March 30, 2008

The End of Religion and the End of School

This post was last updated on December 12th, 2011 at 03:16 pm

This post is not intended to spark a debate about religion or Christianity but rather draw attention to an analogy that might be helpful for some. I hope it’s a useful comparison of two huge societal shifts.

I had the pleasure of hearing Bruxy Cavey speak on Friday. Bruxy is a pastor and author of the book The End of Religion. The premise of his book revolves around Jesus’ attempt to stop religion, tradition and liturgy from being the foundations of belief and spirituality. He makes a compelling case for Christs’ desire for people to be free from the law and experience a life built around a person rather than a set of rules.

“What Jesus came to establish was a subversive spirituality outside the boundary markers of traditional religion, and in the process he made religion itself obsolete.”

As he was speaking I couldn’t help think of two educators: Stephen Downes and Clay Burell. Stephen has for a long time given up on the hope that schools in their current state can possibly achieve a true level of personal learning. His and others idea of deschooling is one that for most gets a nod but is quickly tossed aside as “it’s-not-going-to-happen-so-why-bother”. Clay’s unschooliness theme runs through his blog and I’ve stolen his quote many times to say I don’t like school but love learning.

Could we modify the above quote to this?:

“Personal Learning comes as a subversive education model outside the boundary markers of traditional schooling, and in the process makes school itself obsolete.”



So as I listened to Bruxy I was amazed at the number of connections between his idea about religion and my own beliefs about school. Without getting into too much detail about his talk and book, it became apparent to me that what many are fighting for is to not necessarily abandon school but to eliminate the structure and traditions of school that interfere with learning. This is hard work. Bruxy does many things to remove religion from his own church. Witness his recent podcast with the friendly atheist.

Because everyone on the planet has virtually all come to think of school and learning synonymously, it’s difficult for many to see beyond the structure of school. The people of the New Testament experienced the same thing when it came to religion. They only knew about God in the context of religious structure, not all of which was bad, but it had become the focal point of spiritual life and to tamper with it was blasphemous. Jesus is relentless in pointing out the hypocrisies.

Clay and Stephen and others do this often and often with contrary results. While I know Stephen has largely given up on schools but there is hope. Those of us working inside these institutions recognize that the boundaries imposed on us by the very structure of the organizations aren’t very effective. The structure of current schools was developed largely in an industrial age where it met a particular need at a particular time. So too did the religious structures. Jesus came to change that. In schools our need for change is precipitated by many things certainly access to information and people being a major force. Just as with many churches that are not purely focused on their religiosity, neither are all schools focused on schooliness. There are moments, individuals and leaders looking to make school more about learning and less about structure. When it comes to my specific role as someone charged with making technology seamless in our schools, it’s clear to me that just as there are those bound by structures of school there are those who see often see technology as the structure we ought to believe in. At times I’m guilty of this.

I need to see that learning is the goal. Okay so this may seem obvious but in the daily grind it’s easy to become the Pharisees of modern education. We have difficulty when students don’t respond to school the way we think they ought to. Personal learning has little place in many of our classrooms. The frustrations of those of us who recognize this hypocrisy grows every day. We are looking for someone who can change this. Someone with authority who can break down the traditions and structure that so often bind us from what learning should look like. There are certainly glimmers of hope.

Back to Bruxy. He was asked at the end of his talk, “How do you justify working in a church when you seem to be saying that Christ came to end religion?”. His answer was that it’s not that churches in themselves are bad, structure has its place but believing that the structure itself will save you is where you run into trouble.

He finished by giving the example of a thirsty person licking the outside of the water bottle. Obviously ridiculous. But the bottle represents the structure. What we really want is inside the bottle. Can this be true of schools? If so, no wonder our students are often left unsatisfied and go through the motions of what they think we want from them.

I’m sure you can poke holes in this analogy, but for me I was challenged but this idea and can’t help but doing a little pattern recognition and also practicing what Stephen preaches about expanding your network of ideas.

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