FAITH, DEVOTION, AND EDUCATION

In my quest to provide service I occasionally encounter a challenge hard to navigate.

Some people make stereotypical assumptions because of my profession. That anyone in higher education is guided solely by scientific evidence. Which some think is manufactured knowledge of questionable origin.

That those who work with secular scholars must be the enemy. Who reject faith and religious teachings as guideposts for living.

C.S. Lewis tried to overcome that misperception through logic and fantasy. With the use of metaphor and worlds beyond our understanding of reality.

Narnia is Lewis’ invented society full of symbolism associated with good, evil, and sacrifice. The creatures who populate his mythical earth are eventually saved. Through courage and the self-sacrifice of one who advocates love, empathy, and emotional understanding.

Lewis’ friend, J. R. R. Tolkien, played a key role in convincing him that Christianity must be the source of our devotion to God and each other. That such devotion can indeed be hard, requiring both suffering and sacrifice.

In my mind, devotion and faith are close to being synonyms. Lewis and Tolkien believed they were, but with understanding being the linchpin. To them, blind faith had no substance. Uninformed allegiance to something or someone was both dangerous and shallow.

Tolkien’s ring bestowed great power on the one who possessed it, but also infected that person with a maniacal obsession. To dominate and subjugate all creatures, human and otherwise, to glorifying and serving the ring holder’s desires. Eventually the ring was destroyed, and middle earth was ruled by a wise and beneficent Christ-like king.

Informed faith results in reasoned conclusions. Lewis worked from that belief much of his adult life. Like a lawyer builds a case, proving with logic and evidence there is a benevolent God. That Christ brought his admonitions to us on earth, deserving our devotion.

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Most of my professional life has been associated with applied scholarship. Systematic study that improves something in the real world. Not just fodder for academic discourse. My preferred kind of scholarship is called “qualitative.” It requires measurements that cannot be proved quantitatively through numbers. Rigid statistical analyses that draw conclusions tempered by probability and margin of error. 

Since the beginning of the 21st Century I have seen the growth of two worrisome trends. The first is governmental micromanagement of schools. Operating on the premise that effectiveness can be measured statistically. Improvement caused by data-fueled competition. 

The second trend is an almost reverential regard for technology education, usually referred to as STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).

My reasons for concern do not include a rejection of learning effectiveness or technology. My worries are associated with teachers being reduced to the level of civil servants. Curriculum narrowed to the point of excluding or minimizing communications, social sciences, and the fine arts. Creative and critical thinking essentially excluded from intended student learning goals.

Students are the ultimate victims of an education that over-emphasizes technological knowledge and performance. Measured by standardized tests that assess the quality of robotic understandings and skills.

I am pretty sure Lewis and Tolkien would share my concern.

The root of human existence is like a stand of aspens. They come from a single root that functions as their main life force. Each tree is closely related. Their existence and maturation are not dependent on competition, but on how well each member of the stand relates to the other.

Human beings depend on a root system that is relational, therefore supportive of each individual. Truly effective schools create conditions in which teachers and students interact intellectually and emotionally. Encouraging each student to feel part of the group.

Growing, becoming, maturing, thriving.

Faith that emerges from the relational root environment is inclusive. Even inquisitive in the sense it seeks more ways to believe. Shares an expanding set of interrelated truths.

Faith that is multidimensional includes a growing self-assuredness that makes us feel worthy and validated. Not pompous or overbearing. Just an internal strength that opens doors to a more complete life.

One God intended us to have.

Education should advance this way of believing and living. But that is not happening enough today.  Instead, there is an almost slavish devotion to media-fueled or politically charged opinions. Admonitions that tell us we must have faith in the strength of a particular leader or self-proclaimed pundit.

To obey. To serve. To follow.

History is repeating itself. Each day I pray we do not again succumb to the power of Tolkien’s evil ring or Lewis’ White Witch of Narnia.

That we put our faith in God’s design for us, as revealed by Jesus. Supported by love and the full acceptance of our own potential for good.

One way to do that is for our education system to work in concert with other institutions. Forward-looking churches and families. To teach young people the real meaning of faith and devotion. 

Teachers and the communities in which they work must support each other. To build local curricula and teaching strategies that enhance communication skills, critical thinking, and the self-image of each student.

Reaching that goal will not be easy. Rethinking education and significantly modifying what we do and how we do it.

My suggestions for accomplishing this goal can be found at https://newlearninginfrastructure.com/. And an upcoming book based on that blog titled The New Learning Infrastructure: Educators with the Courage to Reform Local Schools.

©2022 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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