What should we be focusing on instructionally when providing a distinctively Christian education? Given a finite amount of time with students, what should our curriculum be? How can we make powerful curriculum choices that will impact and nurture a student’s faith?
We find ourselves awash in information and knowledge, but not necessarily wisdom! A key distinctive of a Christian education is that we are nurturing faith through educating towards wisdom: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). But how do we practically start with God in every discipline and build toward student wisdom? How do you provide a Christian education that equips the mind and nurtures the heart toward God’s truth? We must begin with an acknowledgment that the Creator of the universe is the source of all wisdom. David Claerbaut states in his new book Faith and Learning on the Edge: “In short, to engage learning from any other than a God-centered direction is to begin and end in the wrong place.” He emphasizes that if we are really truth seekers “we must start with God in every discipline.”
We also need to consider that the word curriculum really means “a journey – a race to run.” What are we asking students to run toward? Truth. Whose truth? Our curriculum should lead students on a journey toward truth – as revealed by God through His creation and His Word and through what has been discovered by man in his search for truth. While we have articulated this objective historically in different ways, our attempts may fall short if we do not help the learner make these connections.
Through the work of Wiggins and McTighe, we have been encouraged to think about what is really essential for learners. Identifying Essential Understandings and Essential Questions assists both the teacher to focus on what is really important for the learner to know and do, and to incorporate Christian perspective into the unit plans. The beauty of Essential Questions is that they address the essence of what we want students to learn, require higher level thinking, are intriguing and thought-provoking, allow for a variety of acceptable answers, and connect and apply course/Biblical content to their lives.
Essential Questions are a powerful tool because they help to answer what to teach (i.e. standards + faith perspective), engage the learner, and assist in meeting the mission of Christian schools – that of equipping minds and nurturing hearts for service.