Do I really care?

by Stephen Fyson
29th November 2021

I do not often rail at the TV – although in the interests of transparency, my wife might suggest there was a tad more during lockdown… But even out of that context, I have been known to argue with what I am hearing in front of me.

The most common incidence of me reacting to what I hear on the TV (or other social media, for you ‘younger ones’) is when I hear leaders of some kind say, “We will introduce an evidence-based program into the schools to fix this problem.” My frustration has nothing to do with ‘crowded curriculum’ or even hidden ideological agenda (although I do have some different thoughts about those aspects of school life).

These leaders show a basic misunderstanding of what education is when they make these claims. Their misconception is shared by many in our society. I can illustrate this misrepresentation of what teaching and learning is about by asking you two questions:

  1. Were you proven competent when you earned your driving license? That is, did you pass tests that ensured you knew about the appropriate traffic regulations, and did you pass tests to demonstrate that you knew how to apply these rules? If you are driving legally, then the answer to both these questions is, “Yes”.
  2. You do not have to answer this next question out loud if there are other people around you – do you always drive by these road rules? This question does not relate to ‘accidental speeding’, but those times when we know we are not obeying the road rules and continue to do so.

I could ask the same questions about diet. Most people can pass a competency test about eating healthily. Bur if we ask the question, “Do we always eat in a way that is good for us?”, we know the answer.

I learned about this problem, professionally, when I was an addictions counsellor. We did research on the most innovative alcohol and other drug education program (it was in South Australia at the time). What we found was that it appeared that experimentation, and therefore abuse, increased when school students completed this highly attractive and engaging education program.

This can lead to the question: “What influences who we are in our moral decision-making?”

If you go to any Australian developmental psychology textbook, you will find that there is an ongoing debate about this, and that debate centres around whether nature or nurture has the most impact. “Nature” in this use means our physical capacities and predispositions. “Nurture” in this use means the impact of our social lives, past and present.

When teaching about this in our Bachelor of Education program, I then ask, “What is missing?” We eventually come to understanding that there is no recognition of spirituality in this summary of personhood. Recognising our inherent spirituality is sometimes described as us being ‘embodied souls’ (wherein there is much discussion, of course). But it makes the basic point, made right at the start of our Scriptures, that reality is more that the physical domain. Indeed, John Lennox, in his cutely named book 2084[1], which is Christian philosophical and theological critique of artificial intelligence, reminds us that the spiritual aspect of reality has primacy over the physical aspects of reality – why? Because God is Spirit, and He is our Creator.

Such a basic assumption about reality infuses every aspect of understanding life. The earliest work that I have found on applying this to education is Augustine’s On Christian Teaching[2], written about 427AD. He described a number of important aspects to teaching, if we wish to be Christian teachers. Here are three that help us understand our current mis-framing of what education, Biblically, is about:

  1. We need to instruct others to overcome ignorance. As CS Lewis was said to comment, “There is nothing as dangerous as a 15-year-old with a strong opinion, who knows nothing”;
  2. We should instruct in a way that brings delight to the learner, so that they desire to learn more about God, through His creation and His Word; and
  3. We must prayerfully, and with integrity, create the space for our students to consider what good, before God, they will do with what they are learning.

Or, to summarise, do we create space in our pastoral and teaching ministries to invite others to ask the question, “Do I care about what I now know about – and this, before God?”

[1] Lennox, J.C. (2020). 2084: Artificial intelligence and the future of humanity. Zondervan Reflective.

[2] Augustine, A. (427/2008). On Christian Teaching. Oxford University Press

About the author

Stephen is a senior lecturer, for the School of Education at Alphacrucis College.