“I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness.” John 10.10From Martin Hayward
The last few days have been marked by an incredible amount of anxiety and pain for thousands of teenagers up and down the land. The pictures we normally see in the media at this stage of the year – smiling, happy, hugging young people waving their results papers in the air – have been replaced with pictures of worry, disappointment, and doubt. Editorials which usually moan about our education system helping the children of the rich to get the best results have instead been complaining about a mathematical model (“algorithm”) which deliberately downgraded the results for some children from poorer backgrounds. We all understand whythe problem has arisen; but where we seem even more divided than ever is in our national perception of the reason why we send our children to school in the first place.
When I was a young child the road sign meaning “drive carefully, school ahead” was the picture of a flaming torch: the same torch of enlightenment that is held aloft by the Statue of Liberty. The ideal was largely accepted that education was about drawing the best from people and leading them into a full life for themselves and society. School was just one element of the process along with family, neighbourhood and church.
But attitudes now seem to have changed and education is often seen as being simply utilitarian: the preparation of young people to be qualified for the next stage of life and become plumbers or carpenters, teachers, doctors or lawyers. Success is recorded by SATS, GCSE and A level results. But emphasis on grades leads to the lifelong risk of damage to a child’s feeling of self-worth and even perhaps their mental health. Far from drawing the best out of people and leading them into life, our current system seems to do just the opposite.
Maybe this is the year of the wake-up call to refocus our education system.
Christians believe Jesus’ claim that he “came in order that we might have life—life in all its fullness”. Abundant life demands an education system which focuses on human flourishing for all pupils regardless of academic ability, but there is no simple way to measure “abundant life”. Money, productivity, success, beauty, wit, intelligence are not merely bad proxies for abundance, they can be false gods that lead to despair. But when put to right use they are gifts that overflow to all around. Children need to be taught that abundant life is not about what we have or what we get or what we claim – it is about what we receive as a gifts from God. Its about living our lives as stewards of those blessings. When we have enough of the blessings of God to share with others, and then actually do it, then that’s when we truly have abundant life.