In England we have been thinking hard about tax credit cuts in the last week or two. Our chancellor’s position (put simply and ignoring glaring anomalies like Trident and wanting to go ahead with a nuclear power station that will be the most expensive building on the planet) is that national economic security is achieved by austerity – which in practice means cutting benefits to people on low incomes who have been relying on them.
Meanwhile over in America, Obama has initiated a long overdue return to teacher-inspired, child-centred, holistic education. What other kind is there, one might ask, assuming the word ‘education’ to be correctly used.
Under the present administration in England, we are still going full steam ahead on the numbers game in education – it’s all about tests and results.
Well, there’s outcome, isn’t there; but there’s also process. As they say, the end doesn’t justify the means. The road you travel is as important as the destination – arguably more so.
The economic argument of austerity-descending-into-misery for the poor, as a means of stabilizing the economy, doesn’t hold up for a minute in any real world, but there is a definite parity between the chancellor’s drive to achieve prosperity by cutting income, and the education minister’s drive to achieve academic excellence by focusing on test results.
Such an approach is doomed to failure for the simple reason that it’s the wrong way round. Bottom line: you won’t get a harvest if you don’t sow any seeds.
It all made me think about the words of Jesus in Mark’s gospel (16:17), ‘signs shall follow them that believe’.
The order there is crucial.
There is a temptation, in Signs and Wonders circles, to drift into them that believe pursuing signs; and that doesn’t work. Once you get results-fixated disciples, you end up with neither disciples nor signs. Just anxiety and disappointment, power games, disillusionment and ultimately loss of faith.
You have to walk the path you believe and not look back, not look over your shoulder. Then the signs will follow you.
The same with the economy. If you look after the wellbeing of the people, then it will prosper all by itself.
Same with education. If you tend the wellbeing of the child, then education will happened naturally; children love to learn, they just can’t help it. When my kids were little I never checked their homework, never asked about their test results, never insisted they revise for exams. I told them it didn’t matter if they failed their exams, that passing an exam in a subject you hated could be a terrible mistake because you could end up in an occupation you didn’t like as a result. When my smallest child had trouble learning to read, I went to the school and insisted they take off all pressure and concentrate on seeing to it that she was happy and had a nice time. I said if that was impossible for them, I’d understand – I’d take her out of school.
I didn’t do this because I didn’t care if my children failed but because I wanted them to succeed. They did. They all did amazingly well. It has to be the right way round – signs following disciples, not disciples following signs. In health, in education, in economics, in the practice of our faith. Love, generosity, confidence, trust, kindness, integrity, understanding – let these lead the way and all the rest will follow.