The endless delight that is my daughter recently celebrated her third birthday. After pieces of cake were prised from the carpet, my wife and I embarked on a conversation about the inevitable.
Our daughter's age means we have to face the issue of education. Being considerably wiser than me, my wife refused to reduce the question to which primary school to choose. Rather, she threw everything up in the air with the simple yet profound question, 'Well, what is our current education system for?'
Even a brief foray into that landscape reveals that the word 'education' has come to mean something quite specific in our contemporary context. Sir Ken Robinson, an education specialist, argues that there were no public systems of education prior to the industrial revolution. These systems were created to produce the labour force required by the modern industrialised economy. This makes sense of why there is a hierarchy of subjects - with the sciences at the top and the arts at the bottom. You are more likely to get a job if you excel in maths rather than dance. Our system benignly steers children towards the former.
Whilst Robinson is rightly concerned with the impact this has on creativity, what is also of interest is that economics has had the dominating voice in determining what education is for. In 1905, Elwood Cubberly, who later became the Dean of Education at Stanford, wrote: 'Schools should be factories in which raw products, children, are to be shaped and formed into finished products... the specifications for manufacturing will come from government and industry.'
Whilst such language might shock us and seem inappropriate today, I wonder if the logic behind it has significantly changed. Though being equipped for the marketplace is important, surely education encompasses much more than that?
One thing that has helped our conversation is the simple realisation that the biblical term most synonymous with education is discipleship.
Imagining education through the lens of discipleship challenges the centrality of economics. Discipleship involves being trained in a particular way of life. In the same way, our system of education disciples those who participate in it in a way of life - which is, arguably, the privileging of economic success above all else. Christians, whose desires and imaginations are shaped by the all-embracing gospel of God, have a richer story to tell.
'So, what should education be for?' Discuss.