of these types of things.

The Transforming Service Conference 2016 will explore these and other issues.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Just because it isn't happening here...

This confronting video from Save the Children in the UK puts aspects of the Syria refugee crisis in perspective. This is certainly not  video you would use with all age groups.The ending words, 'Just because it isn't happening here doesn't mean it isn't happening' are powerful and thought provoking.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Spirituality: In search of a metaphor

Is spirituality a concept you have tried to explore with students?

Ten or so years ago many religious educators were excited by the word spirituality. They perceived an opportunity when students said:  I am spiritual but not religious.

I wonder if the students we have in front of us today would say: I am spiritual but not religious.

My hunch is that even the word spirituality is a bit suspect in the minds of students today. I think there are many reasons for this, including, its overuse by ‘religious’ people and the pervasive materialism of our society as mediated through consumerism and new atheism.

Spirituality is a concept – like God – that we need to crack open with our students. It is a hard word to pin down and it is easier to talk around it and describe some of its territory than it is to define. In fact I would encourage teachers not to try to define it too hastily or narrowly, if at all.

A whole unit of work could be built around cracking open the concept, exploring it and describing some of its territory.

One way of doing this would be to explore it through the use of metaphors. Human exploration of spirituality (like most intangible things) is built on a foundation of metaphors.

Some examples that come to my mind include:
  • A journey
  • A garden
  • Coming home
  • Rebirth
  • Unfolding (seed to fruit)
  • The coming of light
  • Growth
 What others can you think of?

Here are three of my favourites:

  • A hunger
Many people experience something they describe as a hunger. This hunger isn’t filled by physical food and experiential things like shopping, power, money don’t seem to work either.
  • A question
G Stanley Hall – a pioneering American psychologist who coined the term adolescence said there were three questions that young people sought to answer:

Who am I?
Who do I belong to?
What do I do?

To me these are the questions of spirituality. They are the questions we want to answer on a deep existential level and continue to answer through our whole lives.
  • A GPS (Global Positioning System)
GPS devices need an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites to work. Just like GPS our spirituality helps us to understand where we are in the world through our relationships with others, with ourselves, with God and with the environment.

Exploring with Students
What would your students say spirituality is?
How might they respond to some of these different metaphors?

One way of exploring these metaphors would be through quotes. Students could be provided with many quotes and discussion or activity could be based around explaining or exploring what each of them is trying to say. This could include creative mediums such as art.

It would also be of value to explore with students why the sense of the spiritual is so pervasive in human culture and experience.

Here are some examples of suitable quotes:

Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life. ~ Buddha

Our scientific power has out run our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.~Martin Luther King, Jr.

The key to success is to keep growing in all areas of life - mental, emotional, spiritual, as well as physical.~Julius Erving

The goal of spiritual practice is full recovery, and the only thing you need to recover from is a fractured sense of self.~Marianne Williamson

I don't have any real spirituality in my life - I'm kind of an atheist - but when music can take me to the highest heights, it's almost like a spiritual feeling. It fills that void for me.~Jack Black


Another way to explore these metaphors would be through the use of stories. There are many stories in many traditions that use a variety of images for spirituality. The Bible contains many and Jesus was a master at using stories to explore spiritual truths.

Student could write their own story based around one of the metaphors or a quote associated with it.

Here is one I prepared earlier:

There is a spiritual hunger in the world today, and it cannot be satisfied by better cars on longer credit terms. Adlai E. Stevenson

Spiritual hunger and spiritual thirst But you got to change it on the inside first,
to be satisfied. Van Morrison

I am the bread of Life. No one who comes to me will ever be hungry. No one who has faith in me will ever be thirsty. Jesus of Nazareth

There was once a young boy named Ninugo.
He lived in a village high up in the mountains.

One day Ninugo’s father had to go on a long journey and he left in such a hurry that had no time to say goodbye. Ninugo missed him very much. Soon after, Ninugo became very hungry. In his village there was lots of fresh vegetables and fruit and Ninugo’s mother always fed him the very best that she could find, but she soon discovered that she could not satisfy his hunger. She would feed him morning noon and night but Ninugo was still hungry. She talked to the other mothers in the village. What can I give my son, he is always hungry, he never stops eating. They had lots of advice for her. 'Feed him potatoes and meat, three times a day, that will satisfy his hunger'. And so that is what she did. But Ninugo was still hungry. 'Feed him on pickled fish with eels eggs that will satisfy his hunger' they said. And so that is what she did. But Ninugo was still hungry. 'Make him eat rancid butter and milk with chunks in it' they said. And so that is what she did. Ninugo left home and went and lived with his uncle. He said to Ninugo, 'eat whatever you want, eat whatever you desire, that will satisfy your hunger'. And this is what Ninugo did, he ate fairy floss, and lollies, liquorice and bubble gum, soft drink and chips. Ninugo ate and ate and ate and ate and ate and ate, anything he could get his hands upon he ate. But Ninugo was still hungry.

[The story could be stopped at this point and students could be asked to finish it - below is the ending I use when I tell it]

One day a friend of Ninugo’s said to him after he had demolished a truckload of sugar coated peanuts. 'Ninugo you are always hungry, but where does your hunger come from. Surely your stomach doesn't want more after you have eaten all that'. Ninugo looked down at his feet. He was confused. He said to his friend, 'I am worried. I think I have grown another stomach. Even after my belly is full to bursting, I still feel hungry in here', he said, 'pointing to his chest.'

'That is not your stomach that is empty', said the friend, 'that is your spirit'. Ninugo looked at his friend, a glow in his eyes. 'Then where can I get food that will satisfy my spirit'.

In an upcoming post I will consider exploring the intersection between religion and spirituality.