The debate over the “real substance of education” is inexorable. Some may view it as a broad and balanced curriculum; the most reliable metric is arguably a well-conceived set of standardised and externally assessed examinations. I differ, “the real substance of education” is the person and the people with the most reliable metric being a life well lived.
In speaking at the RSA My School, My Mission event on Tuesday evening I’ll return to familiar ground about the root of the underpinning “shared purpose and values” that gives our schools their distinct identity. It is centred on a view of God and what it means to be human. In terms of leading a Catholic (or arguably any faith) school there needs to be an acknowledgement that I am merely a story teller. It differs from the leadership of other schools in so much as the person leading may need to be the story writer as well. This can be a huge challenge; arguably a greater load than I am asked to carry.
My leadership is best seen as a link in a chain; there were leaders before me and there will be after me. We are each called to tell our story that dates back two thousand years alongside the story which unites us all. Critical to leadership – keeping your eyes on the horizon – is the perspective you bring to the mission of the school. In believing that the widest perspective is “the person and the people” I do not denigrate the importance of the curriculum, character development, skills or the spiritual rather I see them as important subsidiary and contributing elements.
Descartes set in flow a way of Western thinking, including religious, which is characterised by his famous phrase, “I think, therefore I am.” With respect to mind, body and soul; we typically give the mind priority and come to identify strongly with our thoughts. Thinking is prioritised, valued and potentially defines us. Our schools’ mission seeks a more holistic development based on the mind, body and soul as one.
The real substance of education flows from and to the person and the people; we are created as unique individuals but individuals who are meant to be in community. It is the “I and the We” of life. At our best, faith schools reflect this in what we do. Seeking to develop an education that leads to wisdom; good decisions that lead to a life in which the individual may flourish but also a life in which individuals seek to help others flourish.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu talks about Ubuntu which may be translated as, “A person is a person through other people” or We are made for togetherness … to exist in a tender network of interdependence.” This is about the education and formation of the whole child. I would never claim that faith schools always get this right or that we are not affected by the prevailing pressures of the day. We are called to faithfulness rather than perfection; to strive, to seek to fall and to get up and try again.
The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu continues this theme, “What do we mean by ‘education’? There are two Latin roots for the word: educare meaning to ‘bring up, to train and to teach’, and educere, meaning ‘to lead and draw out that which lies within’. Together both meanings provide a helpful picture for what education should be. But I believe we now need to place greater emphasis on the educational qualities expressed in the word educere.”
Education has to be about character and career; it’s not an either/or. Reverend Stephen Chalke contends it “is not about what you do with your life (as important as that question is). It is about something much deeper: who do you become while you are doing it?” It’s the eulogy moment: what do you want people to stand up and say at your funeral? What does the hard cold truth of your life’s storyline look like? Are you happy with it or do things need to change? At the root of our view of education must be the question of what does it mean to become more human, to become fully alive. As we debate different aspects of education, this policy and that, we are often going back to debate our deep-rooted beliefs, values and sense of purpose.
“Be the self you are called to be; enable other to do the same”