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  • Revd. Luke Foster

Factory Learning

Imagine a training program that places teaching into the hands of the people.

Rather than one trained person trying to teach everyone, they coordinate a group who each in turn teach and train others. Its costs its minimal. Its reach is exponential. What is not to like?

It isn’t hard to picture such a program. Any number of books and blog posts call us to a ministry that multiplies ministry.

But the program I am describing was not sketched out in the last few years. It was developed over two hundred years ago as the lessons learned through the industrial revolution were wielded to forge a new kind of education. Dozens of unskilled workers overseen by one manager in a mill could produce exponentially more than individual artisans working in their own homes. In the same way a school could become a factory for learning. The teacher would be the manager; the older children, workers; and the younger children the machines in whom knew knowledge would be woven.

This educational revolution, called the Lancastrian model, found an enthusiastic reception in the newly independent nations of South America. A Baptist missionary called James ‘Diego’ Thompson travelled throughout Chile, Peru and Argentina. In the schools that he established and the Christian resources that he made accessible, Thompson left a lasting impact on the culture of the continent.

At the same time this model provoked criticism. The teacher as manager remained detached from those who were taught. The older children entrusted with the teaching of others very often didn’t understand what they were supposed to be passing on. Teaching was through repetition. Learning was by rote. A factory can efficiently make things. It cannot effectively form learners.

Sometimes we see can see what is before us more clearly when we take a moment to look away. The example of Diego Thompson in South America and the educational experiments of the nineteenth century don’t necessarily point us towards or warn us against any particular model of teaching and training. They do however challenge us to look again at what we do. And to keep asking why we do it this way.

Whether we stand in the wake of the industrial or the silicon revolution – whether our society is shaped by factories and assembly lines; or by computer screens and social media – the way we teach will take shape in the cultural air we breathe. Models and movements come and go. But our faith is not in our method or strategy. It is in the truth of God who holds before us his Son in the pages of Scripture. For that reason, we pray:

BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.


Revd. Luke Foster is currently serving with Crosslinks as a missionary in the Centre for Pastoral Studies (CEP), an Anglican training college in Chile’s capital city Santiago. Luke teaches Church History and Doctrine and also serves in his local church. He is currently undertaking a PHD through Durham university.



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