Re-forming Education

There are a lot of very smart people in Episcopal schools and they are thinking about education in complex and exciting ways.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in the workshops and plenary sessions at Biennial Conference 2010 (November 18–20) that focused on the inter-connectedness of all people, the complexities of cross-cultural and interfaith understanding, and the importance of nourishing our students’ spiritual lives.While the public debate around educational reform continues to focus on standardized curricula and mastery of discrete skills, Biennial Conference 2010 instead celebrated managing complexity, exploring multiple perspectives, and attending to the “soul’s work” as the truly essential “skills” for the 21st century .

The session on Haiti partnerships urged schools to abandon outdated, paternalistic notions of “privileged” and “underprivileged” in favor of meaningful, mutual relationships across the economic divide. A workshop on global education emphasized “global competence,” a framework that goes well beyond a focus on factual knowledge to emphasize adaptive thinking, “nested identities,” and facility with multiple perspectives.

In his keynote address, Eboo Patel echoed a similar theme. What is needed, he stated, is a shift from mere “religious literacy” (a focus primarily on factual knowledge) to “inter-faith literacy,” an approach that locates religious understanding in a broad context of inter-faith dialogue and positive, personal experiences of many faiths.

More than one workshop presented ways that Episcopal schools can and must help young people to develop and attend to their inner lives, what one presenter called “soul work.” Similarly, the Reverend Paula Lawrence-Wehmiller challenged us in her Opening Eucharist sermon to be “furtherers,” rather than “experts,” by modeling a host of spiritual practices too often neglected in contemporary life such as waiting, remembering, and forgiveness.

It was inspiring to be in the presence of so many committed educators, school leaders, clergy, and chaplains from Episcopal schools across the country and to see first hand the many ways that Episcopal schools are re-forming their mission and ministry.

Thank you to all who presented and contributed to the stimulating dialogue in San Antonio. To those who were not able to attend, NAES looks forward to extending these conversations to include you as we look towards Biennial Conference 2012 in Baltimore!