Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Cart before the horse

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.


Pilgrim said...

I recently watched the docmenary of Peter France's Journey to Orthodoxy. Fascinating story. I read part of his book about it, too. Interesting interaction between belief and practice. Insight partially precedes and partially follows obedience. They're interactive. He was baptized before understanding everything.

Amy said...

Pen-I'm a home schooling momma....for all of the reasons listed above....and more. Financially it is tough some times but we endeavor to persevere. We are already seeing the manifestation of our labor. Blessings. Xo

Ps...loved loved the Naturally Ella site.....have gone so far as to purchase her vegetarian cookbook:-) I use it nearly everyday and am having so much fun! Thx for the recommendation!

Rachel Nichols said...

William Glasser, an innovative psychiatrist founded a new style of teaching in America before his death. If a child disliked reading Shakespeare--for example--but was fond of animals, the teacher would allow the child to do a book report on "All Things Bright and Beautiful" by James Herriot rather than "Hamlet." He also found a way to cure schizophrenia through a method called choice theory and reality therapy. If I were a teacher or therapist I would want to become trained using his methods!

Anonymous said...

Oh, so well said. Our culture is turning into Dickens's 'Hard Times' ...

"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."

Yes, absolutely. Encourage people and they will flourish. Drive them and they will break.

- Philippa

Rapunzel said...

You've given us a lot to think about here.
Yes---belief first then the signs appear. I'm living a bit of that right now, as things that "could never happen" are happening in my life.Things I believed strongly Could Too Happen, despite advice to the contrary.In matters of faith it perhaps helps to be a wee bit mule headed.
Having got the promotion I've wanted and been groomed for these last few weeks, am hoping I can get out of this wretched uniform and do my new job in my version of Plain. I see no reason not to believe the same blessings that brought me this far will carry me the rest of the way ; )

Pen Wilcock said...

Pilgrim - That reminds me of a time, back in the day, when I was minister of a congregation attended by a bunch of folk with profound learning difficulties. Our council initially expressed reluctance to invite them into membership, on the grounds that they could not understand the subtleties of the faith. Well, who among us can? In the end they did come into membership, because we are all children when faced with the mysteries of the Most High.

Amy - the cookbook's great, isn't it? Easy recipes and things you might actually want to eat!

Rachel - interesting - I must look up William Glasser.

Philippa - I think Corbyn's rattling the cage, though!

Rapunzel - you have no idea how avidly I am awaiting photos of your new version of Plain.


Ganeida said...

When children have a reason to learn they will tackle even that which they dislike. That's a wonder to me. ☺ We have got so much wrong & so lost our way it's a wonder any of us get any of it right any more. Blessings, Pen. ♥

Pen Wilcock said...


Waning, friend! xx

Pilgrim said...


Pen Wilcock said...

Ganeida - I meant - er - 'waving'!! Though I may be waning as well...

suzy mae said...

"If you look after the wellbeing of the people, then it will prosper all by itself."
I love this thought. And I agree with your approach to your children's schooling. I am trying to do the same. Unfortunately teachers are being put under so much pressure to "achieve results" much of the stress gets passed on to parents too. Everything, it seems, has to have a measuring stick leaning up against it. Very discouraging for all involved.

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes indeed - and all the pressure channelling through teachers and parents comes to rest on the head of the unfortunate child.


Rachel Nichols said...

I actually enjoy exercise more as an adult than as a kid. I was born with one leg longer than the other. Whenever we had P.E. I got to hear the teams say, "Not Rachel! We'll lose for sure!" I was almost always the last one "chosen." I'm glad to hear that now teams are arbitrarily selected. Having the two best athletes choose their teammates and fighting over who had to take the slow and disabled was a cruel custom.

Pen Wilcock said...

Ha! I remember it well. Two teams, a child chosen to head each one, taking it in turns to pick from among the waiting children - always the same one left until last in the dwindling group. What were they thinking (it that isn't too optimistic a term)?

MaryR said...

I so agree with you about education today. They've thrown the baby away with the bathwater. I thoroughly enjoyed teaching juniors in the 70s and 80s as I could choose a topic the children were interested in and they'd do all kinds of fabulous work in it, but gradually in the late 90s all the fun went out of it, and tests became the order of the day, and teaching to the tests. On the continent they don't even start formal work in number, etc, until they're 6 or 7, just spend the time playing and socialising and learning to get on with others, whereas here we're now returning to testing 4 year olds, for goodness sake! How is this going to help children or teachers?

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes. I have heard nothing good of this system. x

Nearly Martha said...

The faith first. That is, as I think people still say, a word in season for me.

Pen Wilcock said...

When I was a teenager, I went to church every Sunday, and heard the Bible readings, thinking about the deeply, Because I was young and the world was new, what I heard in this days made a deep impression on me. Something that struck a deep chord in my heart was Jesus saying to Peter (and in the gospels, Peter is the *type* of the disciple - he stands for all believers), "I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail."
I think, my hope is, that Jesus has prayed the same for each one of us - and it is also my prayer for you, friend. Another text I love, "Having done all, to stand." May you have that kind of faith. xx