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Education books: Lessons learnt late

10 June 2022

Dennis Richards reviews the latest education books

More covers in the gallery

More covers in the gallery

JUST when you think that every angle of boarding-school education and of Christian boarding schools in particular has been examined, along comes Sent: Reflections on missions, boarding school and childhood. Contributors examine the long-term consequences of one particular Evangelical Christian boarding-school education.

They were brought up in a context in which the name of Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission, was revered. Expelled from China in 1951, the mission was reinvented as the Overseas Missionary Fellowship (OMF). It was, however, still fully committed to “the Great Commission”. Hymns and choruses, so beloved of Evangelicals of an earlier age, bellowed fervently and unthinkingly, contain words that, given the stories recounted here, now seem like texts for the psychiatrist’s couch.

The so-called “Sacrificial hymns” have become instead “the words from the soundtrack to our parents’ lives and decision-making”. Hands up if this is familiar to you. “All to Jesus I surrender, Humbly at his feet I bow.” There are many, many more such similar sentiments in Evangelical favourites. It is worth noting that the OMF operated a compulsory boarding policy in “Chefoo” schools in the Far East from the age of five, as their missionary parents moved around various locations in the region, preaching the gospel.

Between the ages of ten and 12, the children were then moved on to boarding schools in their parents’ country of origin, most often the UK, the United States, South Africa, or Australia. Parents rationalised this decision as fulfilling the will of God.

As adults, the Chefoo children recount their feelings of abandonment and rejection in this deeply troubling volume. By 2013, the OMF had belatedly become aware of studies showing a long-term impact on children from early disruption of parental attachment. In the same year, 80 of the Chefoo children, then between the ages of 30 and 70, returned to the school. This is their story.

In terms of the Great Commission, did Jesus really intend his devotees to sacrifice their children’s emotional well-being, along with their earthly possessions?

Reading The Emotionally Intelligent Teacher immediately afterwards, you cannot help thinking that this volume could have changed their world. It is immensely refreshing to read the work of a writer new to the world of educational publishing. Her writing exudes excitement. She has discovered an idea that “works” in her position as a primary-school assistant head teacher. As such, she is in daily contact with senior leadership colleagues, students, staff, and parents.

Whether it is in the classroom, the staff room, or the parental interview room, she believes that emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) will have far more bearing on success in life than IQ. And there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to prove it. The core of her thinking can be found in a quotation from the American poet Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Just ask the Chefoo children.

In Sustainability Education: A classroom guide, the key to the authors’ thinking is the chapter “Reframing Education”. Much has been made of helping the first post-Covid generation to “catch up”, while at the same time gently trying to compensate them for the mental trauma they have known over such a long period.

Worthy as this strategy may appear, it is not helping us to face up to an even bigger problem than a pandemic, given its rigidity in terms of the curriculum. Reading, maths, science, and a frantic assessment schedule will no longer suffice. “The growing environment emergency might suggest the need to broaden the curriculum, but, in fact, the opposite has happened.” ICT apart, we have not radically altered much since the 19th century.

The most notable feature of this attractively produced volume is its “light touch”. There is no hint of compromise in relation to the gravity of our situation. On the other hand, the authors seem to have been able to avoid “heavy” doom-mongering. I did just wonder whether that is something to do with clever spacing, short chapters, bold headings, and intriguing classroom activity. Or maybe it’s the interesting facts, the thought-provoking questions, and the occasional associated website laugh-out-loud video. As a lesson in plastic pollution, it’s hard to beat a load of plastic ducks washed off a container ship in 1992, bobbing up years later all over the world.

A wonderful resource to get any school started on its now essential journey towards sustainability education.

Thankfully, in Teaching Meditation in Primary Schools: A Christian approach, Iain Osborne makes it clear on page one that, “although the practice is simple, it is not easy.” The booklet is packed with useful explanatory notes about terminology that has become common parlance among education professionals. As such, it is a useful primer for new entrants to the teaching profession — not least because it is only 28 pages long. Excellent pre-interview preparation, therefore.

“Mindfulness” is one such example. In simple terms, Osborne believes that mindfulness and meditation are essentially the same activity, described in different terms. Both focus on developing “habits of attention control”. In broad terms, mindfulness is framed by secular concepts; meditation, on the other hand, stems from a long religious tradition.

The second half of the booklet has the primer on how to teach meditation in a KS2 context. It is challenging, as the author readily admits. Post-pandemic issues relating to mental health might well mean, however, that more and more schools believe it necessary to give it a go.

Strange it may seem, the weighty academic tome Religious and Spiritual Experience is almost the perfect follow-up to analyse, in an academic sense, what may have happened in the primary schools that attempt meditation. Jeff Astley is a noted educationist who has been involved in secondary RE over many years. This comprehensive textbook reflects his scholarship.

Aimed at an undergraduate theology audience, it is clearly equally appropriate as a resource for A-level Religious Studies. Students will appreciate its multi-disciplinary approach, covering psychology, theology, philosophy, and social anthropology. They will also like his generosity of spirit: “I must be realistic,” he says. “This guide is bound to be treated by some readers as they routinely treat other travel guides: as a reference guide in which to ‘look up’ a particular phenomenon, issue, or debate.” He read my mind. Brilliant, and worth every penny.

Sent: Reflections on missions, boarding school and childhood
Chefoo Reconsidered Book Committee and Paul Young
John Chenoweth £15.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.49

The Emotionally Intelligent Teacher
Niomi Clyde Roberts
Bloomsbury £19.99
Church Times Bookshop £17.99

Sustainability Education: A classroom guide
S. Scoffham, S. Rawlinson
Bloomsbury £19.99
Church Times Bookshop £17.99

Teaching Meditation in Primary Schools: A Christian approach (eD49)
Iain Osborne
Grove Books £3.95
Church Times Bookshop £3.55

Religious and Spiritual Experience: SCM Studyguide
Jeff Astley
SCM Press £19.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.99

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