In her book, It’s About Learning, Louise Stoll tells the story of a parent who laments the change in the pedagogy associated with spelling. She complains to her child’s teacher and says, “Why can’t we learn to spell the way I did by using rote learning?” The teacher looks at the parent and says, “I can either teach your children for your past or her future. Which do you want?”
The story is allegorical but still carries a great import for parents today who face constant change between their experience and what their child is experiencing or being prepared for. Teachers have similar challenges. What they learnt and how they learnt is not the same as how children learn today. Nor will the present necessarily prepare them for a world we cannot describe in detail or understand the jobs that have not been imagined.
In the middle of that tension we have faith based schools trying to connect a faith that is timeless and relevant in a context that is aged and dated. Our ability to change and adapt catechesis to engage our students is still struggling to catch up. Students are not making the connections to the core of the Gospels early enough. Church engagement following school is not strong and we simply keep doing what we have always done. Just talking about the problem and leaving it to the Holy Spirit will not bring the change we need.
I like St Ignatius’ statement, “Pray as though it is all God’s work and work as though everything depended on you.” We can’t rely on someone else to make the change.
I recently listened to Elaine Chukan Brown, a philosopher, talking about millennials and their resistance to advertising and persuasion. While advertising and persuasion were effective in influencing the behaviour of my generation she proposed that millennials look for more authentic leadership and values. She argued that without intimacy and connection we don’t change minds and engage young people in anything, including the Church. Millennials want to know who they are and they want to make choices that help them understand the big questions in life, but only when they are called through intimacy and connection. The challenge for school staff rooms is to talk about what that looks like. We connect through meaningful ritual and storytelling. First Nation people understand the great love God has shown to them through their gift of life and their place in the world. They respect the people who came before them and the people who will follow.
As we come out of the winter into the promise of spring it is timely to ask the question, what does intimacy and connection look like for our students? How can we strengthen that by what happens in our school culture?