A response to ~ New Perspectives on Anglican Education
Ian Randall (BArtEd, MVA)
A teacher’s response on two publications by the Anglican Education Commission.
- A Vision of Wholeness: Contextualising the Gospel in a Contemporary Anglican School - Cowling, 2012
- New Perspectives on Anglican Education: Reconsidering Purpose and Plotting a Future Direction – Cainey, Cowling and Jensen, 2011
I am a teacher with 19 years’ experience working within Sydney Anglican schools and Parent Controlled Christian schools, Christian Education National (CEN), I have held leadership positions in both Anglican and CEN schools and have straddled a wide and perilous pedagogical divide between these two “Christian” educational models. I have seen how the different models influence school vision, strategic planning through to the minutia of day to day classroom organisation, extending to budget rationalisation, employment conditions and even student welfare. In recent years it would appear that the Anglican Education Commission (AEC) is moving closer to the approach of CEN. The AEC publications (cited) propose a theoretical move, perhaps unintentionally, towards a CEN model of education putting at risk the very strengths and distinctive qualities of Anglican Schooling. My experience of teaching within a CEN educational framework may provide insight into the theoretical implications and practical ramifications of the AEC doing this.
The difficulties of defining Anglican Education.
In his Isaac Armitage Lecture at the Shore School in September 2009, Archbishop
Peter Jensen asked whether there was such a thing as Anglican education. (Cowling, 2012)
Archbishop Jensen and the AEC have acknowledged difficulties of defining Anglican Education. It is like a fish attempting to describe what it is to be wet. Working outside of Anglican schools allows for some degree of critical distance so as to see what differentiates and defines Anglican Education. Allow me to offer this description of some key defining characteristics of Anglican Education.
Anglican Education allows students to engage rigorously and thoroughly in all aspects of school life; including Christian faith, social service, academic subjects, the arts and sports. Anglican schools endeavour to offer students every opportunity to engage in the world to the level that their God given gifts, skills and personal ambitions allow. It is possible for any student to be equipped with the skills, knowledge and support to engage in any school-based discipline and to pursue excellence. Staff are expected to teach to a high standard, share their faith with fellow staff and students, display high levels of personal integrity, develop their own professional skills and to use their own gifts, skills and knowledge in the service of the school. Funding is directed towards creating schools that are well resourced and equipped to deliver a rigorous education.
Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song; play skilfully, and shout for joy. (Psalm 33:1-3)
Anglican schools seek to do everything with skill and excellence – as to the Lord. This is a current reality and historical characteristic of Anglican Education and is in line with The Diocesan Policy Statement on Education, which states;
The Diocese of Sydney-
1.1 Supports the provision of quality education. Christians are exhorted to strive for excellence. Since the goal of Christian education is maturity in Christ, the provision of quality education to assist people to reach their full God-given potential is fundamental.
CEN and AEC: Understanding the distinctions
The question of what is an authentic Christian education dominates the writing of many contemporary Christian educational leaders. Educationalists within both CEN and AEC passionately seek to serve the Lord faithfully in the education of students. Yet these defining characteristics of an Anglican education is not the focus of CEN schools, as the structural and pedagogical focus is not to do education with excellence but ‘Christianly.’ I remember as a young teacher at a CEN school being rather amazed by the hostility towards the pedagogy of the ‘Church’ school ~ read here ‘Anglican’. CEN schools deliberately and consciously reject the ‘Church’ school model and champion a ‘teaching Christianly’ approach.
At the heart of CEN educational theory is the term teaching ‘Christianly.’ To teach “Christianly” is to adopt the biblical perspectives of an evangelical mainstream and to apply them to all knowledge, wisdom and truth taught within the classroom. Subjects are to be taught from and through sanctioned bible based Christian worldviews and critical Christian perspectives. CEN schools strive to have Christian teachers teach Christ through their subjects and to teach their subjects through Christ. Teaching ‘Christianly’ is the ‘new perspective’ on Anglican education presented by the AEC and is even used as the motto on their own website, which reads, “doing education Christianly.”
