There is a recurring dream I’ve been having for nearly fifty years. In my dream it’s the last term before my Highers and I am trying to revise Geography but, horrifyingly, I have done none of the course work - not a single essay. I move from classroom to classroom, fearful of what and who will be behind every door. To quote the great Martha Reeves, there is “nowhere to run, nowhere to hide”. Now I’ve spoken about my general anxiety before, but this is very specific: Geography makes me anxious! So, when last week I received a text from a Geography teacher - remarkably, I didn’t panic! I’ll call him Graham (for that is his name). Graham has spent his career explaining glaciation to young people who probably didn’t always do their homework and, as a Teacher, explaining the disciplinary consequences to students who never did.
But what was clear was that for Graham, discipline was never the only issue, and nor was glaciation. When he spoke about education he used words like ‘social’ and ‘emotional’, ‘restorative’ and ‘justice’. He knew that teaching means more than providing a clear and accessible handout on features of the alpine landscape. He knew that it means helping students learn to deal with each other and the world - to have empathy and to be resilient - to value others and work in a team - to take responsibility for their actions and not just feel blamed. Graham employs an approach that recognises that the health of people and the planet are inseparable and that we are a global family and part of a world which, hopefully, will go on to create a place of global sustainability, friendship, hospitality and justice for all.
Jesus was a great teacher, and He taught those things too. Jesus taught that when we are cared for and valued we are stronger - and we learn how to care for and value others. Jesus taught that when we mess up, justice shouldn’t only be about punishment - it must also be about restoration and forgiveness. The current Covid-19 crisis may take away many things, but we must surely never allow it to deprive us of joyful imagination - our glorious human capacity to envisage a better, loving world for all and then to help create it.
Now, my friend Graham is helping in a school where young offenders can be taught, not just Geography, mercifully, but also some of the skills they might have needed to stay out of trouble in the first place. Because “Graham the teacher” has learned that it helps his students just as much to be emotionally and socially smart as it is to be A* geographers.
I reckon that’s a great way to think about learning: teach people to be whole, not just clever. They’re safer that way - and in a complicated, chaotic, broken world, whole people are just what we need to help put things back together.