We were thinking about the fact that Christian Education should be about Heads and Hands. Now we consider that it is also about Heads and Hearts.
The modern school movement is a product of the Enlightenment, and that philosophy affects all of its structures. In his novel, Hard Times, Charles Dickens lambastes this model in its destructive view of human nature as being purely rational. A key character is Thomas Gradgrind whose speech opens the novel :
“Now what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can form the minds of reasoning animals on facts; nothing else will ever be of service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, Sir!”
Thomas Gradgrind is not a nasty man; in many ways he is a genuinely loving father and a kind benefactor. But his philosophy of education is summed up in his name – one of Dickens’ carefully contrived names sadly reflecting the way that many students understand their existence in our schools as the grind toward grad. For him, education was all about the grind to understand facts, filling heads with facts. Is it possible that some of our students who find school to be a grind are in this predicament because of an undue emphasis on information?
Some of us are old enough to have been taught in schools where education was all about facts. History was about dates. Math was about multiplication tables. Man’s distinctiveness from the animal world (of which he is assumed to be a part, as seen in Gradgrind’s phrase “reasoning animals”) was seen in the fact that he is a rational creature. Education was geared to that rational capacity; that was the difference between teaching children and training dogs.
Schools are no longer fact factories. In fact, for a while in schools the talk was all about feelings. However, Gradgrind has not entirely gone away. Perhaps, instead of facts we have now become preoccupied with information. It has been said that we pay a high price for all the information we consume these days - and it’s knowing less. We are swamped with information and have lost the ability to make sense of it. There is a stanza in T. S. Eliot’s The Rock:
“Where is all the wisdom we have lost in knowledge and all the knowledge we have lost in information?”
The shift from Dickens-era education should not have been from facts to feelings, but from head to heart. In the Bible the heart is not simply the locus of feelings; it is the centre of our being – the place where we make sense of everything else. “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Prov 23:7). Christian education seeks a clear mind and a well-developed brain – but it is about heart-thought rather than head thought.