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17 May 2018

Education? Education? Education?

Education? Education? Education?

Peter Mitchell is part of the advocacy team at the Evangelical Alliance

The Government is asking a lot of questions about education at the moment. This includes the consultation on relationships and sex education (see our response and poll results here); the Government’s response to the out-of-schools consultation (see our press release here); the integrated communities strategy green paper, and the recently announced home education consultation and the independent schools regulatory consultation. 

Behind these important questions are bigger and deeper questions that often go unanswered. They are questions that go to the core of what it means to be human and what our Christian faith illuminates about our common humanity. The answer to these deeper questions is not so much a policy framework as a vision with which Christians approach education as a whole. 

It’s important for us as Christians engaged in the political sphere to not miss the wood for the trees and allow our vision for education to go unarticulated as we engage with a stream of consultations and policies from the government.  

At the Evangelical Alliance, we’re asking these questions that may help us as we approach the “why” of education, questions we have to answer if we are to provide consistent and compelling Christian replies to the “how” questions in our political and educational systems. 

Who is responsible for a child’s education? 

 Parents? The state? Teachers? The church? The child? The local community? All of the above?  

How we answer this echoes throughout education policy. While most people would perhaps not name just one of the above, the question of who is responsible (and what that responsibility looks like) has profound implications for how we understand rights and responsibilities in education and therefore how we respond to policy proposals and approach almost any issue in education.  

The Evangelical Alliance’s education resource, You’re not alone, asks precisely this question. Our answer is clear: it is parents. The resource highlights the role of parents, and the extended family, as the “primary nurturers, role models, socialisers and sources of morals for their children.” This foundational truth reminds us that children do not suddenly appear as autonomous individuals. Instead, they are conceived, they are born, they are nurtured in the family - their first human community - which also serves as their first school. 

There are important questions regarding what happens when families are fragmented and a child’s first community is unable to be responsible in the ways it has been designed to. But the existence of fragmentation does not negate the primary role and responsibility of family; instead it asks others, including the church, the local community and the state, how each can help address the fragmentation rather than replace the family with another primary carer. 

This responsibility of parents, of the family as the first community, does not mean it is a child’s only community. Parental responsibility is not exercised in isolation. As You’re not alone goes on, “…the Bible does not propose that parents should ever exercise their responsibility in isolation from a responsible community.” Others have roles too. 

Understanding the responsibility of parents will shape how we engage with education policy overall – including how we respond to government on issues such as sex and relationships education, home education and out-of-school education settings to highlight recent issues. There are other big questions to ask as Christians in education, which we’ll be exploring, because such questions help us not to miss the forest for the trees. They help us communicate a compelling and coherent Christian vision of education for the good of all as we continue to engage with what kind of society we want.

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