Wednesday 30 November 2011

A right view of indoctrination? From the CASE Archives*

"... no true education can escape the responsibility of communicating a view of life - that is, of 'indoctrinating.' The cult of the open mind is a way of camouflaging the poverty of an education which has no view of life to communicate. Indoctrination is not an educational crime; it is an educational necessity, in religion as in table manners. The crime is to indoctrinate in such a way as to destroy the freedom and responsibility of the pupil. It is by no means impossible - and the world's greatest teachers from Socrates onwards have proved it to be the very heart of teaching - to present a strongly held faith in such a way as to challenge the beholder to come to terms with it on his own personal responsibility. That there is no necessary opposition between doctrine and freedom is clear when personal freedom is at the very heart of the doctrine."

The above is a quote from a book written by M.V.C. Jeffreys who wrote most of his publications in the first half of the 20th century. He was a Professor of Education at the University of Birmingham. The quote is from his book 'Glaucon' and was first published in 1950. We could argue about what we mean by indoctrination, but I'm happy to accept the Oxford Dictionary definition for the purpose of the post. That is, to "teach (a person or group) to accept a set of beliefs uncritically".

Richard Dawkins is a big critic of parents holding a faith position and teaching it to their children. He claims that it is indoctrination and that it is a form of child abuse. Is this fair? I think not! Surely it is the right of all parents to teach to or share with their children the things they believe. What parent would not try to teach their children the things that they think are important. How different is it for a parent to passionately teach their children about Climate Change, the killing of endangered species, the dangers of atomic energy or the unparalleled merits of the New York Yankees (or the Rabbitohs in Sydney) and a parent who teaches their children about their faith?

It's easy to be accused of indoctrination. In September 2009 President Obama was accused of indoctrination (here) due to his national address to the nation's school children.  Jim Greer the chair of Florida's Republican Party stated, "I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama's socialist ideology." In fact, there are accusations of this sort against the President all over the web. Personally, I think the claims are grossly unfair, but how do we make such judgements? How and why did Jim Greer reach his conclusion that it was indoctrination?

Is it just possible that some of the people who object to parents teaching their children about faith, labelling it as indoctrination, might 'indoctrinate' their own children, or even find it acceptable when others 'indoctrinate' children with ideas with which they agree? I read a blog recently in which the writer told how her 3 year old had chanted to her at dinner that night “Reduce! Reuse! Recycle!”. She suggested that the learning of this chant to encourage recycling is "good indoctrination".  Who decides when indoctrination of children is good, or bad? Given that indoctrination simply means to instruct or teach someone a "doctrine" - which in turn means a body of knowledge, sets of principles, a collection of teachings - then it is nonsense to assume that it is always wrong.

Photo of Mother & Child I took at Clare Hall Cambridge
M.V.C. Jeffreys' view was that indoctrination rather than being wrong or immoral is appropriate and unavoidable. What he saw as wrong was indoctrination that can "destroy the freedom and responsibility of the pupil". In defence of Christians who are accused of indoctrination regularly, it is relevant to remind people that the very basis of Christian faith is freedom. Christianity isn't about simple adherance to a set of rules or even moral principles; although the Bible does suggest ways that we should live. Those who present the Christian faith in this way are teaching a false gospel. While we can teach a child about faith in Christ, we cannot make them believe. It is wrong for a parent or teacher to seek to coerce children into believing that which they believe themselves. It is also a quest that is doomed to failure. As Joshua reminded the Israelites as they prepared to enter the Promised Land, ultimately all of us must choose who we will serve. Joshua challenged the Israelites to consider if they were going to serve the gods of the Amorites or the God of their ancestors, Yahweh (Joshua 24:14-15). Likewise, Jesus called his disciples to choose to follow and to believe in him. And as Jesus taught the stakes are high:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Why shouldn't parents teach their children the doctrines that will allow them to make a choice as to the reality of God as taught in the Bible? Especially when they believe that there are eternal consequences.

The Bible teaches that the Christian faith is not about being enslaved to the views of others, whether as a child or as an adult, it is about being set free to live as God had intended.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  (Romans 8:1-4)
* This is a revised version of a post I wrote in May 2010.

Sunday 20 November 2011

New Perspectives on Anglican Education

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.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Understanding the 'Social Perspective' of Others

A psychology professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education has spent the last ten years exploring the capacity of humans to grasp, discern and perhaps decipher the feelings and thoughts of other people.  Dr Hunter Gehlbach has been exploring this human ability to help teachers improve teaching and learning. He calls it 'Social Perspective Taking' (SPT). At one level, Gehlbach is simply concerned with how he can assist teachers to identify when students aren't motivated, distracted, unhappy and so on, with the goal being to enhance their engagement and learning. But this ability to discern the feelings and thoughts of another has even greater potential. In an interview that is reported in an article written by Deborah Blagg, Dr Gehlbach suggests that there are implications for a variety of people in education; for example, students, teachers administrators etc. He suggests, for example that,
“We need to help students comprehend their classmates’ values, perspectives, and motivations so they can learn from each other as well as from their teachers.”
But of course, this isn't just a challenge for children. What motivates adults to seek to understand, respond to and take up the perspectives of other adults? He comments:

“We are exposed to dozens of people every day — in the grocery check-out line, during our commute to work or school, or sitting in a restaurant — yet we are very selective about those with whom we empathize.”

