Not for sale: the challenge to imbue a Kingdom-shaping Christian school education for Shalom in an Australian market-driven context

PhD Thesis

Wong, Bronwyn. 2020. Not for sale: the challenge to imbue a Kingdom-shaping Christian school education for Shalom in an Australian market-driven context. PhD Thesis Doctor of Philosophy. University of Southern Queensland.

Not for sale: the challenge to imbue a Kingdom-shaping Christian school education for Shalom in an Australian market-driven context

TypePhD Thesis
AuthorWong, Bronwyn
SupervisorDanaher, Patrick
Davies, Andy
Harvey, Pamela
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
Qualification NameDoctor of Philosophy
Number of Pages335
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

In a world that has been increasingly influenced by market-driven motives that have sculpted the priorities of organisations so that presentation, productivity and popularity take pre-eminence, organisations can find themselves drifting from their core purpose and values. This study sought to examine the challenges that Christian schools face to imbue a Kingdom-shaping Christian education for Shalom in a market-driven context. The term 'Kingdom-shaping' refers individually and collectively to the individuals who and the communities that are about being shaped by the reign of God, and who and that are purposed towards instilling the reign of God in the world so that the commission to tend and watch over the earth (Genesis 2: 15) might be fulfilled. Such a vision that is about fostering right relationships between God and people, between people and each other, between people within themselves, and between people and nature reflects Shalom. Thus, the study’s research questions directed my focus towards understanding how a group of participating teachers understood the nature of a Kingdom-shaping Christian education; the hindrances that these teachers were facing in imbuing Kingdom-shaping practice in their work; and the transformation of teacher practice as the participating teachers considered their work through the lens of the Tripod of Shalom.

Central to this research project has been my desire to understand the challenges posed by the intersections that occur between the market and a Kingdom-shaping Christian education. It was necessary to probe the ways that the market had adversely influenced education through examining the perceived cultural purpose of education, and how elements of marketisation were indicated through media, Federal and State government, and broader community emphasis on elevating test results, school ranking and shopping for the best school. This marketised view was then likened to the metaphor of Babylon that had been used in biblical literature to represent the progress and triumph of the powerful. Subsequent to this exploration of the market was an examination of the nature of Kingdom-shaping and the development of a lens through which to understand the nature of Shalom. This lens was entitled 'the Tripod of Shalom' and comprised three elements: The Word; incarnation; and Proclamation. The Tripod became the conceptual framework for the study, and guided the participants and me in our growing understanding of the nature of a Kingdom-shaping education.

The research in this study was conducted through face-to-face interviews with six participating teachers at Yew Tree Christian College, a pseudonym for a Christian school in New South Wales, Australia, at which I was also teaching. The interviews allowed me to gain an understanding of how the participating teachers understood the nature of Kingdom-shaping practice and whether—or how—this was influencing their daily practice. After the interviews were completed, the participating teachers and I met eight times during 2018 as a focus group to engage in Action Research (AR). This allowed us to delve collectively into the nature of Kingdom-shaping practice, examine the ongoing practices at the focus school and consider how we might mitigate any hindrances that we were facing in imbuing Kingdom-shaping practice there.

An examination of interview and focus group transcripts through Critical Discourse Analysis yielded rich insights into how the teachers were conceptualising a Christian education. These, together with the ensuing action from the AR, enabled me to see that teachers largely understood Christian education as being about depositing cognitive biblical knowledge in students. There was little comprehension of a Kingdom-shaping education that could emerge as a delicate fragrance from a synthesis of spiritual knowing, incarnational being and doing that was focused on proclaiming freedom from captivity. Over the period of a year, my understandings and the understandings of the participating teachers of the nature of Kingdom-shaping shifted, and there was a dawning comprehension that, in order to imbue a Kingdom-shaping Christian education, it was necessary for us to be Kingdom-shaping within ourselves. This epiphany led to new understandings of Christian education. Consequently, hindrances to practising an authentic Christian education that had been highlighted by the participating teachers—such as an undue emphasis on testing, dehumanising teaching practices and an unreasonable focus on the focus school’s image—began to dissipate as hope rose out of our awakening and transformed our perspectives and undertakings.

This study contributed new understandings of the nature of a Kingdom-shaping Christian education for Shalom, placing greater emphasis on a balance among knowing, being and doing, rather than previously where the focus had been on the acquisition of cognitive biblical knowledge. Further to this was the contribution to research practice where Kingdom-shaping principles were applied to the research methodology and methods. Ensuing as a result were new understandings of how a Kingdom-shaped community might interact in the midst of conflict. Additionally, there was a contribution to the research methods so that knowing, being and doing framed the AR cycles and the analysis of data, and undergirded ethical processes throughout the project. As a result, it became clear that of pivotal importance in any Kingdom-shaping undertaking—whether it be education or research practice—are community relationships, being integrally authentic to one’s vision and values, and an understanding that life’s purpose is about flourishing through justice and mercy, rather than about self-promotion and grandstanding.

In conclusion, this research project has been focused on understanding the challenges that exist in imbuing a Kingdom-shaping Christian education for Shalom in a market-driven context. I have closely examined the manifestations of a market-driven culture, particularly the emphasis placed on student and school success, and I have inquired into the nature of Kingdom-shaping for Shalom. Ensuing from my research has been the Tripod of Shalom that has framed Kingdom-shaping through an alchemy among knowing The Word, incarnational being and Proclamational doing. Utilising the Tripod of Shalom—and through AR—, a group of six participating teachers and I were able to mitigate some of the hindrances that we were facing in our work and, in so doing, we deepened our understanding of Kingdom-shaping practice. As a result, this research study has posed new considerations with regard to imbuing Kingdom-shaping education; undertaking Kingdom-shaping research; and, in the midst of what could be a hopeless, market-driven culture, demonstrating that there is indeed hope for a flourishing life that is focused on imbuing God’s Kingdom for Shalom.

KeywordsChristian education, Kingdom-shaping, market-driven, Shalom
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020390499. Specialist studies in education not elsewhere classified
Byline AffiliationsSchool of Education
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