Schools for Human Flourishing

Teacher and 2 pupils smiling
In an excerpt from a new book, Schools for Human Flourishing, Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, says young people are crying out for an education that draws out their creative gifts and energies.

For some time, an individualistic and consumerist conception  of  success and the good life has been common, and has fostered a utilitarian approach to education, geared towards maximum economic output. But this has not been healthy. As Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett argue in their book, The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone,...'further improvements in the quality of life no longer depend on further economic growth: the issue is now community and how we relate to each other’.

Growing up in Africa, I saw first-hand the blessing of the proverb, ‘it takes a whole village to raise a child’. I know that any further improvements in education cannot rest solely on  the  academic  and  the  mind,  but  must  take  into  account  the  impact  of  community  upon those individuals who are part of it. Conversely, it is quite possible for the education of our children and young people to have an impact on community and even upon the nation’s soul and character. Either way, the challenge remains: how can schools help young people engage with their communities, in a meaningful way?

Grace Lee Boggs suggests that instead of getting young people to; ‘...remain in the classrooms isolated from their communities...we need to develop strategies to help children transform themselves into positive change agents and begin creating a new model which empowers young people to make a difference.’ Classroom learning will never be enough if we want to educate and nurture young people’s hearts, souls and minds for the benefit of the community. How can we provide them with meaningful opportunities to engage with society and experience the positive effects of serving others? 

I  have  seen  the  evidence  of  how  this  can  work  in  my  Archbishop  of  York  Youth  Trust’s  Young  Leaders  Award.  Through this work, many  young  people  have  been  nurtured and educated in their hearts, souls and minds, and as a result have been empowered to become active citizens in their communities.

The YLA embodies the principles of educere*, and provides genuine opportunities for young people to grow in faith, leadership, character,  and  service.  Within  each  award  every  young  person  takes  part  in  a  social  action  project  for  the  benefit  of  the  community.  I  continue  to  be  amazed  by  the  things  I  see  and  hear  when  young  people  are  empowered  to  love,  care  and  serve  their  communities with passion and dedication.

In  his  chapter  in  my  book,  On  Rock  or  Sand  Andrew  Adonis  said, ‘Education is the key enabler of social integration and individual moral purpose’. I believe that education can be the vehicle to bring back out of social and economic exclusion those who suffer disadvantage and have become detached.

Take Luke,  a  year  7  student  who  opted  to  help  his  local  foodbank  as  part  of  his  personal challenge. Over a period of weeks and months, Luke built up five food parcels with enough food and toiletries for three days each and three meals per day. In all, Luke managed to get together  50  kilos  of  supplies.  It’s  not  only  amazing  what  Luke  did  for  others, but in ten years’ time what will this mean to him as an individual? What will this training mean to him when he becomes a man, a husband, a father?

Another example is George who, having failed at primary school to meet any of his  early  learning  goals,  was  struggling  with  behaviour  issues  and  was  totally  disengaged. Through the award he was given the opportunity to learn about a charity and tell his class about  it.  George  had  barely  spoken  in  class  before,  yet  something  about  this  project connected with his heart, mind and soul, and before he knew it he was giving a wonderful presentation on the work of Dementia UK, sharing how his grandfather was suffering from the condition and had recently been moved into a home. His peers were so moved by his story that they unanimously voted that this charity should be the one to support. Spurred on by this experience of educere, George co-ordinated fundraising events in the community, and in turn became increasingly engaged in his schooling. It was the head’s view that because he engaged with the award, George’s attitude to learning had changed so much that it bore fruit not only in the way he had learned to serve his community, but also  in  remarkably  high  achieving  SATs  results.  George’s  story  was  a  wonderful achievement, and one which models the principles of heart, soul and mind education in the context of community.

educere* meaning ‘to lead and draw out that which lies within’.


For further information about “Schools for Human Flourishing”