Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Building on the Foundations of the Family - Pedagogical Principle 2

As I wrote in my last post, the central concern of the Christian school teacher must be the formation of character in their students. While growing minds and bodies is also important, it is the character of every child that is the central concern of God. As James K.A. Smith argued in a conference that I convened in Sydney in 2012, education is much more than teaching skills or helping children to acquire knowledge, it is more fundamentally an exercise in the formation of the child. And of course, the outcome of such formation is what we would typically describe as 'character'. Martin Buber suggested that "education worthy of its name is essentially education of character" (Martin Buber, 'Between Man and Man'). And of course, character is not 'taught'; rather, it is acquired or developed in community.

The importance of community is a critical element in 'Pedagogy and Education for Life'. In the book I outline a framework that reflects a key foundational proposition in my pedagogy:
“Education is the whole life of a community, and the experience of its members learning to live this life, from the standpoint of a specific goal”
In the final chapter of my book I offer 20 statements that expand on this central definition and act as a framework for education in a Christian organization. I express them in the form of questions. In the last post I considered the first question, "Do I identify that which is valuable in each child?"

In this post I consider the second question.

Do my class and school build on the foundations of the family? 

I spent almost 20 years conducting research on family literacy and learning. This work offered valuable insights into the relationship between the home, school and community, and demonstrated that when schools understand and respect families, that education at school is more effective. One national project that I led for the Australian government, considered the role that parent support and understanding of school pedagogy played in helping children to succeed in literacy learning in the elementary school years. The outcome of the work is described in my book 'Beyond Tokenism: Parents as Partners in Literacy'. While my concern in 'Pedagogy and Education and Life' is the education of the whole child, the findings from my family literacy and learning research, showed that even in relation to school success, a strong open relationship between home and school is vital. This of course is even more clearly needed when we are concerned for the whole child as Christian parents and teachers. This in turn will reflect our faith, and a view of the world shaped by the Scriptures and the gospel-centred narrative that binds the Bible together from beginning to end.      

So why is it important to build on the foundations of the family?

First, it is important to understand families because our students are first and foremost the responsibility of parents under God. While we have the privilege of teaching the children of families, we must understand that our students arrive as people shaped initially by parents. As well, we need to respect the wishes of families for their children. Having said this, it is also important to remember that families are all different and so their parenting strategies will also be different. Also, our parents might not be people of Christian faith. Nevertheless, the school and its teachers need to take responsibility to ensure that parents understand what the school offers and the school's statement of faith that is meant to shape pedagogy and school life.

Second, and more fundamentally, the Bible has much to say about the importance of the family as a critical unit in any society. The Bible teaches that God made us to live in relationship first to him, and second to other people. And the family was the foundation of humanity (Gen 2:15-25), and continues to be the foundation for learning in the early years of life (Deut 6:1-9). Families also have a vital role throughout schooling, and hence the Christian school is to know the families of its students, to support them as they nurture their children, and as God works in their lives. Families are not problems to be managed, but rather partners in education and recipients of God’s grace, sometimes delivered through the school.

Any teacher reading this post will of course realize just how hard it can be at times to deal with parental attitudes and expectations, that do not mirror those of the teacher or the school. In the final chapter of my book I follow the pedagogical framework with a series of case studies that highlight some of the challenges that teachers face in their partnership with parents, who may not share their beliefs. In fact, many of our students do not accept the Christian faith themselves. I stress in the second case study in chapter 9 of my book, that the key challenge for the Christian teacher when teaching the children of non-Christian parents is "... to communicate honestly to parents whether  Christian, or non-Christian." And as well, as the teacher does so, they need to trust God will use her words according to his purposes."

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