A Bigger Vision for Schools

Posted on June 03, 2011 by Amy Tolmie

From the August 2010 schoolswork issue of Youthwork Magazine, Chris Curtis argues we need to make changes if we are to continue to make an impact on schools:

"I have a dream. I know Martin Luther King got there first, but better late than never. It's a dream for a bolder, bigger kind of Christian work in schools. Reimagined to fit the education system of today, but connected more than ever to our calling as missionaries to be salt and light.

I have nightmares too. Not about ghosts or even spinach (don't ask), but the status quo. About Christian schools work that stays where it is and, I suspect, finds the space in school ever smaller and less welcoming to faith. But enough of nightmares, it's time to dream.

Thomas John is the kind of man you might describe as a force of nature. Small round glasses lend an air of studiousness, but behind them there's a fierce intensity in his eyes that's matched by well combed but slightly flyaway hair and longer than average side burns. 'This is a man who has fire in his belly' is somehow the message you get before he's even opened his mouth. And you'd be right. Finding faith at sixteen after a stormy and unhappy childhood, where his reputation was as an argumentative troublemaker, Thomas quickly became passionate about sharing his faith with young people. On one evening in particular, he met a teenager hanging out on the streets, Jim Jarvis, whose tragic story of family breakdown and failed schooling had a huge impact on him. Visiting schools in the following weeks, Thomas began to talk to young people about his new-found faith, but it quickly became clear that bigger vision was burning inside. By the time he reached twenty-five, he'd started his own school, where the values and ideals he was so passionate about could be enshrined into the curriculum and life of the place. And it wasn't just about lessons, or even Christian input, it was practical too: breakfast and dinner were served everyday for young people who might otherwise be living on unhealthy scraps or worse. Numerous other schools and projects followed, often started with more faith than funds. Thomas was unstoppable when it came to a vision not just to share his faith, but to shape and change the way education worked for the benefit of young people.

It's over a hundred years since Thomas John Barnado died. He left behind an organisation that still exists and impacts over one hundred thousand children and young people every year. What I find powerful in his story is not just his heart to reach young people - that's something a lot of us share - but the downright audacity of his vision. He dreamed about changing schools as well as students. It started me thinking, if Thomas was a youth worker in a local church today, in 2010, what exactly would he get up to?"

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