*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

Inequality and Flourishing: A theology of education by Mariama Ifode-Blease

by
23 December 2022

Education has moved on, suggests Richard Peers

THE school day is a cultural icon. We all know it. Bells, assembly, lessons, break, lessons, lunch, lessons, break, lessons. It is not surprising that Mariama Ifode-Blease uses this structure to give shape to her book on education. Unfortunately, this shape obscures any coherent development in her argument for change in our schools. Interspersed with transcribed conversations, the book is further disrupted.

Each section is introduced by a passage of scripture and a sermon-like reflection on that passage in an educational setting. These, for me, are the best bits of the book. I haven’t heard Ifode-Blease preach, but I imagine she is good. Scripture is surprisingly rarely used in books about church schools and education, and it is good to see that done here.

Apart from these passages, there is not much in this book that I find helpful or informative. It is a book based on romantic notions of childhood, young people, and education. It presents no real arguments and does not engage with alternative points of view. I began training as a teacher in 1984 and remember schools before the National Curriculum, regular testing, and Ofsted inspections. Huge improvements have been made in schools since then, not least in London, the schools I worked in for longest. This is not acknowledged in any way.

I am disturbed that the book is subtitled A theology of education, which I simply cannot find. The author uses the phrase “child-centred” on occasions. I have often said that this is one of the most dangerous phrases used in education in the 20th century. It was, I believe, first used in the 1967 Plowden report, which was the herald of so much progressive education in the 1970s. I suspect that it has its origin in the person-centred counselling of Carl Rogers, who abandoned his Christian faith. It is not a theological phrase: a proper Christian anthropology underlying our education would make it God-centred. Around God, human beings make sense. When we put human beings at the centre, we end up with mayhem.

Ifode-Blease frequently talks about flourishing, potential, and creativity. Like apple pie, these are hard to be against, but mean very little. Of course, in the pendulum swing away from the progressive methods of the 1970s, there needs to be some re-balancing. There is too much high-stakes testing in schools, but probably not enough low-stakes quizzing. It would be good to see more of the arts and music in the curriculum, but well-taught, knowledge-based teaching, not an abstract creativity.

Ifode-Blease spent part of her childhood in north-west London. She would do well to visit a school in Brent that is taking the improvements in schooling of the past two decades deeper and stronger: Michaela Community School. The head teacher of this non-selective school, Katharine Birbalsingh, is showing the whole country, and much of the world, how high standards of behaviour and learning are the things that challenge social inequality.

Reading Inequality and Flourishing was a little like re-living a car crash: I’ve been there. Children deserve better, and there are better ways for our schools.
 

The Very Richard Peers is the Dean of Llandaff.


Inequality and Flourishing: A theology of education
Mariama Ifode-Blease
SCM £22.99
(978-0-334-06084-0)
Church Times Bookshop £18.40

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

 

Keeping faith in Journalism: a Church Times Webinar

11 March 2024 | 6pm GMT

An expert panel discusses trust between the media and the public

Online Tickets available

 

Church Times/RSCM:

Festival of Faith and Music

26 - 28 April 2024

See the full programme on the festival website. 

Early bird tickets available

 

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards

 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)