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They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more. Isaiah 2:4

In previous posts, I have argued that what is needed in education is not school reform, but school redemption. This, for me, is an important distinction. School reform is about firing more arrows at the target, aiming for more efficiency, greater accuracy, better measurables, more quantifiable data, increased standards, “college and career” readiness, etc. School redemption is about reimagining the target altogether.

For me, this vision of school redemption is rooted in the prophetic narratives in the Hebrew scriptures, and my personal favorite is the book of Isaiah. School redemption, for me, is rooted in the following passage from Isaiah 61 (a passage Jesus references regarding his own ministry in Luke 4): The Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to comfort all who mourn;They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations, they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

This morning, I spent some time reading Isaiah 2, where that famous passage about turning swords into plowshares occurs. What hit me was the line that followed after that one, a line I have many times overlooked:  neither shall they learn war any more.

What Isaiah is talking about here is a problem of education. It wasn’t just that nations were taking up swords against nations, but that they were being educated to do so. They were learning war. 

This reminds me of the first eleven lines of the Anglo-Saxon poem, Beowulf, where Shield Sheafson is described as a wrecker of mead halls, a scourge of tribes, and a rampager of foes–in short, someone whose life’s work is slaughter, devastation, ruin, oppression, misery, and violence. Line eleven seals the deal: “That was one good king.” The poem goes on to talk about how, from far and wide, young thanes (boys) came to learn how to be warriors just like Shield. Thus, in the heart of this poem, is the very problem into which Isaiah speaks: the art of war, violence, oppression, hatred, power, control, avarice, gluttony, etc. are most dangerous and destructive when they are intentionally passed down as acceptable traits.

Beowulf

In her book, The Peaceable Classroom, Mary Rose O’Reilley poses this very interesting question: “Is it possible to teach ________ (fill in the blank with the subject; hers was English) in such a way that people stop killing each other?” Notice what she is not asking: “Is it possible to teach English so that students get 5s on their AP exams, or get an A in the course, or so that they can clep out of freshman-level Comp 1 in college.” Neither is she asking the rudimentary questions connected to English by purists: “Is it possible to teach English in such a way that we make of them better writers or better literary critics?” No, she is doing the work to which Isaiah prophecies: Teaching her heart out in such a way that human beings stop consuming other human beings.

Think about that for a minute. What if that were the goal of education? Not school reform, but the redemption of all mankind? What if, at the next faculty meeting, that were the thing discussed and not Marzano, data walls, test scores, A-F rankings, online learning tools, benchmarks, etc.?

What if education reformists stopped the nonsense about “common” this and “race” that and started asking, “How can we shape schooling such that students stop killing themselves and each other? How can we shape education such that being competitive in the global economy took a back seat to turning swords into plowshares?” What if school administrators gave their faculty the freedom and space to discuss how they could teach English, math, art, history, science, band, etc. in such a way that liberated captives, rebuilt destroyed lives and communities, turned prisons into playgrounds, proclaimed liberty to those incarcerated in county jail as well as those incarcerated to high-rise corporate offices, released prisoners of poverty and prisoners of gluttony?

What if schooling were a prophetic project and not an economic one?

What if future generations never once learned the art of war?

***This, by the way, is the burning question of my dissertation. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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