Another Piece of the Big Job
This post will continue in the vein I drilled down to in a previous post on how Christian schools in our time might consider reshaping themselves in a truly Christian model instead of throwing off some of the conventions that we inherited from those in use in the public school system, and adding new conventions.
I've been rereading For the Children's Sake, the book that probably has more profoundly shaped my ideals for Christian education than any other book. The truth that I will focus on here is one I was reminded of in the rereading of the above book by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay. Charlotte Mason believed it to be a foundational truth of successful teaching as God intended, and Macaulay embraced it, as do I. "Children are born persons" is one way this foundational truth might be expressed. Further explanation follows here via words from Macaulay:
"Charlotte Mason rejects the utilitarian view of education and the conventional educational standards of her day. She challenges us instead to identify the child's actual needs and capacities; to serve him as he is, on the basis of what is right and good for him as a person. . . . And so Charlotte Mason rejected the idea that what this young person needed was molding. 'Their notion is that by means of a pull here, a push there, a compression elsewhere a person is at last turned out according to the pattern the educator has in his mind.'" (p. 14)
Kelly came home from teaching in Finland ready to try to implement some of the educational insights she had gleaned while she was gone. In a very short time, however, she realized that because of a fundamental characteristic of education in America, the Finland model would not work here until a philosophical change occurred. That underlying characteristic is competition. In my opinion, that characteristic is alive and well in Christian schools also, often couched in very spiritual-sounding terms. I believe furthermore that sometimes competitiveness directly sabotages what we are called by God to do as teachers--which begins with recognizing that "children are born persons."
Jesus modeled this. Picture him seated on a Galileean hillside with a crowd before him. Perhaps some of the parents in the crowd did as my father used to do when he introduced us to "famous" people he had learned to know. When the children appeared before him, he took them in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them, and prayed for them. Can you imagine a more "personhood-affirming" action? On other occasions, Jesus specifically instructed others to receive children as He received them. (Mark 9:36, 37; Luke 9:47,48) Those who did so were receiving Jesus Himself. How's that for a compelling directive?
I believe that the Christian teachers I know also desire to bring students to Jesus, and desire to receive Him themselves. Certainly some of this can happen regardless of the framework to which the process is confined. I believe, however, that the framework we function in is geared primarily toward productivity. In this model, we try to do these things:
1. Quantify productivity.
2. Document and track accomplishments.
3. Strive to increase productivity.
4. Compare accomplishments between students.
5. Use productivity as a measure of success.
6. Label children based on their productivity.
Each of these could be clarified by expansion. Try it. All of them tell part of the story of how we can lose sight of the personhood of each child in our current system. All of them are tied to measures of what a child can do rather than who a child is.
I can already hear the protests--because many of them have been uttered inside my own head. Aren't we responsible to shape students in a way that equips them for Christian service? Don't we do students a disservice when we fail to develop their fullest potential? How can we possibly know whether we're succeeding if we're not setting goals and constantly evaluating our progress?
I believe the single most important change that would address the above production-focused tendencies would be to more closely model the only child training model that Scripture spells out--that of the family. This too could be expanded far beyond what will happen here. I will mention only a few factors. All of them would help to maximize the personhood aspects of instruction and shrink the productivity emphasis to an appropriately subordinate role.
1. Preserve family-sized learning groups. My arbitrary definition pegs this at 12 students--partly because that's the size of my parental family, and partly because I know how much better I like teaching this class size than a larger one.
2. Preserve age diversity in every classroom. I can already hear the howls of protest about the inefficiency of this approach, but I believe it's important both for how it helps students stay interested and involved and for how it helps avoid teacher burnout.
3. Keep one teacher with the same students for a long time rather than passing them along to other teachers after a year or two.
4. Do fewer "big" subjects in a day.
5. Minimize homework.
6. Inter-mingle physical labor and play with paper work and listening and speaking.
This is all I have time for now.