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A Skills-Based Approach to Teaching and Learning

If you, like me, enjoy TED Talks (www.TED.com), you may well have come across Ken Robinson’s talk about schools and creativity that has been viewed nearly 17.5 million times. In it, Robinson talks about how the predominant model for education today originated out of the Industrial Revolution’s need for people to contribute to society in a certain way. This model of education can be conceptualized as a linear version of
human potential that saw some people as doctors, others as engineers, and others as laborers. There was virtually no expectation that people would move from one working life to another. Every person had her part to play and schooling would ensure that people were prepared for that one role.

To put it mildly, times have changed. Ken Robinson’s view is that our current educational model is destroying creativity, which in turn is having long-lasting deleterious effects on wider society. People leaving high school today can anticipate having a dozen or more different jobs by the time they reach their middle years, some of those jobs in fields that are distinctly different from one another, and some of which do not even exist yet.

The Digital Age is a time of exponential growth and change in terms of how human potential is used and squandered. One response to the rapidly changing needs of 21st-century working life comes from Daniel Pink, whose book, A Whole New Mind, makes the case for a right-brain approach to education and work, in a movement away from industrial society’s over-reliance on left-brain thinking. If left-brain thinking might be
characterized as linear, right-brain thinking is lateral, taking skills learned in one discipline or situation and applying them to new areas.

This shift in thinking has resulted in the gradual emergence of skills-based, rather than knowledge-and-acquisition-based, models of education.

Teaching to cultivate critical thinking skills is an old idea. It is the Socratic method for intellectual growth where teacher and learner engage in an expansive dialogue around a certain issue or problem. The School for Ministry is founded on such a skills-based model. Recognizing that the church, and the role of ordained and lay leaders within it, is changing rapidly, and that all ministry today requires its leaders to think and act laterally across multiple disciplines rather than remain fixed within established and stable categories, a skills-based curriculum is a model that will best prepare future leaders of the church.

Take the Exodus, for example. In a skills-based curriculum, teachers would explore with students how in the biblical account, Yahweh is both the liberator of the chosen people, the Hebrew slaves, and the one who destroys the Egyptians and Canaanites. In recognizing the inherent tension within the biblical text, teachers might ask students to explore how if God is the god of the Hebrews, does that mean that God is not the god of
the Egyptians? Moreover, students might then be pressed to apply this textual and theological conundrum to the present-day church’s mission, and ask what implications their answer to this question has for the mission of the church in a pluralistic world?

In essence, then, the skills-based approach to theological education requires learners to both be familiar with the pivotal, primary and secondary texts of the discipline in question and to grow in their critical engagement with those texts and the questions they raise. In an age when those with no religious affiliation are the fastest-growing demographic, the Episcopal Church needs leaders who are adept at critically engaging the questions and inhabiting the intersection of church and the world more than ever.

Our hope and belief is that the School for Ministry will be able to equip future leaders of our diocese for that task and that we will all gain from this gift of dialogical community. +


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