According to Abba, it’s always sunny in a rich man’s world. And that’s exactly what the government would like you to think. Individual worth and personal satisfaction are measured by the acquisition of shiny new things; communities are valued solely for their economic output. Somewhere along the line, we’ve swapped consumerism for mutualism, collective responsibility for individualism and transaction for relationship. From hunter-gatherer to producer- consumer.
That’s nowhere more apparent than in education, the purpose of which, Nick Gibb informs us, is to act as the engine of the economy. Gone are the concepts of morality, compassion and altruism in wealth creation. Here instead are the concepts of acquisition and self-service. We are driven by an economic model that’s afforded deity status; a model which says that if we can fix the economy, all social ills will be fixed with it. There’s no apparent recognition of the fact that we have ourselves created the monster which dominates us.
It’s a philosophy that underpins all government education policy. There are now defined facilitating subjects. They aren’t those subjects like art, music, drama, film or literature that help us to reflect on, and understand, our humanity. No, they are those subjects that will yield the highest income: studying arts subjects can actually, according to the Education Secretary, hold you back for the rest of your life. Tax data harvested from the current work force now shows students which are the most lucrative subjects to study. Careers advice must be about maximising future income. Some Christian and Jewish schools are failing Ofsted inspections because their careers advice does not acknowledge this, focusing instead on becoming the people God would have them be. That, in the view of Ofsted, fails to prepare children for life in modern Britain and limits their opportunity for self-determination.
A post 16 maths course which became available in September 2015 aims to develop understanding of money. You can learn how to source the best mortgage. You can learn how to maximise profit. You can even learn the core skill of how to split the bill in a restaurant when you haven’t had wine and your friends have. What you aren’t taught is how to decide whether home ownership is the best choice for you. You aren’t taught how to handle money ethically, for the benefit of others, as well as yourself. Nor are you encouraged to think about using money to help those much less fortunate – maybe not having wine now and again so that you can donate items to a food bank or homeless shelter.
Money is even the motivating factor in becoming a teacher. Never mind vocation. Never mind people. No. As Sir Michael Wilshaw urged recently, Britain needs to talk up the benefits of teaching and help to solve the staffing crisis by pointing out to graduates that teachers can be ‘very wealthy individuals’.
The problem with this paradigm is the assumption that material wealth equates to human value. By government definition, I am very low in the success hierarchy and therefore of less value than some. My first degree is in the apparently life-limiting subject of music – a life which I’ve spent raising children, doing voluntary work in my church and teaching. That’s why I’m not rich and why, by current measures, I am not a facilitator.
But maybe my definition of facilitating is different from that of the government. Maybe I don’t consider financial wealth to be an indicator of success. Maybe I have other values. Maybe I believe that if we change our thinking, we can change the economic model to which we’ve chosen to enslave ourselves.
If we accept, as the Bible teaches, that every human is created in God’s image, then we see our students not as cannon fodder for the global economy, but as valued people, loved by God. We want them to flourish, because God loves them and wants His best for them. Careers advice becomes less about maximising financial position and more about becoming the people that God wants them to become.
The Bible also teaches that we are on this earth as stewards of God’s created world. We are here to nurture, not to consume beyond our needs. We are here to reflect God’s glory, not to create economic glory of our own. Once we shift our thinking to accept this, it follows that we will be about human flourishing, about creating families and communities of people that live in relationship with each other for mutual support and not personal gain.
The writer of Ecclesiastes, who seemed to know a thing or two about meaninglessness, wrote that ‘Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.’ (Ecclesiastes 5:10 NIV). However much we produce and consume, we will never be satisfied. Jesus pointed the way to satisfaction: ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied’ (Matthew 5:6 ESV). That, not money, is the path to genuine contentment.