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Reflections on Power and Flourishing

Written on February 6th, 2015

[caption id=”attachment_10349” align=”aligncenter” width=”620”]2015-01-20 16.30.38 Students at High Tech High share how they hope to grow in core areas of learning.[/caption]

It’s been two weeks since the mid-winter journey to San Diego interrupted my “enjoyment” of snowy roads and minus 20 degree celsius temperatures. I love to explain to anyone who will listen that a 40 degree temperature change in a few hours is really easy to like if it’s in positive terms. Alas, with the wrong audience (my sons and my snowbound friends in Peterborough) this didn’t seem to resonate in the same positive way.

On our last day of the High Tech High adventure I asked a number of the attendees for words or phrases that would capture the experience. There was amazing but not surprising uniformity in their answers. They spoke of structure in the context of project based learning, unique environment, teachers muddling in the middle as well as guides on the side and sages on the stage, passionate teachers, the hospitality of every person we met, engaged learners, empowered students. These phrases resonated with me as well. (By the way, the students of San Diego have commonality with our students—snow days are the days of unexpected school cancellation, even though snow is not the issue, and Santa Claus is now thought to live in Peterborough Canada and visited their school about the same time as we were there, just ask the SK students of Chula Vista school!)

So ramblings aside, my thoughts have turned often to the High Tech High experience in the last few weeks. Lots to take away from San Diego! But today I chose to focus on a language piece. The phrase echoed by many of the attendees is also a new catch phrase for education today … student empowerment. My first reaction is a bit of discomfort with the phrase. I don’t mind student engagement or student leadership in learning but student empowerment seems a bit radical or perhaps self-serving and an adaptation of the fierce individualism that runs rampant in our culture.

And it would be if we were to contextualize it in the framework of a secular cultural worldview: student empowerment solely for a student’s own use, solely for the betterment of the individual student to ensure his or her success. That rings hollow in my worldview and context. However, I’m glad this isn’t the definition of power and empowerment from which we work in a Christian context.

If you have not yet read Andy Crouch’s latest book, Playing God, Redeeming the Gift of Power, I want to recommend that you add it to your reading list. Understanding power in the context that is unpacked by Crouch will allow us to understand student empowerment in a manner that fits with the world and life view prevalent in many of our OACS schools.

To whet your appetite, three quotes from the book’s introduction:

“Because of our discomfort with power, we employ a wide range of near synonyms that seem more comfortable. We speak of leadership, influence or authority. All these are important and beneficial forms of power. But these words can camouflage what is really at stake. The best word for it with all its discomfort is power.” (p.10)

“The first part of the book makes the case that power is a gift—-a gift that has been diminished and distorted by sin, but a gift nonetheless. Power is rooted in creation, the calling of something out of nothing and the fruitful multiplying abundance of our astonishing world. It is intimately tied to image bearing: the unique role that human beings play in representing the cosmos’s Creator in the midst of creation.” (p.12)

“Why is power a gift? Because power is for flourishing. When power is used well, people and the whole cosmos come more alive to what they were meant to be. And flourishing is the test of power … I pray that when you put it down {the book} you will be one step closer to the flourishing for which you were created, and that as we, together, make something of the world, the cosmos itself would groan a little bit less and sing a bit more. As the whole creation awaits the revealing of the children of God.” (p.13)

It is my prayer, and my hope that we will continue to grow in this way as schools, that we will indeed be part of the great calling to empower our students so that they, and indeed the whole cosmos, may flourish in the glorifying of our God and in their service to Him as stewards of His creation.