Why do we do this? Why do we take note of some people, ignore others, and take a wide berth of others? I see this in my own behaviour. My SPT can be very selective. It might also be possible that the way we see our roles and relationships within the school, church, neighbourhood might make a difference to the way we selectively apply SPT.

One interesting finding by Gehlbach was that people could be very selective across contexts and roles in how they engage in SPT.  For example, “a border crossing guard who is trying to identify someone who might be a threat, or [a] detective questioning a high-stakes suspect, is very motivated to take that person’s perspective to try to figure out what they might be thinking.”

As well, he found that people could be highly motivated to engage in SPT in one context but not another.  He found that a soldier was highly motivated when he was acting as an interrogator, but not when he was handing out discipline within his own unit.

All of the above prompted me to think about the relevance of this secular research for understanding my own empathetic inconsistencies. It seems likely to me that my own desire to engage in SPT might vary depending on things as varied as:

How busy I am? Am I so distracted at times by multiple balls to juggle that I can't see what's obvious in the person in front of me, in the queue at the bank, in the workplace, at home and so on.
How focussed am I on the agenda at hand? In my desire to deliver the current lecture or sermon well, do I fail to stay tuned to my audience before, during or after it?
Do I restrict my circle of contacts in such a way, that I screen out those for whom I find it hard to extend SPT?
Do I look for like-minded people to spend time with so I don't need to work hard at understanding the social perspective of others?

I don't have an answer to the above questions, but I suspect that thinking through Gelhbach's concept of SPT, and using it as an analytical lens for my life, might just make me a more effective teacher, neighbour, friend, husband, brother and apologist.

Ultimately, I know that my desire to love other people, my ability to empathize with those who weep and suffer, and my preparedness to try to place myself in the shoes of another and understand their view of the world should be motivated by love born of God's grace shown to me, and a desire to see others come to saving faith in Christ. The Cross of Christ and my understanding of the consequences for the people I know that reject it, must be the foundation of my burden for others.  Having said this, my suspicion is that Gelhbach's work might just offer a corrective to some of my sinful ways, and that this might just open my eyes to the 'social perspectives' of others, and direct me back towards God as I live my life with others.

Related Posts

'Asking the Second Question' HERE
'Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends' HERE

Thursday 3 November 2011

The Gospel and Globalisation

Image from Wiki Commons
We live in age experiencing extraordinary changes in technology, cultural diversity, the spread of some dominant languages and the loss of others, constantly changing nation states, and shifts in global wealth and power. Increased human mobility and dramatic transformations in communication technology have helped to create a growing sense that people can no longer restrict their citizenship to the town, region or even nation. The impact of globalisation means that even if we never venture beyond the borders of our birthplace, the world will increasingly find its way to our doors. This is an age in which traditional limitations on citizenship and responsibility to others are being questioned.

There is a growing recognition of our status as global citizens and, of the new challenges and opportunities this brings. Recent events in the Middle East where citizens have risen up against dictatorial regimes have, in their own way, shown that it is impossible to shut out the world. These events demonstrate that nations now find it harder to close their borders to the scrutiny of others; social media alone offer amazing opportunities for citizens to be connected with others globally and the ideas and expectations of their nations.
In 2010 we devoted an issue of Case magazine (#22) to the theme 'God Beyond Borders'. The writers we chose brought a range of theological and other disciplinary approaches to bear on the problems of life and the overlapping of local, global, national, and international spheres. The various articles in composite helped us to make sense of the growing complexity of our roles as global citizens and nations.

In one of these articles, 'The Gospel and Globalisation', Erin Glanville examined globalisation in the light of the gospel. She rejected a narrow conception of globalisation that focuses primarily on economic concerns and, drew our attention to its power for good in the connections and interdependence it allows between people and cultures. She argued that this globalisation touches every area of human existence, from the social and political, to the judicial, aesthetic, and religious. However, the latter is almost completely lacking from contemporary considerations of globalisation. However, religious faith is not just another factor that sits alongside others; it has a formative and unifying power for those who believe. Such an understanding should move Christians to reconsider their engagement with the world. In the article she suggests:
“If Christians want to live faithfully in the world they need to ask: What time is it? Where are we at in our culture’s story? What are the most powerful dynamics and forces that are shaping our world today? Perhaps three words begin to answer these questions—at least for those of us living in the West: globalisation, postmodernity, and consumerism.” 

Glanville argues that the message of Christ offers a comprehensive understanding of the world, its history and God's purpose for our future. Jesus’ invitation to repent and believe in her words is a "...summons to accept his remarkable claims and to inhabit the world of the biblical narrative as the true story of the world. It is an appeal to take the person and work of Jesus Christ as the fundamental clue for interpreting the rest of the world."

With the gospel as her starting point, she asks readers to consider three key questions:
1. How is this dynamic of globalisation rooted in God’s intent and design for creation and for history?
2. How has globalisation been corrupted by human rebellion, and cultural development twisted by idolatry sometimes of a technological or economic type?
3. In light of the hope we have in the promised final restoration, are the processes of globalisation, as they exist today open to healing and renewal?

If you'd like to read more of this article, you can download it HERE.

You can also read my previous introduction to the whole issue of Case #22 HERE