The Heart of a TIGS Education
June 12, 2020
Reflection is a necessary part of the learning cycle. There is no sustained progress without it. So, as we reflect on the disruption to regular schooling over the past couple of months, what do we learn? I have come to appreciate the importance of formation. Let me explain.
James K.A. Smith is an educational philosopher who has written extensively on the practice of formation in education in recent times. Smith believes education is about the formation of hearts rather than the filling of minds. He advocates formation over against mere information. In doing so, Smith is working from a particular view of human beings, one that sees the heart as the centre of a person and not the mind. Following Augustine of Hippo (354-430), Smith maintains that we are lovers before we are thinkers and that we are shaped most by what we love most, more so than what we think or do. It’s not that knowledge is unimportant, it’s just that it’s not enough. The reason: we are more than thinking things.
Smith sees that the heart is formed by a particular vision of the good life which he calls cultural liturgies. These cultural liturgies can range from large rituals to rather rudimentary routines, and everything in between. One of Smith’s most famous illustrations of his theory is the shopping mall. Each time we go into a shopping mall we subject ourselves to its seductions to direct our loves by a series of tangible, visceral practices which promote a certain vision of the good life. It is all so subliminal we hardly know it is happening, but slowly and surely, we are becoming a certain type of person who loves certain kinds of things. To quote Smith: “The mall doesn’t care what you think, but it is very much interested in what you love. Victoria’s secret is that she’s actually after your heart.”
I believe Smith (along with Augustine before him) taps into a rich biblical vein when he identifies the heart as the seat of human desire. Jesus sums it up well when he says, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6.21)
If Smith is correct then schools, like malls, are places of formation; they train our hearts to love certain things. And if the school knows what we ought to love, then that can be a powerful force for good; indeed, it can be life-transforming.
I believe TIGS is one such school. We believe we were created to love God and others as the ultimate expression of what it means to be human and as the sure path to laying hold of the good life. Every aspect of our School is directed towards this end. This is the shape of our heart and the heart we seek to shape. My reflection on remote learning is that our School’s routines and rituals are vital to this formation. It cannot take place remotely because we are more than thinking things. Remote learning affords our students an education, just not a fully-fledged TIGS education. For this reason, it is so good to have our students back on campus.