Rethinking Head, Heart, Hands in Education
Dr. Christina Belcher explores how the educational world and the virtual world interact with each other.
12 min. read
March 20, 2017

This story was originally published in The Christian Teachers Journal, Volume 25.1 (February 2017). 

Much has been pondered in education lately about ‘head, heart, and hands’ learning. This topic is not new. It begs us to examine the original intent of such language in a biblical sense. Why? Because, at its root, this is a foundational and philosophical dilemma, prior to being a pedagogical one. If we were to examine how head, heart, and hands is interpreted, the analysis must be grounded in the philosophical intent of the teacher.

This raises three broad questions. It questions what education is, what it is for, and why it matters. It questions how culture and faith connect in an understanding of head, heart, and hands. It questions being faithful and discerning in how the first and second questions are put into service.

What is education, what is it for, and why does it matter?

Recently, I had the joy of speaking at a fundraiser for Christian education. This gave rise to a serious philosophical consideration of what education is, what it is for, and why it matters. We need to first acknowledge the fact that a majority of people are educated in public venues, not Christian ones. Christians can be confused about the purposes behind education, and schooling, and how they differ; and differ they do!

People have different foundational reasons for schooling. Some believe that schooling exists to provide information and skills for employment—and for documentation that makes students hireable after formal education is completed. The task of schooling is to deliver information, provide external motivation, and pass on learning that is culturally relevant to meet required employment and goals. Efficiency is valued. Students receive grades, and often think of themselves as a grade throughout their schooling. From this habit and liturgy of thought, schooling focuses on output of currently relevant information and becomes a mirror of society. Process and performance may be efficient, but they alone will not regenerate the heart.

Educating, from a Christian perspective, is concerned with human formation.

Educating, from a Christian perspective, is concerned with human formation. It exists to assist in the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual formation of students so that they can become a specific kind of person. Christian education has a consistently moral intent; desiring to equip the next generation to be citizens who further what is good and restrain what is evil as ambassadors of Christ. It is consistent in generating principles that align with the character of Christ. It seeks to serve creation and society. Christian education becomes a compass for society. This understanding is fundamental to nurturing the heart of the child. Luke 6:40 reminds us that students will become like their teachers. In aligning head, heart, and hands, the head is more than intellect. Postman understood that this understanding was at the core of education:

What makes public schools public is not so much that the schools have common goals, but that the students have common gods. The reason for this is that public education does not serve a public. It creates a public . . . The question is What kind of public does it create? (1995, pp. 17-18)

The focus of the head in Christian education exists for the formation of the heart. A different intent produces a different child, not just a different pedagogy.

How do culture and faith connect in understanding the head and heart?

We live in a digital culture. In a digital age, much ‘action’ is virtual. This is significant because now we have a third invasive ‘teacher’—that of technology. I have been in the call of Christian education for a long time now, and one thing that I see as troubling is that what is essential to life in human formation has been left as ‘assumed’ rather than verbalized. Adults in authority assume children will obey parents (not devices), make good choices (not expedient ones with no moral or ethical voice), eat meals with the family (not in front of a screen or with an app), and be free from mental illness (the loss of ability to ‘attend’; to pay attention). However, I see, even in Christian higher education, Christian students seeking out a device or peer for a solution to a problem, making choices without deep thought, rarely eating with family (maybe twice a week), and acquiring an increased social anxiety and loss of the ability to pay attention in school.

This generation would seem to favour the politically correct over the essential. Media tells parents and educators that students need more technology or they will be left behind. The latest devices are postured to be beneficial to education, but are they really? It is true that they contain more information. But are devices replacing our ways of being together and interfering with how we educate the heart at every age? And if so, what do students think, since they are digital natives? More importantly, how can an educator of the heart respond to this in authentic ways? Education is a relational enterprise.

I am not saying everything about technology or the digital age is negative. This culture provides many blessings and many challenges. We are blessed with longer life spans, better health options, safer travel, instant global connection, and immediate access. We are challenged with shorter attention spans, higher anxiety, less courtesy, less empathy, less hospitality, and more addictions. The battle with technology is a two-fold battle. Harris (2014) says it is a battle for the ability to ‘attend’; to pay attention to anything or anyone. Turkle (2016), sees it as a battle to retain and experience reflective, authentic, and meaningful conversations. The dilemma is how to educate the heart when students use technology, so it does not use them. The heart of education is centred in the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). How can an intentional connection between head and heart be activated?

How can heart and head become intentional to action?

This dilemma applies to me; I am involved with teacher education in a university. I get the prodigy of the many teachers that have shaped elementary and high school students. I may be the last formal educator for some of my students. Christians are urged (Smith, 2016) to put their time, habits, money, and life into living liturgies of the things we love. I need to plan to talk intentionally about how this is being of value to the next generation. As Green (2016) has noted in the latest Cardus project on Education in Canada, if all that the church stands for (service, grace, truth, justice, mercy) was removed from education, and thus from society, so much of a loss would be felt in the world. It would be a much darker place. Heart requires intentional service.

“We are blessed with longer life spans, better health options, safer travel, instant global connection, and immediate access. We are challenged with shorter attention spans, higher anxiety, less courtesy, less empathy, less hospitality and more addictions.”