The study of the Bible as the written word of God, authoritative for all human endeavour, thought and practices; applies biblical teaching to contemporary issues; develops and equips people to live by faith in Jesus Christ. (Cainey, Cowling and Jensen, 2011, p.40)
The ‘straw man’ in this debate is what is understood as the traditional ‘Church’ school model, criticised by both CEN and the AEC. The fundamental point of concern is the perceived inherent dualism within the ‘Church’ school. Church schools create the hypocrisy and heresy of a secular/sacred divide, since the loving, redemptive, creator God is placed to one side when the secular ‘real’ world is studied. To teach ‘Christianly’ is to not keep God in a box until it’s time for Chapel but to consider Christ’s perspective in all things. A CEN School sees the ‘Church’ school with its divisions of timetabled lessons, divinity lessons, weekly chapels, student individual and academic achievement, teaching and chaplaincy staff as reflecting this dualistic hypocrisy. There is no place for dualism in an authentic Christian education. Thus, the dominant concern of the Anglican Education Commission is to combat Dualism within Anglican Schools.
Schools should seek to minimise (and over time to eliminate) the false and unhelpful dichotomy between the secular and the sacred domains of school life and create in their place a genuine, coherent and integrated whole. This is to bring about and nurture a culture in which a biblical theology and worldview underpins the purpose and practice of all teaching and learning, pastoral care, leadership and life within the school. (Cowling, 2012, p.15)
The term ‘Christianly’ is a noun that has been made into an adverb, it is clumsy to say and uncommonly used (just try to type on your keyboard or even comb your hair ‘Christianly’). Perhaps an equivalent is to ‘Christianise’ teaching. However, it is not just the practice of teaching that is being Christianised, but all information, knowledge, wisdom and practices. However, to ‘Christianise’ knowledge is to fall into the very sin of dualism which CEN and AEC are most desperately fleeing. The world is the Lord’s and does not need to be Christianised. A Christianised study of bees implies that the study of bees needs a ‘Christian’ perspective to sanctify it and appropriately repackaging it for a Christian education. Thus un-Christianised subjects like economics or science is overloaded with fear and potential threats to faith and belief.
The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. Psalm 24:1
Psalm 24:1 is quoted by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians. In the context of eating meat sacrificed on the fires of pagan barbecues, Paul explains that there is nothing to fear in eating ‘paganised’ meat. Paul does not even recommend the ‘Christianisation’ of the meat or even to eat it ‘Christianly.’ To extrapolate, there is then nothing to fear in the knowledge, wisdom and truth written by the hand of an atheist. So there is no need for God’s world to be Christianised by the Christian teacher to be made suitable for Christian children of Christian families attending a Christian school. Such knowledge, wisdom and truth does not need to be Christianised as all truth is God’s truth, all wisdom is God’s wisdom, and all knowledge is God’s knowledge.
Implications of teaching ‘Christianly’
During my time at CEN schools I have witnessed wonderful examples of how Christ can be presented through the subjects taught at school. Faithful teachers explained the wonders of polynomials, light spectrums or cultural studies and brought to light the creator God and his plan of salvation through Christ. Yet, are Christian children and teenagers who are not educated under a teaching ‘Chrisitainly’ model deficient in critical and biblical knowledge? Does Christianising knowledge create stronger minded, critically thoughtful and biblical based students? I suggest not. Furthermore, are Christian children and teenagers in CEN schools achieving the equal or better educational outcomes and results of other models? I suggest not. Teaching Christianly results in the limiting of educational outcomes for students as it compromises the need to educate in line with best practice, excellence and skill. The focus is taken from teaching informed by current research, recent discoveries, leading minds or practitioners and transferred to teaching filtered through prejudices, misunderstandings and views of the evangelical populist mainstream. I would suggest that teaching ‘Christianly’ does not create better educated or biblically minded students, but limits student education outcomes and creates students who are closed-minded, fearful and prejudiced to non-Christianised perspectives. I have also seen teaching Christianly used as an excuse by Heads of School, educational leaders and Board representatives to explain why their ‘Christian’ school should not aim to meet particular ‘worldly’ standards; be they educational results, WH&S, equipping programs or resourcing adequately. At the level of leadership and governance I have seen a teaching Christianly model being used most harmfully.
