Leaving School

I always liked school and did well, at the academic part of it anyway.  My first job out of college was  teaching Jr. High at a private boarding school in California, very much like the one I had attended in New York. I was right at home. From there I went back to the other side of the desk and enrolled in seminary for three years. Then off to Kenya to teach, this time at the undergraduate level. Then back to graduate school for 4 more years. Then back to Kenya for 3 years, teaching this time at the master’s level.

That adds up to 32 years in the academy, as either a student or teacher, counting pre-school. At age 35 I realized I had nothing but book-learning. If I was to have any integrity teaching I knew I had to get some real-world experience.

And that’s when the trouble began.

I returned to the US and took my first pastorate, in rural Southern Illinois. There I learned it was much easier to take the boy out of the academy than it is to take the academy out of the boy. I was baffled by how uninterested my new parishioners were in all that I had to teach them. Why did they fall asleep during my lectures, I mean, sermons.  Why did some glower at me?

I came to realize that most of them had not loved school as much as I had. They had probably found it boring, at best, or irrelevant, or even abusive.  They were eager to get out and get on with life.

Over the next six years I learned a lot.  I came to love and admire “real” people.  But my heart still longed for the academy, where I could really make a difference.

In 2000 we returned to Kenya and my beloved teaching.  But it was not the same. I found I was no longer a “true believer” in the values and structures of higher education. I had lost my trust in the power of great ideas to make a great impact. I saw how the academy worked well for academics, and tended to produce them in abundance, but the trickle-down benefit to the common man and to society in general  was minimal–certainly not enough to justify the expense and effort of creating and maintaining institutions of “higher learning.”

This short video has helped me make sense of many things I have been feeling.  It shows how middle-class life is really an extension of “school”.

I think it is particularly relevant for the church.  Especially for Anglicans.  We have always been “schoolish” folk.  We like to play by the rules. We respect authority.  We trust the curriculum to deliver us to a living wage and a comfortable life. Mostly, we do quite well.  But we aren’t very creative, and we certainly try to avoid risk if we can. We aren’t very practical. And I am not sure we are making much of an impact.

See if the video doesn’t stimulate some thinking.

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