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I would like to share some thoughts in the next several blog posts under this title: Timeless Truth, Different Delivery. In my work of writing and staff development with schools, it has been my opportunity to encourage Christian schools to be distinctively Christian in order to better meet their missions and to focus on nurturing student faith. I have attempted to bring a common language and specific methods to this dialogue. I believe this is critical work in a time when Christian schools seem in danger of slipping away due to continuing enrollment problems, lack of clarity around philosophy and mission, or just plain lack of resources or will to do pro-active school improvement work. How will our schools improve and be faithful to their missions – their reasons for existence?
What is encouraging is that the kind of skills that our students need are the very skills that I believe can be delivered best in the context of a Christian school. This is true because ultimately all truth is God’s truth and all things cohere in Christ. For example, when Howard Gardner from Harvard identifies the kinds of minds our students need in his book Five Minds For the Future and then is asked what kind of mind is ultimately most important, he identifies the “respectful” and “ethical” mind as most important. Isn’t that exactly the kind of mind we are seeking to develop in Christian schools? And, I would add, we are providing the foundation for this kind of mind – we are teaching kids that God’s Word is the basis of truth for having a “respectful” mind and that an “ethical” mind is not based on whatever you and I agree upon, but on the Ten Commandments given by God and interpreted by Jesus Christ in his summary of the law – to love God and love neighbor.
My point is that what our kids need is a firm understanding of timeless truth – that has not changed. We have made strides in our ability to articulate the what – what truths are most important for our students to grasp in order to help make sense of the world? How we move them to an understanding of that truth is what we need to consider given today’s world and today’s kids. We also know more than we used to about why we need to use different delivery methods. Let’s explore what, how and why further.
How do we arrive at the concepts that we want to deeply embed in the habits of mind, heart, and hands of a Christian school student? Are there some common Biblical understandings that should be points of emphasis? How do we educate students for discipleship?
In recent years, some excellent wrestling and work around these questions has gone on at Edmonton Christian School and in the Prairie Association of Christian Schools. The PACS team has identified several discipleship characteristics that they are seeking to instill in their students. They call these concepts “Through Lines” which become an integral part of the daily classroom experience.
They have identified “Through Lines” (desired discipleship characteristics of students) as follows:
- God-worshippers- involved in regular and meaningful worship experiences.
- Idolatry-discerners – adept at identifying and understanding the idols of our time.
- Earth-keepers – respond to God’s call to be stewards of all of creation.
- Beauty-creators – praise God by creating beautiful things.
- Justice-seekers – act as agents of change by identifying and responding to injustices.
- Creation-enjoyers – celebrate God’s beautiful creation.
- Servant-workers – work actively to heal brokenness and bring joy.
- Community-builders – active pursuers and builders of communal shalom.
- Image reflectors – demonstrate their response to Christ’s call to be co-workers.
I believe that these “Through Lines” are helpful descriptors whether used in curriculum design work (we will discuss this more in the next post), classroom faith nurture, or community activities related to worship and service.
A friend recently posed the question to me of best practices in Bible teaching and we had a great discussion about what we believed were the most effective pedagogical strategies. We were not aware of any empirical research in this area, and so I submit a partial list to you drawn mostly from experience, and invite you to suggest other practices or disagree with one I have listed! The only criteria is that your suggested practice must be applicable across the grades and must be something that could be done (for example, a trip to the Holy Land would be wonderful, but not possible for all!)
Category 1 – The Basics
2. Scripture memorization
Category 2 – Application
4. Dilemmas/case studies
Category 3 – Personal Response
What else would you add?
Principles or pragmatism? Is there a right answer? How do we decide? Is there a decision-making grid for Christians around dilemmas, one that we could teach to our students?
Let me give an example from a recent movie, Flash of Genius. An engineer, who is a part-time inventor at nights, comes up with the very first intermittent windshield wiper mechanism. This feat has not been accomplished before by any of the auto companies and when the inventor shows the lead engineer at Ford Motor Company, the engineer is naturally keenly interested. Over the course of several months while waiting to hear from Ford about them purchasing his invention, the inventor comes to believe that his creation has been stolen and reproduced. He spends the next many years of his life attempting to right this injustice and prove that he is the original creator of this invention. In the process of his preoccupation and concerted effort around his legal efforts, he is divorced by his wife and loses contact with his young and large family. In typical Hollywood fashion he regains some of his family relationships back as his children assist him in his legal efforts and in the end he wins his case. Justice has been served – but at what human cost? Did our character gain the world, but lose his life in the process? What was the opportunity cost to his family of his decision? Does family need/nurture trump justice? What was the right decision for the main character in this movie?
Here is a rubber hits the road example as applied to Christian schools. In western Michigan, some Christian schools have entered into shared time relationships with public schools. On the face it seems like a win-win – the Christian school gets teachers paid for by the public school and thereby gaining budget relief, while the public school gets to count the Christian school students as their own for state funding purposes. However, teachers in the Christian school, who are now public school employees, have to give up teaching in a distinctively Christian manner since they are now public school employees. Is this a retreat from mission and principles (distinctively Christian instruction in all subject areas – “every square inch”) or a pragmatic solution so that tuition does not need to be raised, thereby forcing more families to leave Christian education? Do we agree with the state definition of subjects such as art, music, P.E., technology, world languages as being “non-core”? (“Core” subjects are not eligible for shared time designation.) Of course if we went back to the days of teachers teaching their own art, P.E, and music we could save the same amount of money. But would we be sacrificing quality instruction in the process? Is not offering these subjects at all a better choice than having them taught by public school teachers?
What is your opinion and why?
Whether you come down on the side of principles or pragmatism, I would encourage schools in these circumstances to have school society dialogues about these kinds of decisions because they speak to the core of our missions and our reasons for existence. Our kids are watching not only what decisions we make, but how we make them.