It is a commonly held belief within the CEN community that teaching ‘Christianly’ is the only biblically mandated educational model. It is expected that all Christian parents should send their children to CEN schools to be faithful and biblical. Parents must sign a document stating they agree to such a belief if they either wish to enrol their children, join parent associations or to sit on school boards. CEN schools claim to be open to non-Christian families however School boards carefully guard who is permitted into parent associations and board positions. Thus Christian educators and families remove themselves from a ‘non-Christianised’ world. As butchers do not eat their own sausages (for they know what has been minced), many leading CEN educators home school their own children.
The charges of the Anglican Educational Commission
The AEC publications present many charges against Anglican schools. It is important to state at the onset that these criticisms are not founded upon any current research but seem to be drawn from the teaching Christianly movements’ criticism of ‘Church’ schools. Many arguments are, unfounded and indefensible and should have no place in Anglican education discourse.
- Christianity occurs at the Margins - It is difficult to defend against the charge of marginalising Christianity within an Anglican school. The methods used to determine the degrees of marginalisation have not been stated. It is perhaps not a measure that has been applied to other Christian organisations. Apart from Gospel ministry, it could be grossly and absurdly argued that all human occupations marginalise Christianity.
- Teachers do not recognise the links between their subject areas and Christ. Also, faith in Christ does not affect teaching practices, theories and approaches - My fellow Christian teachers at Anglican schools are adults in their faith, scholars in their fields, masters of their disciplines and give of themselves to Christ - year in and year out. Such an accusation tells more of the distance the AEC is from the practice within Anglican Schools.
- Teachers adopted popular pedagogical whims and fads, not derived from Christian educational perspectives. - Teaching practices- and educational pedagogy changes with Government policy, technology, research, cultural and generational shifts. Change in education is deliberate, considered, expensive and is often slow to implement. Interestingly, the only fads which come to mind is from the Parent Controlled Christian schools in not allowing individual student achievement to be praised or recognised by the community as “the reward is in the task”. In recent years there has been some move away from not rewarding the individual student to an ‘everyone gets a prize’ position.
- Child-centric education is not Christian – Criticising ‘child-centred education’ is like stating there is no place for ‘patient-centred medicine.’ The central purpose of education is the education of the child. In the Gospels we clearly see the way Jesus treated children. Jesus had a very child-centric view and thankfully, so does Anglican Education.
- Student academic success and individual achievement are at odds with biblical priorities - Such criticism is not applied to any other field of human endeavour. Has a farmer ever been told that seeking a successful harvest is at odds with biblical priorities? Or, a mechanic seeking to successfully repair a car, a cashier seeking a balanced till, a nurse seeking to successfully nurse his patients to health? Anglican schools seek the best outcomes for students and aim to give them every opportunity for them to succeed educationally. The success and achievements of our students should be the delight and celebration of all Anglican Schools. Thankfully, to this day they are.
- The fallen sinful student needs to be the starting point of Christian Pedagogy. Discipline, punishment and error correction needs to be seen as ‘good’. - When a parent sends their child to school the teacher assumes the role of ‘loco parentis’. The bible says much about parents and children and it does not start with sin within the child. Such a recommendation from the AEC is tantamount to exasperating and embittering students (see Ephesians 6:4, Colossians 3:21). We must give our sons and daughters bread and not stones, fish and not snakes. Best educational practice needs also to inform any pedagogy claiming to be ‘Christian’ The starting point is not the sin within the child but the child themselves. As Jesus welcomed the child, so must the teacher. There is much biblical truth and educational worth beginning with a child’s need for love, encouragement and praise.
- The AEC discontinues any association with the teaching ‘Christianly’ movement and affirms the Diocesan Policy Statement on Education (2012).
- Conduct research into the current Christian realities of Anglican Schools.
- Recognise, articulate and communicate the defining characteristics of Anglican Education.
- Create professional educational discourse and dialogue around best practice within Anglican Education. The historical success of Anglican Education places the AEC in a unique position to lead educational direction in Australia.
- Encourage Anglican schools to open their gates to welcome, influence and participate in such educational pedagogical research.
- That the AEC becomes a support and advocate for faithful Christians working within Anglican Schools.
- Develop a pedagogical model that is founded on sound educational principles and Christian love. The AEC will easily find wonderful examples of Christian teaching in Anglican Schools.
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
1 Thessalonians 5:11