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My previous post was actually a reposting of two separate posts (Embrace the End of the World and Educating for the World to Come) in which I discussed the “eschatological” vision of schooling (that is, the fully realized purpose of schooling as it relates to the “end” of things) and asked the following questions:

What might the world look like if we took seriously the mandate to be “architects of repair in the world?” What if, in particular, we saw the work of education as working to liberate the oppressed, defend the weak, and do justice to the poor? What if we reframe the discussion of education reform by seeing the systems that hold progress at bay? What if we started asking deeper, more humane questions of our schooling? What if we intentionally designed every facet of schooling around the question: “What does it mean to live a meaningful life and to do meaningful things with that life?” What if we asked students to think about meaning and purpose rather than success and consumption?

This, then, is my response to my own questions.

As I said in my previous post, this is going to be a philosophical theology of schooling, so I am going to borrow from one of my favorite books of the Hebrew scripture, Isaiah, to frame my responses (in doing this, I am not advocating for such things as putting Bibles in schools or making every school “Christian”. You will see what I mean in a minute).

In the Book of Isaiah, the prophet (or prophets, depending upon how accurate you want to get) outlines Yahweh’s vision for his people to be counter-cultural to the dominant ideologies of the empires that surrounded them (historically, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Egypt, etc.). Here, then, are several key passages that speak to this issue of schooling for a better world:

They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore. (2:4)

In a world where might was both created and defended by violence, slaughter and warfare, Yahweh asks his people to turn the instruments of bloodshed into instruments of life (the tilling of the ground). How necessary is this vision still today? In the empire in which we live, where we spend more on our military than the next closest 13 countries combined; where the total cost of wars to the United States since 2001 is $443 billion; where, in the past 12 years, over 1,830 Americans have been killed and over 15,780 Americans have been wounded in Afghanistan alone, asking students to wrestle with the underlying root causes of violence in the human experience seems like a good place to start. Why are we, as humans, so violent to our own kind? Is war hardwired into our DNA? Could we (not even will we…just could we) ever have a world without war? These are the types of questions schools should ask students to grapple with if we ever want to see a world where grain and not blood is sown into the ground.

Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow. (1:17)

The numbers of oppressed, fatherless and widows in our country are staggering. There are many types of oppression, but the one that seems the most senseless in a culture that needs women for its reproduction and sustenance is that of violence to women. In the U.S., 90 percent of welfare recipients are women and one in five women will experience rape; worldwide, it is more dangerous to be a women than to be a soldier, where violent sexual assault is rampant. “More girls were killed in the last 50 years, precisely because they were girls, than men killed in all the wars in the 20th century” (Half the Sky). 

The fatherless issue is another central issue facing the United States where 63% of youth suicides, 90% of all teenage runaways, 71% of all dropouts, and 85% of all youth in prison come from fatherless homes (http://thefatherlessgeneration.wordpress.com/statistics/). And at least 245 million women around the world have been widowed and more than 115 million of them live in devastating poverty (http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/2010-06-23-un-widows-poverty_N.htm).

These are grave and urgent issues. Asking students to lean into these issues (many of which may be affecting them directly) is part of what schooling for a better “world to come” would look like.

“They will feed beside the roads
    and find pasture on every barren hill.
10 They will neither hunger nor thirst (49:10). 

The statistics on hunger and malnutrition are staggering:

Hunger in America exists for over 50 million people. 1 in 6 of the U.S. population (including more than 1 in 5 children) frequently skip meals or eat too little, sometimes going without food for a whole day.  (http://bit.ly/hoWFxr)

Each day in the developing world, 30,100 children die from mostly preventable and treatable causes such as diarrhea, acute respiratory infections or malaria. Malnutrition is associated with over half of those deaths.  About 1% of children in the United States suffer from chronic malnutrition (http://www.hopkinschildrens.org/Malnutrition.aspx).

Schooling should do more than provide hot meals to kids during the day (though it should certainly do that); schools should make finding solutions to the issue of hunger one of the top priorities, and it should ask students to be at the vanguard of doing that work.

This, then, is my eschatological vision for schooling (which, as you will see, is a bit different from the current rhetoric surrounding education today):

   To proclaim good news to the poor.
     to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners.

To comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve.                                                                  To restore the places long devastated;                                                                             to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free                                                                                           To spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed (Isaiah 61, 58)

What if schooling sought to proclaim good news to the poor? What if it worked to bind up the brokenhearted? What if it proclaimed freedom for the captives and release from darkness for prisoners of all kinds (those incarcerated both in actual jails and to things like drugs and alcohol, pornography, addictions, gambling, anxiety, eating disorders, etc.)? What if we asked students to spend themselves on behalf of the poor, the hungry, the oppressed?

What if Isaiah 61 were the mission statement of schools (rather than the trite statements I all-too-often see that say something about “educating the whole child” while all they do in practice is test that child to death), not just as a religious worldview, but as a way of seeing education shape a better story both for the student and for the common good?

Can you imagine how the “old order” of things like violence, oppression, gangs, poverty, crime, hunger, pollution, sexual assault, etc. might start to disappear if schools took seriously their mandate to shape fully flourishing human beings capable and desirous of “making all things new”?

Paulo Freire, the great philosopher of education and one of the founders of social reconstructionism said this, “Man’s ontological vocation is to be a Subject who acts upon and transforms his world, and in so doing moves toward ever new possibilities of fuller and richer life individually and collectively.”

What if schools actually dared to ask students to wrestle with issues like human trafficking, foster care, the marginalization of women, child hunger, racial injustice, and preventable diseases as part and parcel of the rigor of the curriculum?

David Orr said this, “The plain fact is that the planet does not need more ‘successful’ people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every shape and form. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane.”

My dream is to ask more of schools than we currently do; to move beyond “school reform” and ask schools to shape more peacemakers, healers, and storytellers. Our world desperately needs people of moral courage who have the skills, capacity and desire to step into these issues. To see this vision come to fruition demands more than test-scores, worksheets, and longer class hours; it requires visionary leadership, social imagination, and the fortitude to do more than send kids into the marketplace equipped only to be the best consumers possible.

It is a prophetic vision that requires the scorching conviction of the prophet. Is it possible? I think so. We have lived long enough in the current system with little to show for it but high drop out rates on one end and the lack of moral purpose on the other. Is it worth trying? For the sake of our children and our common humanity, it must be.