Jesus Provides the Model for Good Schooling
The Gospels and Catholic teaching provide the basic blueprint for a good, healthy school community, suggests KYLE LAUF.
Catholic Social Teaching emphasises the value of each human being in the social context.
Created in the image of God, humans — male and female — are endowed by the Creator with individual dignity as well as roles within social relationships.
As a person grows up, they acquire more roles: sons and daughters are also siblings, cousins, acquaintances, friends, and pupils.
They grow up to be students, employees, neighbours, life-partners; wives and husbands, citizens, taxpayers, mothers and fathers.
Schools prepare young people for their future roles in society, and are in fact small societies in their own right.
While teachers and the academic programme prepare students to pass examinations, schools are so much more than that.
Schools, as social contexts, are microcosms of society where we are presented with the opportunity to build communities of social roleplayers who must learn to live together, not in isolation, but as fellow human beings and image-bearers of God.
Schools teach so much more than the curriculum. We meet new people, make friends, learn to cooperate with authority and with each other. We learn to manage our time, manage conflicts, and we learn resilience.
School communities are places where we learn how to live and experience life together with people from other backgrounds and diverse communities.
The sum total of learning in schools must contribute to the building of a common good for the benefit of society.
The concept of solidarity refers to the way people share their lives together in unity or fraternity. In schools this can be demonstrated in the unity of school spirit that is fostered by events like an inter-house sports day or a school singing contest.
Many schools observe Heritage Day by allowing pupils to wear traditional or cultural attire — this uniquely encourages unity in our country’s diversity.
Besides the spiritual aspect which is central in religion, praying together and attending Mass are opportunities and expressions of solidarity where learners and educators alike are equal under God.
Even members of the school community from other faith backgrounds are invited to participate in this solidarity.
The concept of subsidiarity refers to conditions in a Christian community where decision-making and the exercising of power is encouraged at the lowest level compatible with the common good. This means that power must not be concentrated in the hands of the few — even if they are management or leadership.
Subsidiarity is a participatory delegation of authority that activates people, allowing them to flourish in their various positions.
In many respects, teachers in our schools are empowered in this way. They act as educational roleplayers imparting knowledge, skills and life wisdom to their learners. They act within the requirements of the national curriculum and the school’s ethos but make many independent decisions each day.
Subsidiarity, when applied to the educational staff of a school, means that teachers must be empowered to innovate and adapt to their learners’ specific learning needs by being relevant to each educational situation.
Where teachers are restricted by overly prescriptive conditions, whether in the curriculum or school environment, they feel they are mere cogs in a machine without freedom to make essential decisions.
But the practice of subsidiarity in the educational context also means that schools must stimulate conditions for every learner to have opportunities to exercise power. Not haphazard or unplanned power; not power that must be fought over and hoarded, but power in love and freedom to exercise rational and careful planning and decision making within school policies and ethos. It also means that we hold each other accountable.
Conditions to exercise power include student representative councils and learner-driven school activities. But it should extend beyond those things to the very teaching and learning situations.
Learners are engaged and active agents in the process of their own education.
Similarly, teachers do not need to live up to the false expectation that they alone are the all-knowing source of subject knowledge. Professional educators must be encouraged to keep learning how to teach their subjects and their pupils, and how to be present in the lives of their students in this particular role.
Our role model in this is of course Jesus Christ, whose disciples called him “rabbi”, meaning teacher.
The Gospels describe how the Lord taught and lived among those he came to save — teaching through parables, healing the sick, raising the dead and dwelling among us (Emmanuel: God is with us).
Christ’s incarnation is God’s solidarity with the fallen human race; growing up in a human community and culture, breaking bread, sharing redemption stories, sacrificing himself in his passion, death and resurrection.
It is also our model in the social context as the human form he took his poverty on earth, his sorrow and humiliation in life and death — teach us what it means to practise subsidiarity.