Every semester, my students and I reason together about life and what it will hold in the high calling of being educators. We challenge each others’ social and spiritual beliefs as to the merits of the culture and age in which we live. I make it known to them in every course, that they are the last generation in history that will not have been raised in a completely digital age; an age where portable technology is available day and night. We discuss the burden that will be placed on them as Christians, to model what they love, to craft a liturgy of applied habit, and to teach students to love discernment. Some of our conversations have prompted them to note things in their culture that they want to amend. Much of this involves language and technology. Some of their conclusions include:

  1. In education, texting is done in symbolic language which has removed the ability to write well. I will teach the skills of cursive and comprehension, and the power of words, fluency, and intent. Words have life, and I must engage them socially.
  2. Students no longer speak without rampant ‘filler language’ and slang, and do not express full thoughts or sentences well. I will become deliberate in my own speech, use courtesy, manners, and compassion in words and treat people with respect. I will make that a classroom management goal.
  3. Teachers can easily become habitual in sending students to a device for information they cannot question. I will teach them to use primary sources well, to consult and probe the minds of mentors/elders on a topic, and reflect on what it does and does not say.
  4. Parents can use technology to avoid conflict or teaching of social graces and behavioural norms (i.e., iPads in restaurants). I will create situations for children where relationships are still essential, and stress key learning in parenting, homemaking, and mentoring for life.
  5. Young children (toddlers) have been noted to try to sweep pages of a picture book as if they were screens on an iPad, as they do not know how to encounter print. I will marinate children in books, discuss reflections from reading, and provoke conversations that connect to meaningful and spiritual living.
  6. People in the same room text each other. I will talk to those around me and avoid sending texts. I will keep chocolate and tea cups available for conversations!
  7. A virtual world has more lure than a real one. I will replace amusement and the lure of a device with the wonder of active learning, and plan intentionally to connect head, heart, and hands.
  8. Internet technology can subtly shape us into an image of its own making. I will know who I am, and set boundaries for the tool of technology on my time.
  9. People desire playing less because they think it takes too long, and yet hours at home on devices are not considered. I will reacquaint children with the natural world around them, and teach them to be able to live from the land in gardening and basic survival skills.
  10. In grade three, 75% of children have cell phones. I can learn to say no to digital devices in my classroom that do not further learning.

Concerns from this list can be intentionally activated and implemented as a future classroom project, public event, media, or research publication. Practice must be more than digital. Application flows from leaning into life with intention to practice. Misinformation may seduce us into thinking that doing something with your hands in the short- term is sufficient, rather than intentionally planning for long-term change.

Faithful discernment in authentic practice

We can choose to give students agency to be gate keepers of love, grace, and truth in an age where technology as a religion is living up to a former prophetic statement:

But at some point it becomes far from asinine to speak of the god of Technology – in the sense that people believe technology works, that they rely on it, that it makes promises, that they are bereft when denied access to it, that they are delighted when they are in its presence, that for most people it works in mysterious ways, that they condemn people who speak against it, that they stand in awe of it, and that, in the born-again mode, they will alter their lifestyles, their schedules, their habits, and their relationships to accommodate it. If this be not a form of religious belief, what is? (Postman, 1995, p. 38).

When digital technology (the Internet) spreads hate, Christians can spread grace and hope, equipping children to experience wonder, truth, justice, and reconciliation. It is important to generate the principles of life that we love. Christian education can represent the voice of the church in the larger landscape of society. Students in elementary and high school venture on to university and go into the world with a cause that makes them a ‘particular’ kind of citizen, one who values the Christian faith in the world, and often does service to show it. The world needs to hear and see Christian principles for living. Current culture is experiencing the wane of an ethical and moral voice amid a plethora of information claims. This peaks in an inability to listen or be hospitable, to the ‘other’ in our midst. Media often portrays Christians as those who stand against what they hate. We can choose a mission to further what we love!

We do not keep Christianity out of society by removing it from schools or other institutions. We remove Christianity by not supporting it, by not giving value to it as a foundation for society, and eventually, by forgetting it. T. S. Eliot, whom you may be more familiar with as a poet, was a great advocate of Christians being active in education:

The Christian can be satisfied with nothing less than a Christian organization of society—which is not the same thing as a society consisting exclusively of devout Christians. It would be a society in which the natural end of man—virtue and well-being in community—is acknowledged for all, and the supernatural end—beatitude—for those who have the eyes to see it. (Eliot, 1967, p. 27)

I have been totally captivated by one of my former graduation benedictions: Go forth into the world with your calling and be a blessing. Wholeheartedly. Without reservation. Bless the world. That is where head, heart, and hands may holistically and meaningfully connect.

References

Cardus. (2016). Cardus education—survey schedule. Retrieved from https://www.cardus.ca/research/education/survey_schedule/ Accessed from the web, Nov. 20, 2016

Eliot, T. S. (1967). Christianity and culture. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace Jovanovitch Publishers.

Harris, M. (2014). The end of absence: Reclaiming what we’ve lost in a world of constant connection. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishing.

Postman, N. (1995). The end of education: Redefining the value of school. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

Smith, J. K. A. (2016). You are what you love: The spiritual power of habit. Grand Rapids, MI: BrazosPress.

Turkle, S. (2016). Reclaiming conversation: The power of talk in a digital age. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

 

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