Review Archives – Christians in Education

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21 April marks the 90th birthday of the Queen, our longest serving monarch. To celebrate the event, the Bible Society, HOPE and the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity have jointly published The Servant Queen and the King she serves, a 64 page book to support communities as they say thank you to God for a faithful life and to the Queen for a life of service to the country and the Commonwealth.

Co-written by Mark Greene of LICC and Catherine Butcher of HOPE, the book primarily uses the Queen’s own words from her many Christmas messages over the course of her long reign – words which reflect her deep faith in Christ. The Queen herself wrote the foreword to the book, in which she expresses gratitude to God for his steadfast love.

Scripture Union has produced a schools version, aimed primarily at Year 6, although it would be equally useful for older and younger pupils. Just 12 pages long, it adopts a magazine style which incorporates information boxes, images, post-it notes and quizzes. Do you know, for example, how much the crown weighs in equivalent pineapples? Or how many Prime Ministers the Queen has advised?

Endorsed by the DfE, this is an excellent resource for meeting SMSC requirements. With an assembly outline and a lesson plan for support, you can explore the Queen’s attitude to service. Encourage pupils to explore the concept of service further and maybe choose a way to serve your local community as a special celebration to mark the Queen’s birthday.

Using the Queen’s own words from her Christmas broadcasts and the foreword to the book itself, you can explore how her faith has motivated her actions, through a life lived at the centre of our democracy. As author Mark Greene comments: ‘maybe someone will be surprised, impressed by the quiet fearlessness of the Queen’s openness about faith despite being a public figure in an increasingly secular society’.

Click here to purchase the full version of the book and the schools resource, which is provided in packs of 10.

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Another little Grove Book full of big thoughts, Called to Teach: Teaching as a Mission Vocation from Trevor Cooling will prompt you to consider your calling as a teacher. The first chapter defines vocation as it relates to teaching, simultaneously questioning the role of the Church in honouring teaching as a vocation and encouraging the reader to ascertain whether his or her own calling to teach is in line with God’s gifting.

The text then moves on to three chapters which, in turn, define our calling to be distinctive, inclusive and professional. The weight of the argument is centred on the need for Christian teachers to understand that it’s not about working harder or smiling more as part of our Christian witness. Rather it is about understanding the worldview from which we interpret our professional responsibilities and influencing the story which our students are being told by the prevailing worldview. It is about offering a counter-cultural vision to a profession which no longer understands the Christian view of what it means to be human.

Laying out a vision for inclusion, in which we can work alongside those of other faiths and those of none without compromising our belief, Cooling encourages us to be open about our faith, whilst fully realising that what we believe can and will be contested. In fact, as he points out, our Christian worldview overlaps at many points with that of our colleagues. We all want justice and peace in our society – the difference emerges in the way we define those values. We may, as Christians, also uniquely value forgiveness and servanthood, but these are values which should increase our contribution to inclusion, not cause division.

The problem arises, of course, when the prevailing concept in which professionalism equates to neutrality conflicts with our faith. Here Cooling is particularly helpful, demonstrating both from 1 Peter and the story of Daniel, that we can identify, work within and seek to transform a culture in which we are ‘aliens and strangers’ right up to the point at which we are required to abandon our primary loyalty to God.

Thoughts and ideas are liberally supported with case studies and examples from a range of contexts. It is a challenging text to read, however experienced you are as a teacher. That said, it is also an affirming text, pointing the way to a transformative model in which we, as Christians in a profession which is often aggressively secular, can fulfil our calling to mission. It’s tough, it’s costly and if we’re working without the prayerful understanding of our church family, it’s lonely. But if we are to connect our faith with our working lives in any meaningful way, it is vital.

Grove Books 978-1-85174-754-2 28pp softback £3.95 Available post free on 01223 464748, [email protected] or by visiting www.grovebooks.co.uk

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John Pritchard, the key author of this book, is the former Chair of the Church of England Board of Education. He retired as Bishop of Oxford in 2014. The core of the text is his talk at the launch of the National Institute for Christian Education Research, in which he examines the contribution that Christians can make to shaping contemporary educational values. Following chapters are written by a range of educational practitioners, all of whom are engaged in the debate, and the chapters are bookended by thoughts from Trevor Cooling, Professor of the Institute.

Common to each writer is the view that education is becoming a narrowed exam-passing activity in which each child is merely, but simultaneously, a trainee economic contributor and also a trained consumer. John Pritchard calls for Christian teachers to adopt a distinctively Christian approach to what they do, focused clearly on the narrative of the life of Jesus. He offers definitions of a human child in a Christian context and of community as seen from a Christian education perspective.

Successive contributors offer insights into how this can work in practice, as well as sounding a clear warning about the fragile position of the Christian faith in a national context which continues to embrace its values whilst systematically divorcing them from the faith in which they should be centred.

John Pritchard ends his chapter by pointing out that as Christians we are fortunate to have both a clear rationale for what we do and also a clear point of reference in Christ. He exhorts us to ‘seek human flourishing for every child of God through holistic educational practice’ knowing that the means of achieving it is through Jesus who said, ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’ (John 10:10 NIV).

Other writers consider the purpose and function that underpin our church schools, making them inclusive and distinctive; the role of church schools in developing character, and the role of Christian educators in creating communities which nurture wellbeing.

Although only 26 pages in length, this book provokes a great deal of thought about what it means to be distinctively Christian teachers and schools in an education service dominated by individualist and materialist ideologies.

Grove Books 978-1-85174-836-5 28pp softback £3.95 Available post free on 01223 464748, [email protected] or by visiting www.grovebooks.co.uk

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