All Saints Benhilton
Sunday 1st August
Year A 18
Isaiah 55: 1-3; Rom. 8: 35, 37-39; Matt. 14: 13-21
If there is one subject which can be counted on to get a roomful of people talking, that subject is Education.
People will readily admit that they don't understand the situation in Northern Ireland; or that they don't know whether the Common Currency would be a good or bad idea; or why the Stock Exchange keeps on going up and down like a yo-yo these days. But mention anything to do with Education to them and everyone knows (or thinks he knows) what you're talking about and that his views on the subject are as valuable as anyone else's
That's why it seemed a good idea to take up the theme of this Sunday's readings and apply them to the subject of education. For the whole episode of Jesus feeding the five thousand was seen, even at the time it first happened, as being concerned with more than just satisfying people's appetites for material food. In St John's Gospel, you will remember, this incident leads straight into a long discourse by Jesus about his being the bread of life and contrasting this with the bread which perishes; and when Isaiah was writing to God's people some five hundred years previously and said "Why spend money on what is not bread, your wages on what fails to satisfy?' he went on, as we heard in the first reading to hear God say "Pay attention, come to me; listen and your soul will live.
Jesus and Isaiah are both reminding their hearers of that well-known truth in the Book of Deuteronomy "Man shall not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God". In other words, you can feed people on bread until it comes out of their ears, you can entertain them till they turn into couch-potatoes; but bread and circuses on their own will never satisfy them or turn them into a nation of disaffected savages.
What's lacking in this diet of bread and circuses is something called education, and in particular education in matters which have to do with the deeper meaning of life: the kind of things, in other words that Isaiah and Jesus and St Paul talked about and which we hear read week by week in Church. Most people realise that there's something seriously lacking in that part of their lives which is why they immediately prick up their ears whenever someone mentions education.
However, it's one thing to be prepared to speak one's mind on a subject; it's quite another to know what one's talking about. And education is a widely misunderstood word.
For example, did you know that the word education comes from two quite distinct, though related, Latin words, each of which highlights a different aspect of education. The words are educare and educere which very roughly speaking correspond to our notions of teaching and leading respectively.
Educere, or leading, gives us such words as induce, seduce, conducive and a whole lot of others which suggest the idea of leading other people along a particular path. Educare on the other hand has more of the sense of feeding people, training them, bringing them up as a child or a plant or an animal needs to be trained to learn certain basic skills and provides it with a framework within it can grow and develop. You might compare the difference between the two words by saying that leading is like the taxi-driver who takes you, conducts you, to a particular site of historic interest, and the well-informed guide who conducts you round it and shares with you his knowledge about it.
Of course both types of conducting have their part to play their part in education and it's obvious, isn't it, that they should work together side-by-side in the educational process. A teacher who's no good at leading isn't going to get the discipline needed for people to learn anything; but the leader who's only interested in having a big following may easily end up by leading his followers up the garden path – or worse!. As followers the probability is that they will find out nothing for themselves.
Most people recognize that this is so. What they don't realise, however, is that over the last forty years there has been a slow, but detectable tipping of the balance away from feeding people on the truth and towards letting them "find out things for themselves". The role of Teacher has changed from being that of someone who plants, and cherishes and feeds ideas into their students, to that of being someone who leads their students to where knowledge can be found and encourages them to forage around in the hope that they will learn about things for themselves.
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