“Who are YOU?” said the Caterpillar.

This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly. “I-I hardly know, sir, just at present – at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”[1]

It was Francis Schaeffer, the Christian scholar who said that humanity in the modern world has “both feet firmly planted in mid-air”.[2]

In this world, we live in a culture foreign to our ancestors.

Social imaginary is “the way ordinary people ‘imagine’ their social surroundings . . . (and) is carried in images, stories, legends. . .”[3] In traditional culture, identity was defined by role and duty.

In the story, lived in the City of Man in 2020, each person is alone in the universe because only you can construct your authentic identity. Only you can achieve it and then you will have a sense of worth and dignity.

The emergence of the secular is bound up with the production of a new option of exclusive humanism[4]which gives unprecedented primacy to the individual. Each one is to be free to construct their own meaning connected to their own personal choice. Expressive individualism[5] is the understanding that each person has their own unique way of realizing their humanity. To live in this age of authenticity is to look inside oneself to choose who you want to be. Its salvation song is to ‘self-identify’. The language of self-definition is ‘Do your own thing’, ‘be whoever you want to be’. The ultimate goal is individual well-being.

As Christian teachers, our role is to assist our students to see their identity as a gift to be received and explored. Each student is created a unique image-bearer with intrinsic worth and designed for a God-given purpose. Exploring identity and meaning must begin with ‘whose am I?’ and be understood in the context of community. I don’t belong to myself, ‘I am bought with a price[6] and gifted to love and serve others.

Secular education pushes students to be autonomous individuals – those who are free to pursue their own interests in service of their own definition of fulfilment.

As teachers, we must recognise that this is a crushing script for students to live by because as fallen people our desires and longings are disordered; they are contradictory and can constantly change. The nature of sin is independence – autonomy from God and like our first parents, grasping to determine what is good and evil for ourselves.

In the movie Dead Poet’s Society, the teacher Mr Keating encourages the students to make their own lives extraordinary because when they die they will only be “food for worms”. Each one had to be master of their own destiny, encouraged to create their own meaning. The consequence of living this script was tragedy for a student who had lost what he thought would give his life meaning. He lost hope and deemed his life was no longer worth living.

Our story has a transcendent reference point – it finds its meaning in the person of Jesus Christ. He embodied what it means to be truly human [7] and His Gospel work sets us free to be the new humanity[8]who lives under the rule of God.

How do we assist our students to orientate their lives to their Creator, to move from self-orientation to follow Christ and outward to others who they are to love as themselves? The classroom is to be a place where truth and faith are evidenced in loving relationships, in good works and servant leadership that replaces individual autonomy. It is vital that we consider how the design of the teaching and learning orientates our students’ minds and hearts to the living God and His purposes for them.

Our identity as human beings is a gracious gift from our Creator and Redeemer who has provided us with a normative story in which to dwell. The story of God’s City is the Story of Grace, coming to the end of self-sufficiency.

Let us pray that we can be channels of God’s grace to help students to be firmly planted in the City of God.

You, my brothers (and sisters) were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature, rather serve one another in love.”[9]

Grace and Peace

The Team

The Excellence Centre

[1] Carroll, L. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Chapter 6)

[2] https://www.azquotes.com/quote/867349

[3] Smith, JKA. How (Not) to be Secular. Pp143

[4] A term coined by Charles Taylor

[5] A term coined by Robert N Bellah

[6] 1 Corinthians 6:20

[7] John 1:14

[8] Ephesians 2:14-17

[9] Galatians 5:13

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