‘Education is the engine of our economy’, according to Schools Minister, Nick Gibb. Its purpose is to prepare the next generation of workers to feed the Minotaur which we have created; a controlling monster which must be constantly sated to allow us to compete globally. And so a society which has built itself on the ‘shifting sands of self service’ has designed an education system underpinned by the values of consumerism and individualism. We are, quite simply, valuing our children and young people by their potential monetary worth and, in the process, teaching them to use the same measure in valuing others.
This thinking pervades government policy and therefore curriculum content. Language lessons teach us to navigate other countries as tourist-consumers, not as guests. Maths teaches students to think about what they can get, but rarely what they can give. There is a 16+ core maths skill programme which focuses on how to split the bill when you didn’t have wine, but not whether you might miss a social event occasionally and contribute to a food bank collection instead. It teaches how to source the most cost-effective mortgage, but nowhere does it suggest that renting may be a better option than buying. It offers nothing at all to those young people who face the prospect of remaining with their parents because they can’t earn enough to finance any other choice.
When she was Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan became very enthusiastic about a scheme that used tax data to show which degree subjects yielded the most lucrative careers – the database could then be used to inform A level choices. Subjects were classified as ‘facilitating’ and ‘non-facilitating’ depending on their economic worth, and suddenly I found myself after a lifetime in teaching and youth work labelled a non-facilitator by virtue of having studied music at university. Directed by government mandate, we educate children to know the cost of everything, and the value of nothing.
The result is communities disjointed by envious competition. Society’s economy is founded on transaction; acquisition; wealth, and the constant question: What’s in it for me? And it’s this self interest that creates our current economic model, not the other way around. As Justin Welby observes: ‘We believe that if we can fix the economy, the fixing of human beings will automatically follow … It is a lie …that casts money, rather than humanity, as the protagonist of God’s story’.
Contrast that with God’s economy. It’s one of relationship; of limitless love and free grace, and of the question: Who has God created me to be? In Christian terms ‘education is intended to draw out the full human potential of each child of God’. Take a look at What If Learning for an example of what this looks like in practice, when teaching and learning are rooted in Christian faith, hope and love. Instead of a curriculum designed to create economically successful units, it offers a curriculum that embeds in its approach the love of God for His creation and the dignity of every person.
The Westminster Catechism says that our ‘chief end …is to glorify God and enjoy him for ever’. What difference would it make to our teaching if we fully embraced that, provoking awe and wonder through our teaching and sharing our enjoyment of God as creator of this wonderful world in which we live?