New Perspectives on Anglican Education

November 20, 2011

UPDATE: The book is now published and is available from the Anglican Education Commission, St Andrews House, Sydney. Mailing address PO Box A287 Sydney South, NSW 1235. Email: Price is $10.95 AUS

I'm one of the authors of a new book that will come out in early December. It is titled 'New Perspectives on Anglican Education: Reconsidering Purpose and Plotting a Future Direction'.  My co-authors are Bryan Cowling and Michael Jensen.  While it is situated in the context of Anglican schooling, it has relevance for all Christian teachers in varied schools and Christian education in general. It is the outcome of a year of intensive reading, thinking and discussion with a group of nine other Christians.  The group was brought together by Archbishop Peter Jensen to consider a simple question posed in his 2009 Isaac Armitage Lecture, “Is there such a thing as Anglican Education?”

To answer this question we drew on the best that there is to offer from the fields of education, philosophy, humanities and the social sciences, and grounded our explorations and study in an understanding of the Bible. We sought to ask three sub-questions about Anglican education:
Why?   Knowing what our priorities and purposes should be in raising children, nurturing them in the faith and teaching them the skills they need for life.
What?  Seeking knowledge of what these priorities and purposes mean for the things we teach.
How?  Making wise and informed choices each day about schooling, curriculum and pedagogy.
We conclude from our work that an understanding of God’s plan for humanity should also shape our purposes for education, its content and the way schooling, teaching, curriculum and pedagogy are implemented. What we do as teachers is meant to help the children we teach to take their place as grown humans and mature citizens in the family of God. If we hold to such a purpose, then it matters what the priorities of the Anglican school are, how we teach, how we encourage learning, the nature of the social structures we promote, the methods we use to discipline our children and so on? If we keep our sights fixed on the goal of seeing children knowing, accepting and following Christ, does it matter how offer them education in our schools? We think that it does, because there is a relationship between our priorities shaped by the gospel, our faith in Christ, how we live out and speak of this faith, and our actions (Phil 1:27; Jas 2:14-26).

Haro Van Brummelen reminds us in 'Stepping Stones to Curriculum' that knowing, being and acting are all tied together in the biblical view of knowledge. In short, we cannot allow the ‘What?’ of education to become a list of curriculum content, or a set of lesson plans divorced from our biblical understanding of God’s purpose in creating us. He has made us as creatures who learn and for whom he has specific plans and purposes. 

We don’t believe for a minute that we can offer a simple prescription for how Anglican Education should be constructed and sustained, or exactly how we should teach mathematics (or any other subject), or which content should be in or out of the curriculum. But we do believe that all teachers can look to God’s Word to gain wisdom and insight as they grapple each day with what education means and how it can be used to bring honour and glory to our Creator.

With a right view of God and our relationship to him we are set free to consider research and writing about all that is foundational to education and teaching. But how do we do this? One of the challenges for all Christian teachers is how we relate that which was taught to us at university with what we continue throughout life to learn about our relationship to God. Our project and this book, is all about this tension.

To be an Anglican School is to be a different school, not just in the results we achieve academically or socially in the leadership roles that our graduates take on, but in how the very institution is used redemptively by God; not just in the lives of the students and families associated with the school, but in the wider community.

Similarly, when looked at from the perspective of the teacher, we conclude that to be an Anglican teacher is to be a different type of teacher. It would be our hope that the Anglican teacher is someone who is being transformed into the likeness of Christ, one different in character, motivations, moral views and purposes.  But we would also argue that the teacher in an Anglican school is also one who in teaching children reaches qualitatively different decisions day by day as he/she nurtures and teaches the children God has entrusted to them. Just as the Bible offers us guidance on how not to act, it also teaches us how to act as a child of God (Eph 4:17-5:21). As well, we want to argue that the Bible offers us wisdom that enables teachers to make wise choices day by day as we make numerous decisions about what, how and why we teach.

While the parent body might well choose to send their children to an Anglican school to achieve academic excellence, or to meet all the 'right' people, above all, our schools and their teachers must surely seek to create a classroom and school environment (perhaps community is a better word) in which children grow in body, mind and soul. At the core of this is the extent to which all that the teacher and the school does communicates the wisdom of God revealed in Christ.

The book culminates in a challenge to consider the fundamentals of pedagogy that will help us to create Anglican schools and classrooms that are different. It also outlines the next steps in this project that we hope will widen the conversation.  'New Perspectives on Anglican Education: Reconsidering Purpose and Plotting a Future Direction' is published by the Anglican Education Commission. It will be available from December and will sell for $10.95 AUS.

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