How do we Educate? Preach? Teach? Form?

If you have any interest in education, training or personal/spiritual formation, do yourself a favour and watch this. It’ll be a wise investment of 12 mins.


At a recent breakfast meeting I was at there was an interesting debate with the headmaster of a well-known boys grammar school. I asked a question about whether the current system and curriculum serves to educate young people rather than prepare them to participate in the economy. How does our current schooling system develop enquiring minds rather than people skilled at taking in data and spitting it back out?

I found it an interesting debate. A few days later one participant sent me a link to the youtube piece above. How fascinating is it? And how beautiful is the animation?

I enjoyed his cheeky assertion that the epidemic of ADHD gets worse as you move eastwards in the US. Interested that genius levels decline as you get educated. Particularly intrigued by the connection between the shape of our education system and the industrial revolution factory.

I’m no educationalist, but I am interested in this stuff. And maybe some of you professionals who know about it could enlighten me more. I’m interested because I have children involved in the education process. Interested also because of how I experience these things as they happen in church, where education and formation is key.

Is it just me or are people, children and adults, increasingly unable, or unwilling, to ask questions? Certainly the average church service is set up so that we, your teachers, (whether in class or in the pulpit) will deliver you the answers, which you can then parrot back when the moment requires. There is no need for you to own, or have any personal stake in the material. Trust me, I’m a teacher, preacher, bible study leader.

I’m leading a formation group for 15-17 year olds at the moment and the simple focus is on opening the floor for questions. How do we ask questions of a bible text? How do we develop enquiring, inquisitive minds, that are curious about life, the world, faith, the bible, etc. etc.

What difference would more divergent thinking make if it was encouraged in our congregations?

5 thoughts on “How do we Educate? Preach? Teach? Form?

  1. This is fascinating stuff! I’ve found Paolo Freire’s work on this to be very readable. he criticizes the “banking” form of education, where the student is an empty vessel waiting to be “filled” by the teacher.

    15-17 is a great age to be challenging these learning forms! my experience that was when bible stories in church started becoming dogma, in preparation for the “real world”

    Also if this was encouraged in our congregations we might have fewer new splinter churches springing up on every corner because people would feel safer/more able to express opinions/questions.

  2. Sir Ken is spot on, thanks for posting. I’ll be showing this video in class on Tues evening to frame our conversation on Parker Palmer’s understanding of education as broken and abusive (it’s a course on education in the church). We educate toward conformity without thinking about our models or the implications, appreciate the Monday morn wakeup call. peace

  3. I happened to watch this the other day; love the RSA site on which there are other ‘talks worth watching’.
    I think there would be radical implications for how we teach in church if we begin with the desired outcomes that we hope will characterise someone at the ‘end’. Example: what is the point of being a Christian? What is the point of a church? Such questions are rarely asked I think.
    If the answer is something like being transformed into the image of Christ,what does this ‘outcome’ look like in real life? And how does what we do in church actually move people forward towards that outcome? Too often we assume that ‘success’ equals information or numbers and hope that some sort of spiritual transformation happens accidentally along the way.

  4. Thanks Jonny, Tim and Patrick for those comments. Looks to me like there’s a mini-conference or conversation in your three contributions alone.

    Like how has the ‘banking’ form of education influenced our church patterns. Or Tim’s notion of ‘educating towards conformity’ (must say Tim, I’d be very interested in that course, and can only guess what you’ll be saying). And how does all of that sit with ‘outcomes-based formation, so to speak.

    There is a longer video version of the talk on the RSA site, which is brilliant as you say Patrick. And I think he also delivers a talk on the magnificent TED Talks.

    Which is another issue for me, how come there are very few of the recognised Christian teachers who take part in these forums. Do we lack the variety of interests to engage a wide audience?

    btw if you have an iPhone there is a free app for both RSA and TED. Delivers the video straight to the phone. What’s not to like.

  5. Thanks for the video – fascinating perspectives on education. I’ve been sharing with my fellow M.Ed. students. Hopefully as people who are seeking to be reformers and innovators in the field, some of this thinking can be absorbed by us.

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