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Education education education

"... learn from me..." Matthew 11.29

Tony Blair's vaunted manifesto speech of 1997 earned his government a second term in office. But what sort of education was he proposing? At school, my Latin teacher enjoyed reminding his reluctant pupils of the origin of the term "e-ducare", to lead out. But most of us would testify to a different experience: of cramming in!

Time to look across the pond... from the early 20th century American philosopher, John Dewey, was advocating a different approach: education as a life-long process of discovery. Sounds attractive, if you have the appetite for it and if you can afford not to depend on exam results and formal qualifications. In fact I reckon the Ottawa New School, where I started my life-long journey, may well have been influenced by Dewey's ideas: everyone on first-name terms, no formal classes, plenty of fresh air but no competition...

Yet behind the benign exterior, there lurks a ruthlessness to this approach. Everything, from religion to politics, is considered to be a "technology" which is good as long as it lasts but, when its usefulness (popularity?) has lapsed, it should be ditched in favour of something better. When it reaches concepts such as "truth", this attitude becomes downright sinister through its insinuation that even truth goes out-of-date eventually.

In his Gospel, Matthew records Jesus as inviting his followers to "learn from me". He is addressing people who are burned out, trying to win the approval of others. He promises an approach to life that is no less rigorous and challenging but, paradoxically, is easy to follow because it amounts to an attitude rather than an endless series of pernickety and irrelevant tasks. And like Dewey's ideas and Blair's vision, the teaching of Jesus is not an hour in the classroom but a lesson for life. Are you ready to enrol?



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