Honking Geese, Ploughs and a Teapot: A Vision for Christian Education

Last November on a beautiful, sunny Sunday, my husband and I went for a long, leisurely walk through the fields. We heard a loud honking in the distance, and saw a vast flock of Canada geese in V formation. Suddenly the honking sounds escalated, and the entire flock made an enormous U-turn. Five minutes later, we heard the chaos again and observed that now they were going back in the original direction. As Rachel Field notes in her poem Something Told the Wild Geese:

“Something told the wild geese

It was time to go

Though the fields lay golden

Something whispered, ‘snow.’”

What is it that directs the geese to know which way to go? The leader is critical in this structure, and when the leader gets tired, another one slides into position. If someone is sick and falls, two other geese go down to tend to the fallen one and bring him back up or else stay with him till he dies. Then they catch up with the flock again. If one slows down, the neighbours honk louder to keep them moving. It sounds like there is a tremendous sense of community amongst these fair fowl. Doesn’t it sound a bit like the community behind Christian education? The community workers, bazaar planners, teachers, administrators, support staff, parents, and grandparents are all a vital part of keeping a school afloat, both financially and educationally. The commitment this takes is incredible. As our students wrestle with issues of faith and friendship, and search for what it means to be servants of Christ, they not only look to their parents, but also to their teachers as leaders of the “formation” that is the path of their academic and spiritual lives. Like young geese following the path of their leaders, these students are being prepared to go out equipped with the skills needed to take up their calling.

We can find metaphors for teaching not only in the air with geese, but also in the earth, with cultivating. The pedagogy plough must be sharpened and refocused to meet the needs of today’s youth in this technological era. Teaching, or pushing the pedagogy plough, can be hard work! Christian school teachers need to be driven by their worldview, and be intentional and deliberate in word and action. That said, it is possible to plough focusing on a straight line ahead, and forget what’s around you. Conversely, it is possible to enjoy all the surroundings, and forget the child in front of you. We must not lose sight of our goal. It is easy to fall out of line when we don’t maintain perspective. But maintaining perspective is not easy. How do we find a balance? How do we spread the load? How do we share the vision? Declining enrolment means more tasks for fewer people. With tired workers, who is going to continue to push the plough, and what will the field end up looking like?

Let me tell a story about a simple teapot. It’s not a glamorous or even an antique teapot. Every year our school, like many other Christian schools, hosts a bazaar. When I was a student, the teapot (forever a staple item at these functions) always raised a good price, sometimes up to one hundred dollars, which was a lot of money in those days. Everyone wanted their name on that teapot. Every year the same teapot was donated back to the school, and once again, the bidders and onlookers would hold their breath to see what it would raise on the auction stand. This went on for a long time, until it disappeared in the back of someone’s cupboard. It resurfaced several years ago, and now it resides in the school office. Every year it is sold again and donated back. To me, this symbolizes the worldview of our parents and grandparents. They pooled all their resources to build a Christian school. They weren’t concerned about appearances or how deep they had to dig in their pockets, but they had a vision for Christian education. Many smoke-filled board room meetings were held with endless discussions on the essence of Christian education, and many cups of strong, black tea were served.

Today, in 2010, we continue to expand our curricular “menu” with programs for students who need extra challenges and those who have learning needs. It’s amazing to see students who feel weak and incapable stand tall and confident upon receiving extra help and having their programs modified. Beyond curricular modification, our students also work on service projects out in the community. At other times, we have the community come into the schools. Instead of serving tea, as in the original, formative “teapot” years, schools now offer coffee: not only regular, but express and cappuccino as well. Our “menu” has certainly expanded in the past few decades! Our particular school’s mission is “To provide each student with opportunities to grow and develop within the community of learners to be equipped to serve God and others.” What a beautiful challenge! Grade ten students who go to downtown Toronto for a week come home with impressions they’ll never forget. As one student (from Durham High School) noted upon returning from one of these trips, “Service education week was eye opening. I was amazed at what it takes to live homeless. How can one live that way and not turn away from God and towards prostitution, drugs, and alcohol?” (Durham Developments, Fall 2009).

Through this expanded “beverage menu” of curricular and extracurricular activities, Christian educators have the privilege of challenging youth to expand their worldview in the hopes that by doing so, these students become people of compassion who seek justice. We do this by intentionally sharpening our pedagogical ploughs so as to remain thoughtful and effective cultivators of knowledge. Like geese, we can fly in freedom, and in doing so, lead our young on so they can later fly on their own and become leaders of their flocks. Our task as Christian educators is great. We must keep honking loudly so that our students recognize us by our actions and deeds, and maintain our V formation, so that our work reflects our shared vision as a community of Christian educators.