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Education as Formation

 

The combination of these two words has fascinated me for some years. And after meeting Jamie Smith and reading “Desiring the Kingdom” I became hooked on what seemed an obvious proposition: that every teacher whether they recognised it or not, was contributing to the moral, spiritual, social and cultural formation of their students. Jamie’s focus on rituals and liturgy as outcomes of the process made a lot of sense.

 

However, while ‘education as formation’ has a long history within Catholic education, it is only in very recent times that ‘evangelical’ Christian educators seem to have bought into the concept of formation. Are they all talking the same language? My recent reading of Joanna Collicutt’s “The Psychology of Christian Character Formation”(SCM Press, 2015) has challenged my thinking about this subject on a number of fronts.

 

It has challenged me to question the stereotypical metaphors some Christians use in their description of the ‘formative’ process. Metaphors such as ‘the potter and the clay.’ It has challenged me to ask what do the Biblical writers mean when they talk about ‘transforming’ lives.

 

In my presentations to teachers on pedagogy I have emphasised that every teacher is forming, shaping, or influencing the values, habits, preferences and beliefs of their students, not just or even mainly by what they say (intentionally or otherwise) but by how they act, re-act or fail to act in the teaching-learning space. Perhaps I need to qualify these assertions. Maybe my thinking has been too shallow.

 

I think I need to find a more comprehensive, contemporary definition of the sort of formation that is appropriate for and compatible with the ethos/culture of an Anglican school. Perhaps there is an analogy between the formation of the child during pregnancy and the formation of the adult through fourteen years of Anglican schooling?

 

My explorations will need to go beyond definitions to intentions, methodologies and how we measure the outcomes. What I hope will come out of it, is a robust strategy to help the people on the front lines in Anglican schools to be competent, confident ‘formers’ of students rather than, by default, unintentional ‘indoctrinators.’ 

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